AKA Willie Hugh Nelson
Birthplace: Abbot, TX
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Country Musician
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The red-headed stranger
Military service: US Air Force
His parents divorced when Willie Nelson was a very young boy, and it was the heart of the depression, so Nelson and his sister were entrusted to their paternal grandparents. Raised in a tiny farm town and calling his grandparents Daddy and Mama, the children came to love music, and each child was allowed to select an instrument to learn. Willie Nelson chose the guitar; his sister chose the piano. He gave his first public performance at four, and worked his first professional gig at a local dance when he was ten. By his high school years he was playing in a band, and the group's fiddler ended up marrying Nelson's sister.
After serving in the Air Force and dropping out of college, he worked as a Bible salesman and disc jockey, played in honky-tonks, and wrote a few songs of his own. He recorded his first single in 1956, spending his own money to press 500 copies of a song he had written, "No Place For Me", and selling the records during his radio show in Vancouver, Washington. The station billed him as that "cotton-pickin', snuff-dippin', tobacca-chewin', stump-jumpin', gravy-soppin', coffee-pot-dodgin', dumplin-eatin', frog-giggin', hillbilly from Hill County, Texas."
Nelson sold another song, "Family Bible", to a guitar teacher for $50, who in turn sold the tune to Claude Gray, who had a hit with it in 1960. Faron Young had a 1961 number one hit with Nelson's "Hello Walls", and Patsy Cline's rendition of Nelson's "Crazy" was an even bigger success. Ray Price recorded Nelson's "Night Life" and soon Nelson was playing bass guitar for Price's band. As a singer, Nelson first hit the charts in 1962 with "Willingly", a duet sang with his then-wife Shirley Collie. He joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1963, both on stage and in Ernest Tubb's Grand Ole Opry TV show. And all through the '60s, he always performed in a suit, with an ordinary haircut. By the early 1970s he was primarily known for writing other performers' hits, but it had been several years since the last hit, and Nelson briefly walked away from show business and tried his hand as a pig farmer.
Then he began appearing in blue jeans and let his hair grow longer, usually wrapped in a red bandana, and he often shared the stage with rock'n'rollers. For a country singer, this was considered career suicide -- down-home conservative country music and hippie-druggie rock'n'roll were considered polar opposites. But the new look, rebel style, and irresistible music made Nelson a star in both genres by the mid-1970s. He had his first number one hit in 1975 with "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". He has had more than twenty number one songs, including "Always on My Mind", "Georgia on My Mind", "Highwayman" (with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson), "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" (with Waylon Jennings), "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys", "On the Road Again", and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (with Julio Iglesias).
Nelson has also worked as an actor, with memorable performances in Honeysuckle Rose with Amy Irving and The Electric Horseman with Robert Redford, among other films. He was also featured in a 1986 country-western remake of Stagecoach co-starring Cash, Kristofferson, and Jennings.
His first wife was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, 16 years old when she married Nelson, who was 17. Their marriage was a wildly unstable adventure in drinking, cheating, and physical fights. One brawl ended when she cracked a whiskey bottle over his head, and another fight started when she caught him with another woman, and ended with her beating him with their children's jump rope.
His second marriage was to country singer Shirley Collie, who had earlier been married to famed country DJ and promoted Biff Collie. They recorded a few songs together, but his career sputtered and hers faded. Their marriage ended when she opened the mail one day, and found a hospital bill from the maternity ward, where Connie Koepke, a mistress Nelson's wife had not known about, had delivered his son. Weeks before his divorce from Collie was finalized, Nelson made Koepke his third wife. Their marriage lasted 17 years, but ended when Nelson had an affair with Amy Irving during the filming of Honeysuckle Rose. His fourth wife, Ann Marie D'Angelo, is a make-up artist.
He started his tradition of an annual Independence Day picnic-concert in 1973. His 1978 album Stardust, a collection of American pop classics, stayed on the charts for a remarkable ten years, and sold more than five million copies. He has nine platinum and two double-platinum albums. Since 1985, Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp have organized numerous Farm Aid concerts, with the proceeds used to help and lobby for family farmers.
In 1990, the Internal Revenue Service seized most of Nelson's property -- several houses, his recording studios, even his pig farm -- against more than $16-million in unpaid taxes. Nelson responded with the album The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories, with all profits directed to paying his back taxes. Heavily marketed on TV ads, the albums sold very well, and allowed Nelson to settle his tax debt.
In 2004, he started the Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company, which produces and markets a substitute for diesel fuel made from vegetable oil and animal oils. He has also been an outspoken proponent for legalization of marijuana, and for banning the slaughter of horses for meat.
