There are more than a few country music legends, but Willie Nelson is the only one to have a CMA Award named after him—for lifetime achievement, natch. Click through for 25 things that may surprise you about the Texas-born singer-songwriter and bona fide American original.
He Shattered Records
Willie Nelson's 1978 LP "Stardust" hit No. 1 and remained on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart for an astonishing 10 years. Ironically, the album doesn't include any country songs: It's a collection of standards written by the likes of Irving Berlin ("Blue Skies"), George and Ira Gershwin ("Someone to Watch Over Me"), Duke Ellington ("Don't Get Around Much Anymore") and Hoagie Carmichael ("Stardust"). Four of the tracks became hit singles, and in 2015 the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
He Isn't Called "Shotgun" for Nothing
When Willie learned that his daughter Lana had been assaulted by her husband, he hopped into his pickup truck, drove to the couple's home and "slapped around" his son-in-law. Later that evening, the two men got into a gunfight at Willie's house. "I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head," Willie later recalled. "I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot." "Shotgun Willie" is also the title of his 1973 album.
He Was Abandoned as a Child
Willie's mother disappeared shortly after giving birth to her son, and his father abandoned Willie and his sister Bobbie soon after that, leaving them to be raised by their grandparents. Fortunately for Willie, the Nelsons taught singing. They bought him a guitar when was six, and he wrote his first song just a year later. By the age of nine, Willie was playing in a local band.
He Was a Jock in High School
Willie was a halfback on the football team at the high school he attended in Abbott, Texas. He was also a guard on the basketball team and a baseball shortstop, not to mention a member of the Future Farmers of America.
At 17, He Joined the Air Force
Willie enlisted in 1950, right after high school, and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He suffered from back problems, however, and about nine months later he was discharged.
Some of His Jobs Might Surprise You
Before earning a living as a musician, Willie worked as a cotton picker, a saddle maker and a Bible salesman. He also sold vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias door-to-door. Willie later worked as a disc jockey at KVAN in Vancouver (this is a promotional photo from that period), where he was known as the "Cotton-pickin', snuff-dippin', tobacca-chewin', stump-jumpin', gravy-soppin', coffee-pot-dodgin', dumplin-eatin', frog-giggin' hillbilly from Hill County, Texas.
He Gave His Locks to Waylon
Back in the 1980s (a few years after this photo was taken), at a party to celebrate Waylon Jennings' sobriety, Willie gave his friend and fellow musician the famous red locks of braided hair that he had recently cut off. When Jennings' estate was auctioned off in 2014, about 12 years after his death, Willie's braids went on the block and fetched $37,000 from an anonymous bidder.
He Wrote a Hit Song on a Barf Bag
Producer Sydney Pollack said he was looking for a song for the 1980 movie "Honeysuckle Rose," in which Willie plays an aging musician, while the two traveling together on an airplane. Willie immediately pulled the disposable vomit bag from the back of the seat in front of him and started writing. "I said, 'You mean like, 'On the road again, I can't wait to get on the road again'?" Released shortly after the movie, "On the Road Again" topped the country chart.
He Got Down With a First Lady
Willie once performed at the White House for then-President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. At one point during the performance, the First Lady decided to join Willie in a duet. The song she chose: "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother."
Then He Got High on the White House Roof
After his White House performance, Willie and his friend Chip Carter (Jimmy and Rosalynn's son) headed off on a private tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It ended on the roof, which they decided might be a safe place to light up a joint. As Willie wrote in his 1988 autobiography, there he was, on top of the White House, "with a beer in one hand and a fat Austin Torpedo in the other."
He's a Sex Symbol
A woman once claimed that she and Willie had sex for nine consecutive hours, a marathon that culminated with Willie doing a backward somersault. "I'm not saying it didn't happen," Willie wryly told his friend Kinky Friedman. "It might've. But you would've thought I'd remember at least the first four or five hours."
He's Been in More Movies Than You Think
Willie's first movie was "The Electric Horseman," a 1979 western starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It was directed by Sydney Pollack, who later, as a producer, hired Willie for "Honeysuckle Rose" and the 1985 comedy-drama "Songwriter." Legendary critic Pauline Kael praised his screen presence in 1982's "Barbarosa." Willie went on to produce and star in dozens of other movies. In 2017, he played himself in Woody Harrelson's "Lost in London."
