Merle Haggard Onstage at Cains Ballroom
Country legend Merle Haggard
passed away on April 6, 2016 — just as he turned 79 years old! Sadly, his longtime fans knew the end was coming when The National ENQUIRER
revealed that the hard-living star had suddenly canceled every live show he had slated for April.
He was trying to recover from the recurring double pneumonia that took his life! Fans knew that Merle had to be in his final days to give up the wild life that he loved!
56th Annual Grammy Awards
Merle got off to a rough start — and was one of the convicts in the audience when Johnny Cash
played a concert in San Quentin Prison! By age 23, Merle had already spent seven years behind bars. The charges included stealing, writing bum checks, and attempted burglary. "I doubt I'd be writing the songs I do if I hadn't had the background I've had," Merle later confessed. "I just tell about things I've done. The drifting and the freight trains, the hard times, the desperate ones, gray prison walls, the climb, and the amazing grace of living."
Merle was serving a 27-month stint when Johnny came to play San Quentin. He had tried to burglarize a Bakersfield, Calif., roadhouse while drunk. That was after a frustrating life where Merle had failed at selling Bibles and vacuum cleaners. San Quentin kept him busy with work in the laundry and the prison textile factory. He even found steady work as an electrical contractor's helper after his release — but Merle was already dreaming of country stardom!
Merle Haggard Onstage at Cains Ballroom
Fame didn't make life any easier for Merle, though. He indulged in all the drugs that money could buy — and The ENQUIRER had the inside story about how those bad habits got him dumped by Dolly Parton
! "Merle was head over heels in love with Dolly," said a publishing insider as Merle prepared his memoirs.
Dolly Parton the Auditorium Theater
Dolly, however, broke Merle's heart when she moved from Tennessee to Hollywood and sent him her regrets in a letter. "As Merle tells it," said the source, "'Dolly got new management in the mid-70s and they wanted to put her on TV and make her a big star. Her agents didn't want her to hang with me any longer!'"
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During the '70s and '80s, Merle confessed to often being out of his skull on booze and drugs — including cocaine. "He admits to trying LSD and being on constant benders," revealed the source. "When he appeared on 'The Smothers Brothers Show,' he confesses that he was just coming off a three-day bender!" Despite his addictions, though, Merle never lacked for female companionship.
Merle Haggard Playing Guitar
Merle also racked up plenty of wives — with Marriage #4 being a wedding made on a bet! His cleaning woman and good buddy, Debora Parret, was on a diet. "Merle bet Debbie that if she'd lose a hundred pounds, he'd marry her," said the insider. "Then, Merle wrote: 'Damned if she didn't do her part. And damned if I didn't do mine!'" Merle didn't remember the wedding or the honeymoon. But both he and Debbie knew the marriage was a mistake the moment they sobered up!
Grand Opening of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas
All's well that ends well, though — Debbie and Merle's fifth wife later became best friends! Merle married Theresa Ann Lane (pictured) on September 11, 1993. That would turn out to be the marriage that lasted. Sadly, the vows still included Theresa being by Merle's side during sickness and health. The "sickness" part wasn't easy with a man like Merle!
Merle Haggard performs at the Belly Up
Doctors found a spot on Haggard's right lung in May of 2009 - but the stubborn "Okie from Muskogee" singer insisted it wasn't malignant and at first refused to get treatment. Instead, he decided to pray! " Merle's faith is strong," an old friend told The ENQUIRER, "and he decided he'd rather leave his fate in God's hands than the doctors' hands. He said, 'Everyone wanted me at the Mayo Clinic, but I said, Well, I'm not gonna do anything.'"
Merle Haggard Dead Secrets Scandals 10
Merle was also secretly afraid that having surgery on his lungs would end his career, said a family insider. Instead of going into the hospital, Merle defied his doctors and embarked on a grueling tour of more than 20 cities just a month after getting the frightening diagnosis. But frantic family members, including fifth wife Theresa, refused to accept his decision not to have surgery.
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"He finally decided his family was more important to him than his career," said the family insider. A biopsy revealed that Merle had lung cancer. On Nov. 3, 2008, surgeons at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in California removed the growth. Theresa and other family members were by his bedside as he recovered from the surgery.
Ronald Reagan with Merle Haggard
Merle passed away as a beloved legend — and with a clean record, after California governor Ronald Reagan
gave him a full pardon. But not everyone in the country biz wanted to be like Merle. Stars like Blake Shelton
, Carrie Underwoo
d and Charlie Daniels rushed to pay online tribute to the fallen star. But The ENQUIRER remembers a different story from the secret wife of George Jones
Linda Dodson was married to Merle's fellow country legend for seven years. "George always had guns around," said Linda. "Once he got mad because someone said he looked like Merle Haggard. He shot up a mirror and a lamp, and blew a hole through a $1,000 suit!'