Los Angeles: American country music legend Merle Haggard is dead. He breathed his last on what would have been his 79th birthday.
Haggard died of pneumonia on his special day at his home on Wednesday in the San Joaquin Valley, California, said his manager, according to a report by Rolling Stone magazine.
Haggard's career spanned 38 Number One country hits, and his rough hard-edged style influenced country and rock & roll artists from Waylon Jennings and Gram Parsons to Jamey Johnson and Eric Church. As a songwriter, Willie Nelson called him "one of the best".
Among his biggest hits were "Okie from Muskogee" as well as much-covered ballads such as "Today I started loving you again", "If we make it through December", "Sing me back home" and "Hungry eyes".
Two of his best-regarded albums were tributes to early country star Jimmie Rodgers ("Same Train, A Different Time") and Western swing bandleader Bob Wills ("A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World").
Haggard scored with several film and TV hits over the years, most notably penning and singing the eponymous theme song for the 1974 TV series Movin’ on, as well as chart-toppers “Barroom buddies” and “Misery and gin” for Clint Eastwood’s film Bronco Billy. “Mama tried” was featured in the crime film Killers Three, in which Haggard also co-starred.
He was born on April 6, 1937 near Bakersfield, California, two years after his family moved west from Oklahoma during the great dust bowl migration.
Between 1965 and 1974 Haggard scored 11 Academy of Country Music honors as well as four top Country Music Association honours.
He won two Grammys, as well as a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame for his song “Mama tried”. He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977 and was a Kennedy Center Honors inductee in 2010.
Haggard is survived by his wife, Theresa Ann Lane; their children Jenessa and Ben Haggard, the latter of whom served as lead guitarist in the Strangers for several years; and his children from previous marriages, Marty, Noel, Dana and Kelli.
Married five times, his second and third wives were stage and recording partners Bonnie Owens and Leona Williams.