That Outlaw Thing Isn't Just a Pose
Willie has been arrested for pot possession so many times that we've lost count. One of those times, he was en route to the funeral of former Texas governor Ann Richards when he got nabbed for carrying weed and mushrooms. The court date for another arrest prevented Willie from attending the Grammys. A judge in the Bahamas once dropped drug charges but ordered Willie never to return. And a prosecutor on another drug charge ordered Willie to sing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" for the court, but the judge nixed the idea.
His Annual Picnic Is Awesome
For decades, Willie has hosted an annual Fourth of July picnic and concert at various locations around Texas. The first was held at a ranch just outside Austin and featured Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Tom T. Hall. Subsequent performers have included Linda Ronstadt, Shelby Lynne, the Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
He's Had a Colorful Home Life
Willie has married four times and fathered seven children. His first wife, Martha Matthews, once sewed Willie into a bed sheet and beat him with a broom. His next marriage ended in divorce after his wife discovered a bill from the maternity ward of a Houston hospital—for another woman's baby. That woman was Connie Koepke (seen here with Willie and two daughters), who became the singer's third wife in 1971. They divorced in 1988. Willie and his current wife, Annie D'Angelo, have been together since 1991.
He Loves Golf
Willie has a handicap of 16 and actually owns his own a golf course. Located near Austin, Texas, Willie Nelson's Cut N Put is known for its laid-back atmosphere. Dogs are welcome. Visitors are allowed to wear flip-flops and golf at whatever pace they like.
He's a Jogger—and a Black Belt
"I've always been a big jogger," Willie told Vanity Fair. "I like to run and ride my bike and swim." And he has been practicing martial arts since he was a boy, This is no casual fling for Willie. At a 2014 ceremony in Austin, he was presented a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do. He was 81 at the time.
He and Dolly Are Tight
Their friendship dates back to the '60s. "Willie and I came to town about the same time," Parton said, noting that they "used to hang out a lot together" in Nashville. Referring to the title of Willie's 1984 duet with Julio Iglesias, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," Parton added, "I was one of the girls he loved. We never had a thing going. It's a wonder, though."
The Taxman Came Down Hard on Him
In 1990, the IRS seized Willie's assets and hit him with a $32 million bill for unpaid income taxes, among the largest in history. His lawyers negotiated and brought down the number significantly, but Willie still owed the government several million dollars. To pay off the debt, he released a double-album called "The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?" The IRS received at least 15 cents of every dollar the $19.95 album brought in. Many fans bought Willie's belongings at the IRS auction and then returned them to him.
Even His Guitar Is a Legend
For decades, Willie has been playing the same acoustic guitar, a 1969 Martin N-20 that he named Trigger, after Roy Rogers' horse. More than 100 artists and friends have either signed or scratched their names into Trigger, the first being Leon Russell. When Willie got into trouble for failing to pay his taxes, he had family members and friends hide Trigger to prevent the IRS from seizing it along with his other assets.
He Risked His Life to Rescue His Stash
Willie once arrived home to discover that his house in Nashville was on fire. "By the time I got there, it was burning real good," he later told People magazine. "But I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn't being brave running in there to get my dope. I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police." Though Willie salvaged his stash, he couldn't save a slew of unreleased recordings that vanished in the flames.
He Owns an Energy Company
Willie Nelson Biodiesel produces a biofuel named BioWillie. The company, which Willie launched after his wife Annie bought a car with a diesel engine, has been around since 2004. The fuel, made of soybean and other vegetable oils, can be used in engines without any modifications. Willie's tour bus, Honeysuckle Rose, runs on BioWillie.
PBS Fans Owe Him Big Time
Willie's efforts to launch and support the Public Broadcasting Corporation's concert series "Austin City Limits" aren't widely known, but they were crucial to the show's success. Not only did he produce and star in the first episode in 1974, but Willie traveled the country promoting "Austin City Limits" on PBS affiliates. The only show ever to win a National Medal of Arts, it now stands as the longest-running music series in TV history.
He Has the Entrepreneurial Spirit
A cannabis connoisseur who makes no secret of his fondness for marijuana, Willie has long advocated its legalization throughout the United States. In 2015—the same year he published his autobiography, "It's a Long Story: My Life"—the country legend started marketing his own brand of weed, Willie's Reserve. He plans to open stores, selling vape supplies and edibles as well as weed, wherever pot becomes legal.
He's Not Likely to Put Up an Argument
As Willie once noted, "Most of the stuff I've read about me has been true."
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