Known for his status as a populist whose songs often chronicled his real life problems, Country music Hall of Famer Merle Haggard died today, on his 79th birthday. He was - as the New York Times said this afternoon - the closest thing country music had to a real-life outlaw hero.
Haggard was convicted of burglary in 1957 and served nearly 3 years in San Quentin State Prison and turned 21 in solitary confinement. His song “Mama Tried” chronicled parts of his life while “Branded Man” was an honest look at his struggle after getting out of prison as a young man. Many of his songs championed the working class and he was often called one of the working movement’s best poets.
Merle Haggard scored 71 Top 10 country hits and saw 38 of those songs hit #1. His former publicist Jim Della Croce confirmed his death. Haggard had recently cancelled several concerts but vowed to continue on, despite his doctors suggesting he didn’t.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Haggard family in their time of grief.