Nelson's sister Bobbie has played the piano in his band since long before he was famous, but says she thinks of all the boys in the band as her brothers. The band's bus, of course, runs on Nelson's biodiesel. In 2006, police found a pound and a half of marijuana and several ounces of psychedelic mushrooms on Nelson's tour bus.
Father: Ira Doyle Nelson (auto mechanic, b. 1911, d. 1978)
Mother: Myrle Greenhaw (abandoned family, b. 1910, d. 1983)
Sister: Bobbie Lee Nelson (pianist, b. 1-Jan-1931)
Father: William Nelson (paternal grandfather, b. 1884, d. 1940, raised Willie and Bobbie Nelson)
Mother: Nancy Smothers (paternal grandmother, b. 1882, d. 1979, raised Willie and Bobbie Nelson)
Wife: Martha Jewel Mathews (m. 1950, div. 1960, two daughters, one son)
Daughter: Lana Nelson Fowler (author, b. 1953 with Mathews)
Daughter: Susie Nelson (author, b. 1956 with Mathews)
Son: Billy (with Mathews, d. 1991 suicide)
Wife: Shirley Collie (country singer, m. 1961, div. 1971, one daughter)
Daughter: Paula Nelson (blues singer, b. 1969 with Collie)
Wife: Connie Koepke (showgirl, m. 1971, div. 1988, two children)
Daughter: Amy (country music performer, b. 1973 with Koepke)
Son: Lukas (country music performer, b. 25-Dec-1988)
Son: Jacob (b. 1990)
Slept with: Amy Irving (during filming of Honeysuckle Rose)
Wife: Ann Marie D'Angelo (make-up artist, m. 16-Sep-1991, two children)
University: Baylor University (one year, dropped out)
Kucinich for President
Country Music Hall of Fame
Songwriters Hall of Fame
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
Kennedy Center Honor 1998
Tax Evasion 1990
Drug Possession: Marijuana Hewitt, TX (10-May-1994), charge dropped
Drug Possession: Marijuana St. Martin Parish, LA (18-Sep-2006)
Drug Possession: Psilocybin St. Martin Parish, LA (18-Sep-2006)
Drug Possession: Marijuana Sierra Blanca, TX (26-Nov-2010)
Bankruptcy $16.7 million IRS debt, Nov-1990
Took the Fifth
Endorsement of Taco Bell Zesty Steak Melt (1991)
Endorsement of Chipotle Mexican Grill (2011)
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity
Wedding: Bill Gates and Melinda French (1994)
Risk Factors: Marijuana, Psilocybin, Yoga
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (23-Nov-2008) · Himself
Fuel (17-Oct-2008) · Himself
Surfer, Dude (5-Sep-2008)
Beer for My Horses (8-Aug-2008) · Charlie
Swing Vote (20-May-2008) · Himself
Blonde Ambition (21-Dec-2007) · Pap Paw
The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (4-Mar-2007)
Broken Bridges (8-Sep-2006) · Himself
The Dukes of Hazzard (24-Jun-2005)
The Big Bounce (29-Jan-2004)
The Country Bears (21-Jul-2002) · Himself
Last Party 2000 (2-Nov-2001) · Himself
America: A Tribute to Heroes (21-Sep-2001) · Himself
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (8-Jun-1999) · Himself
Dill Scallion (25-Jan-1999) · Himself
Half Baked (16-Jan-1998) · Historian Smoker
Wag the Dog (25-Dec-1997) · Johnny Dean
Gone Fishin' (30-May-1997)
Big Dreams & Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story (22-Jan-1995) · Himself
Wild Texas Wind (23-Sep-1991) · Himself
Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind (9-Apr-1991) · Billy Roy Rodriguez
Where the Hell's That Gold? (13-Nov-1988)
Baja Oklahoma (20-Feb-1988) · Himself
Once Upon a Texas Train (3-Jan-1988) · John Henry Lee
Red Headed Stranger (Oct-1986)
Stagecoach (18-May-1986) · Doc Holliday
We Are the World (28-Jan-1985) · Himself
Hell's Angels Forever (1983) · Himself
Coming Out of the Ice (23-May-1982)
Thief (27-Mar-1981) · Okla
Honeysuckle Rose (18-Jul-1980)
The Electric Horseman (21-Dec-1979) · Wendell
Appears on the cover of:
Life, Aug-1983, DETAILS: Willie Nelson -- Where C&W's top star hides away with his family, BYLINE: (photo by Harry Benson, of Willie Nelson, surrounded by wife and two kids)
Author of books:
Willie: An Autobiography (1988, memoir, with Bud Shrake)
The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes (2002)
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