Ben Haggard, the youngest son of late country music legend Merle Haggard, shared a heartbreaking post on Wednesday, April 6, detailing his final moments with his father.
“A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday,” Ben, 23, the lead guitarist in his father’s band, the Strangers, shared on Facebook alongside a black-and-white photo of his hand grasping his father’s. “And he wasn’t wrong. A[n] hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends.”
— Ben Haggard (@BenHaggardMusic) April 6, 2016
The elder Haggard died at age 79 on Wednesday morning after battling two bouts of pneumonia within a year. Merle’s manager told TMZ that the “Mama Tried” crooner was exhausted with his debilitating lung condition, and had predicted he would pass on his 79th birthday.
Ben’s photo shows Merle’s recognizable tattooed left wrist, which was stamped with “PSI,” for the Preston School of Industry, where he once went to reform school. In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, the iconic musician detailed his struggle with authority since his youth, which included being locked up an estimated 17 times. “I don’t like to be told what to do,” he told the mag at the time, noting that Cool Hand Luke “seemed like a documentary of my young life.”
He married five times throughout his nearly eight decades of life and welcomed six kids. Merle was dad to Dana, Marty, Kelli and Noel, whom he shared with his first wife, Leona Hobbs, and Ben and Jenessa, his kids with his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane.
“He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music,” Ben concluded on Facebook on Wednesday. “He wasn’t just a country singer.. He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
After Merle passed away, top country stars including Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Trisha Yearwood, Brantley Gilbert, Toby Keith and many more mourned the legend.
“Tip our hats and raise our glasses of cold cold beer. They say country’s fading / But we’re still waving that flag around here,” Church wrote, citing lyrics from his song “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag” on Instagram. “When it’s time to go you know you’re welcome back. Where the people pledge allegiance to the Hag.”
The CMT network also revealed its plans to pay tribute to Merle Haggard with a special, CMT Remembers Merle Haggard, airing on Wednesday, April 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET. The network also plans to feature an “All Merle, All Day” tribute on Thursday, April 7.