Country music legend Merle Haggard has passed away at the age of 79 after battling a severe case of pneumonia. His spokeswoman Tresa Redburn confirmed that he has died at his home in the San Joaquin Valley, California. He died on his 79th birthday after a two week hospital stay fighting the disease.
Over six decades in the industry, Merle Haggard composed and performed some of the greatest songs in country music. During his career, he had 38 Number One country hits, including “I Am a Lonesome Fugitive,” “Branded Man,” “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Sing Me Back Home,” and “Okie From Muskogee,” which stayed at Number One for a month. Haggard won the Academy of Country Music’s Top Male Vocalist award four years in a row, and was named Entertainer of the Year in 1970.
Merle Haggard was well known for capturing the American condition in his songs, singing about the poor, the lost, the working class, and the heartbroken. His greatest songs were all taken from the pages of his own life. Willie Nelson called him “one of the best” songwriters in the industry. He influenced country and rock & roll artists from Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons to Jamey Johnson and Eric Church.
On April 6th, 1937, Merle Haggard was born near Bakersfield, California. Two years prior, his family had moved west from Oklahoma during the great dust bowl migration. Haggard’s father supported his family by working on the railroad and playing the fiddle in roadhouse bands. His father died of a stroke when Haggard was 9, and his life began to spiral out of control.
After numerous stints in reform schools and prisons, Haggard found salvation in country music. He fell in love with performing and started to dedicate his energy to songwriting. He made his name on the Bakersfield club circuit and is credited as one of the key architects of the Bakersfield sound. In 1993, Haggard married his third wife Theresa Ann Lane. They had two children and remained married until Haggard’s death.
Merle Haggard has released 15 albums since 2000, an amazing feat for his age. Unlike many of his peers, Haggard never stopped writing and recording, staying active until he was admitted to the hospital for a case of double pneumonia. In recent years, he added his son, Ben, to the band and gave him control over his father’s social media accounts. In 2010, Haggard received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama.