(CNN)Merle Haggard, the grizzled country music legend whose songs such as “Okie from Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side of Me” made him a voice for the workingman and the outsider, has died. He was 79.
Haggard died Wednesday, his birthday, of complications from pneumonia at his home in Northern California, his agent Lance Roberts told CNN.
Haggard recorded more than three dozen No. 1 country hits in a musical career that spanned six decades, from the 1960s into the 2010s. He overcame an early life of petty crime and a prison term in San Quentin to develop a rugged, outlaw image that helped sell millions of records.
Tributes immediately began pouring in from the country music world and beyond.
“Country music has suffered one of the greatest losses it will ever experience,” said country star Charlie Daniels on Twitter. “Rest in peace Merle Haggard.”
“Love and prayers for the Haggard family. Merle was a pioneer … a true entertainer … a legend,” added Carrie Underwood. “There will never be another like him.”
“There are no words to describe the loss & sorrow felt within all of music with the passing of Merle Haggard. Thank God for his life & songs,” said singer Brad Paisley.
His longtime friend, Willie Nelson — with whom Haggard sang “Pancho and Lefty” — tweeted a simple black-and-white photo with the lines, “He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him.”
‘The best country singer’
Haggard didn’t just sing about the life described in country songs. He lived it.
His father died when Haggard was a child, and he ran away from home and later served time in prison. He drank — one of his best-known songs is called “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” — and partied. He was married five times.
Haggard’s song titles were plainspoken and evocative. “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” “Sing Me Back Home.” “Branded Man.” “The Bottle Let Me Down.” “If We Make It Through December.” He may not have written all of his hits, but he sang them with a pure feeling that left no doubt of the pain — and the joy — inside.
Despite his advancing age, Haggard maintained a robust touring schedule in recent years. He had canceled a handful of April concerts because of his declining health, and he predicted to his family that his end was near.
“A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong. A hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends,” son Ben Haggard posted on FacebookWednesday afternoon.
“He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music,” the younger Haggard wrote. “He wasn’t just a country singer.. He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
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