Merle Haggard Dies at 79 After Legendary, Drugs-Booze-and-Music Filled Life

By May Wilkerson 04/07/16

The "rugged outlaw" became an advocate for marijuana legalization toward the later part of his 60-year music career.

Merle Haggard Dies at 79 After Legendary, Drugs-Booze-and-Music Filled Life
Photo via Jeremy Luke Roberts/Shutterstock

Country music legend Merle Haggard passed away on Wednesday, what would have been his 79th birthday, from complications from pneumonia. In addition to recording more than three dozen number-one country hits over the course of his six decade-long musical career, Haggard was a known partier and an advocate for legal marijuana. Many of his songs, like "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," reflected his penchant for booze.

Though he never identified as an addict or alcoholic, the singer’s rebelliousness and hard living were part of his appeal, earning him a reputation as a “rugged outlaw.” He spent much of his teen years in and out of juvenile detention centers for a range of petty crimes, and ultimately spent three years in prison after drunkenly breaking into a restaurant at age 21. In his first autobiography, he refers to witnessing "horrors too terrible to think about, much less talk about" while behind bars.

The singer also had his brushes with heavy drug use. In 1983, while in his forties, Haggard "spun off pretty bad," he told GQ in 2012. After a bad breakup, he bought $2,000 of cocaine and holed up in his houseboat. "For about five months there, man, I had quite a party," he said. "And different famous people came in and out of that party and saw the condition of it, and I'm sure a lot of them figured I'd never survive." But he did survive, and after that, he says he never did cocaine again.

Despite his youth spent in and out of institutions, time in prison, four failed marriages and struggles with alcohol and drugs, Haggard maintained an optimistic outlook. "I am smart enough to know that I have been gifted and have had a better than average shot at everything," he told CNN in 2012. "I have been blessed many times."

The singer alluded to a dependence on marijuana, which he had been opposed to until it was prescribed to him by a doctor at age 41. "I didn't like the way it made me feel at first," he told GQ, "so they goad me and showed me." Haggard eventually changed his tune. "The only thing they didn't tell me was how habit-forming it was,” he said. Later in life, he became an advocate for legalization, and just last year collaborated on the song “It’s All Going to Pot” with known marijuana lover Willie Nelson. In the music video, the two share a joint

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.