The country music industry lost someone very special when legendary singer, Merle Haggard, passed away at the age of 79 on his 79th birthday.
Most people know him because of his huge success as a country musician. Merle Haggard songs are wildly popular such as “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Mama Tried,” and, of course, “Okie from Muskogee.” But did you know that Haggard once born in poverty and was raised in a boxcar? These are just some of the things you might not have known about the extraordinary Okie from Muskogee.
13. He Called a Boxcar Home
Merle Haggard was born in 1937. He was born and grew up in the famous “Oildale Boxcar.” During the Great Depression, his father, James Haggard, transformed the boxcar into the family home. Merle spent many years as a child there.
In early 2015, Haggard went back to the family home before it was taken apart, piece by piece, to be preserved. The home is now on display at the Kern County Museum.
12. He Credits Cash for inspiring Him to Launch a Music Career
Many people have already heard the story of Merle Haggard’s rough early years.
After his father passed away, he started to rebel. As a teenager, Haggard went into jail at least three more times. He went out by escaping at least once. In 1957, when he was 18, Haggard was arrested on a burglary charge and sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin, where he met Johnny Cash. Cash’s performance inspired Haggard to clean up his act and aimed to become a country singer.
Well, we all know how that story ends. Haggard became arguably the best singer-songwriter of all time. Haggard and Cash went on to become very close friends too. “I think we would’ve killed for each other,” Haggard said.
11. But Lefty Frizzell Was His Bigger Idol
The craftmanship of Lefty Frizzell left a big impression on Haggard, at least as early as his teenage years.
He once wrote, “The impact Lefty had on country music is not even measurable. … No one could handle a song like Lefty. He would hold on to each word until he finally decided to drop it and pick up the next one. Most of us learned to sing listening to him.”
10. He was Pardoned by U.S. President Ronald Reagan
On March 14, 1972, the legendary singer, who had several run-ins with the law, received a full pardon from then-California Governor Ronald Reagan.
“They found that I was improperly convicted and had no representation because I was poor and things of that nature,” Haggard revealed.
Years later, he met and played for President Ronald Reagan. During his performance, Haggard said, “I hope the president will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon ten years ago.”
9. He Confessed He Had an Unrequited Passion for Dolly Parton
Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton’s relationship goes back decades. They toured together in the mid-’70s, shortly before his split from then-wife Bonnie Owens.
Haggard revealed just how taken he was with Dolly in his 1981 memoir, Sing me Back Home. He described Dolly as an “exceptional human being who lives underneath all that bunch of fluffy hair, fluttery eyelashes, and super boobs.” Dolly responded to that description, saying, “I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or flattered.”
Haggard also admitted to writing his 1975 song “Always Wanting You” as a tribute to the country queen.
8. He Had a Number One Duet with Clint Eastwood
Actor Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the 1980 movie “Bronco Billy.” He asked Haggard to record a duet called “Bar Room Buddies” for the soundtrack. Haggard also appeared as himself in the film.
The song went to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart in 1980.
7. He Made It To the Guinness Book of World Records
Merle Haggard once held the Guinness World Record for buying the biggest round of drinks since March 21, 1983. It was when he bought his fans 5,095 one-ounce drinks, totaling 40 gallons, at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. The bill reached $12,737.50.
The record was busted in 2016.
6. He defended the Dixie Chicks When The Group Was Hit With a Backlash
When Dixie Chicks criticized President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq on stage, they received significant backlash. But Haggard felt they had the right to express their opinion.
“Because they don’t like George Bush, should we take their records off? I really found that sort of scary.” Haggard said. “It got to the point where my wife said, ‘Be careful what you say.’ Well, that’s really not the America I’m used to.”
5. There’s a Post Office in Bakersfield, California Named After Him
In April 2018, the Country Music Hall of Fame member received a lasting honor when a post office building was named after him in Bakersfield, California, a town with which he has become synonymous. About 300 people are in attendance to celebrate the Merle Haggard Post Office Building. Merle Haggard’s spouse also graced the event.
Bakersfield hopes the new name will remind people of a community icon who never backed down, and a man whose honesty about his own failings lifted spirits and fed souls.
4. He Was Awarded an Honorary Degree
In 2013, The Hag added doctor to his resume when California State University- Bakersfield, gave him the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts. This is in recognition of his significant contributions to the Bakersfield Sound.
When the country legend walked up to receive this honor, he said, “Thank you. It’s nice to be noticed.
3. He was a recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award from John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art
In 2010, Haggard received the Kennedy Center Honors, a lifetime achievement for the performing arts alongside Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, composer Jerry Herman and dancer/choreographer Bill T. Jon
2. He Could Impersonate with Startling Accuracy
In addition to being a great singer-songwriter, there’s another talent of Haggard that is often overlooked. The country singer is actually great at doing impressions. And his favorite subjects for impressions are none other than Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Buck Owens.
Haggard could not only mimic Owens’ signing voice but as well as the Hee Haw star’s bouncing shoulders and half-closed eyes during his performances.
1. He Predicted He’d Die on His Birthday
Merle Haggard’s youngest son, Ben Haggard, has revealed that his late father warned the family he was going to die on his 79th birthday, and he got that one right.
“A week ago, dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong,” Ben shared on his Facebook page in the wake of his father’s death. “He loved everything about life, and he loved that every one of you gave him a chance with his music.”
Ben added: “He wasn’t just a country singer. He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
And we couldn’t agree more. The multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM Awards winner battled double pneumonia and died at his home near Redding, California.