Merle Haggard, the legendary country singer, and songwriter passed away on his 79th birthday after a series of health issues, including double pneumonia. He left behind his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane, whom he was married for a total of 23 years. Merle’s marriage to Theresa Ann was his longest.

The Country Music Hall of Fame member went through a series of rocky relationships before he found the perfect one in Theresa Ann Lane. In fact, Merle said marrying her was the best decision he made.

Let’s learn more about Merle Haggard’s wife below.

How She Met The Okie from Muskogee

Merle Haggard used to be married to Leona Hobbs, Bonnie Owens, Leona Williams, and Debbie Parret. 

Merle married his first wife, Leona Hobbs when he was only 19 years old, and the couple ended up having four children together. Wife number two, Bonnie Owens, was a fellow country singer who Merle credited for his start in country music. Leona Williams, on the other hand, met Merle when she replaced Bonnie Owens as a backup singer with Haggard’s band.

Finally, after a series of failed marriages, financial boom and bust, and struggles with gambling and drug use, the “If We Make It Through December” singer found the happiness at home with wife Theresa Ann Lane. 

“I guess I have to believe in miracles,” Merle Haggard once said in his 2000 interview of a life filled with second chances. “I know I’ve had more prayers answered than any man that ever lived.”

Country music legend Merle Haggard met his fifth and last wife when Theresa Ann Lane’s mother convinced her to come and see Merle perform, even though she was more of a ZZ Top fan. As soon as Merle saw her, he knew she was something special. 

After the show, the two got the chance to get to know each other, and they became pretty inseparable ever since then. “I went on a month tour with him, and we were pretty much together,” Theresa said.

The happy couple married on September 11, 1993, and Merle said that marrying Theresa was the best decision he ever made. They had two children together, Jenessa and Ben. 

Theresa didn’t believe she could have kids, so she considered it a blessing when she got pregnant in 1989. “It was a blessing.” They named their daughter Jenessa. The name came to Merle in a dream. The small family then moved off the houseboat to the ranch full time in Northern California.

Three years later, Theresa gave birth to Benion. Baby number two was named after Benny Binion, the colorful, criminal owner of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, whom Merle said was like a father to him. Ben Haggard has followed the footsteps of his legendary dad.

Theresa Ann Lane and Merle Haggard lived a happy marriage. Theresa sometimes even perform on stage with Merle. She developed a great appreciation for the music he created over his career.

A Life without Merle Haggard

When Merle passed away on his 79th birthday on April 6, 2016, Theresa was justifiably devastated. Theresa found it challenging to accept that her husband is really gone even a year after his death.

“I’m just now picking myself up out of the dirt, and barely,” Theresa told Rare Country in an emotional interview. “I’m barely walking, cause I lost my everything. He was my world.”

It was even a challenge for Theresa Ann Lane to listen to Merle Haggard’s music. The pain of the loss has been so severe that she can’t turn on the radio for fear of hearing his songs. “It’s been hard,” she says, “to even look at pictures because it’s been too emotional.”

All that changed when she attended the Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard tribute concert in Nashville in 2017. She stood on stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena – behind her was a billboard-size portrait of her husband while in front of her was a sea of fans eager for a reminder that Merle Haggard lives on in his music.

 “Tonight’s really hard, but it’ll be good,” she said. “It’s a good hard. It’s a lovefest.”

The three-hour event is composed of an extensive list of stars offering Theresa and the fans ample evidence of Merle Haggard’s immortality. Some of the notable stars present in the event were Miranda Lambert, who channeled the Merle gloom in “Misery and Gin,” Hank Williams Jr, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson and so much more.

Before the night ended, Theresa Haggard – who sang, danced, and cried through the concert – thanked the artists and said what was on everyone’s minds: “I know Haggard is here right now.”

Facts About Her

1. She has a sizable age gap with Merle Haggard.

Theresa Ann Lane was only in her 30s when they married, while Merle Haggard was in his 50s. The country legend admitted at first that he didn’t understand why Theresa Ann wanted to be with him.

“She’s a very young girl for a guy like me. We met at Lake Shasta, right in the middle of a strange period of my life … But it was a period in which I was not married, and I ran into this lady out there; she wasn’t married either — and I did everything in the world to run her off, to tell you the truth!” Merle once said. “I didn’t really think there was any reason why she could want to hang around with me, other than the wrong reasons. But she finally convinced me otherwise.”

2. She was initially interested in Merle Haggard’s guitarist first.

The night Theresa Ann Lane and Merle Haggard first met, she went with Haggard’s guitarist, Clint Strong. They were heading to Strong’s room when Merle saw Theresa. He asked Strong to go get a guitar and meet them in the room.

“He said, ‘I’ll take her up to the room, and we’ll meet you up there,'” Theresa recalled. 

When Strong arrived, Merle had the door locked. “There’s bangin’ on the door, and it’s Clint,” Theresa said. “And Merle says, ‘Get out of here! She’s my woman now. You don’t know how to treat a woman. Get out of here, or I’m going to fire your ass.'”

3. She also writes songs

According to Merle, Theresa can sing and write really good songs. “She’s a real good writer, and that’s kind of how we got to liking each other, was through writing and her desiring to be a writer,” Merle once said. “She wanted me to teach her to write, and hell, she knew how to write. She just needed a little direction.”

4. Her son pursued a career in music.

Theresa Ann Lane’s only son, Ben Haggard, has followed the footsteps of his legendary dad. He got his start in country music by performing with his father. At the age of 15, he was already his father’s lead guitarist. 

When Merle died in 2016, he and his half-brother Noel, kept touring with the rest of the band. He sang Merle’s songs and covered other classic country hits. Before his father died, the country legend told Ben, “You’d be an idiot not to take my guitar and my bus, not to sing my songs for as long as you can… Go out there and play until there’s nobody to play to.”

Without a doubt, Theresa Ann Lane was a keeper.