Merle Haggard passed away on Wednesday at age 79. His agent Lance Roberts told CNN that he died at his home in Northern California of complications from pneumonia. Considered a legend and the best country singer, he’s the unique voice of widely known songs such as Fightin’ Side of Me, Mama Tried and Okie from Muskogee.
The star is known for helping create the country music’s highly influential Bakersfield sound, which clearly differentiates from the soft Nashville sounds.
Haggard recorded over three dozen country hits throughout his career, from the 1960s to the 2010s. His songs, which weren’t all written by him but were interpreted with such a pure feeling, were evocative and plainspoken. He lived the life described in his hits, which included I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, Branded Man, If We Make It Through December and Sing Me Back Home.
“A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong. An hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends,” his son Ben Haggard wrote on a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon.
Ben added that his father loved life and that he really enjoyed when people gave him a chance with his music. “He wasn’t just a country singer. He was the best country singer that ever lived,” the younger Haggard said.
The country music legend’s advanced age didn’t stop him from keeping an active touring schedule during the past years. But he recently canceled some concerts set for April due to his declining health, before warning his family that his passing would happen anytime soon.
A tough youth
Haggard’s father died when he was a child, at age 9. He ran away from home and later served time in prison in San Quentin. The country singer drank and partied a lot. In fact, I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink is one of his best-known songs. Haggard was married five times.
But a tough early life didn’t determine his future. He overcame everything and managed to create a widely-respected image that helped him sell millions of records around the world.
Personalities of country music have expressed their tributes
“Country music has suffered one of the greatest losses it will ever experience,” country star Charlie Daniels tweeted. “Rest in peace Merle Haggard.”
“Love and prayers for the Haggard family. Merle was a pioneer … a true entertainer … a legend,” said Carrie Underwood. “There will never be another like him.”
Singer Brad Paisley thanked God for Haggard’s life and music.
Longtime friend Willie Nelson wrote on Twitter that Haggard had been his brother and friend, lines which were shared on a black-and-white photo. The pair had sung “Pancho and Lefty” together.