Ringo Starr leads tributes to country musician Merle Haggard, dead at 79

Country musician died of pneumonia on Wednesday (April 6)

Tributes are being paid to country music legend Merle Haggard after the musician passed away at the age of 79.

The singer’s manager confirmed that Haggard died in Palo Cedro, California of pneumonia on Wednesday (April 6), his birthday.

Responding to the news, fellow country icon Willie Nelson wrote on Twitter that Haggard “was my brother, my friend. I will miss him”.

Ringo Starr added to the tributes, writing: “God bless Merle Haggard peace and love to all his family. Merle was a hero of mine peace and love”.

“We’ve lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time,” Dolly Parton said. “His heart was as tender as his love ballads. I loved him like a brother. Rest easy, Merle.”

Clint Eastwood told Rolling Stone Country: “Merle will always be one of the greatest classic country artists of all time. He will be dearly missed.”

See more tributes from music stars below.

Haggard was born in 1937 near Bakersfield, California. As a teenager he often ran into trouble with the law and he spent time in juvenile detention centres and served jail sentences during the 1950s. It was as an inmate at San Quentin prison that Haggard first saw Johnny Cash perform, an event that proved life-changing.

Following his release in 1960, Haggard went on to record a number of hit country singles. His first top 20 hit, ‘Sing Me a Sad Song’, came out in 1963, and he scored his first No. 1 single with 1965’s ‘I’m a Lonesome Fugitive’. By 1967, Haggard was one of country musics’s biggest stars with 37 songs charting in the Top 10 that year.

Haggard went on to have 38 Number One country singles over his career, third only to George Strait (44) and Conway Twitty (40). His most famous songs include ‘Mama Tried’, ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’, and ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me’.

His last album was 2015’s ‘Django and Jimmie’, a collaboration with his longtime friend Willie Nelson. Haggard was the recipient of two Grammys and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.