Tonight, A&E is airing a special presentation of Merle Haggard: Salute to a Country Legend, a one-night-only concert special to honor the legacy of the late Merle Haggard. The special was filmed on what would have been Haggard’s 80th birthday.
Haggard got married a total of four times during his life, and his first life was Leona Hobbs. Later, Haggard married singer Bonnie Owens, Leona Williams, Debbie Parret and finally his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane, to whom he was married at the time of his death.
Haggard had a total of seven children with two of his wives. Some of his children have since followed in his footsteps, choosing to pursue music as a career path.
Here’s what you should know about Haggard’s ex-wives:
1. Hobbs Was Haggard’s First Wife
Hobbs and Haggard got married when she was very young, and the two had a tumultuous time together according to multiple sources.
Haggard had been a trouble maker since he was a young child, first hopping a train with his friend and making it all the way from Bakersfield, California to Fresno before he got caught. He spent time in juvenile facilities and reform schools where he fell in love with music and learned to play the guitar.
When he was 20 years old, he was already married to Hobbs, and he hadn’t slowed down his troublemaking ways at the time. He spent time in the San Quentin State Prison after a burglary attempt, and he was not present at the birth of their first daughter because he was behind bars at the time.
They were married for two years, divorcing just one year before Haggard married his second wife.
2. Haggard’s Second Wife Was Bonnie Owens
Haggard and Bonnie Owens got married two years after his first hit, which released in 1963. She had recently been divorced from country star Buck Owens.
Owens became one of Haggard’s many backup singers during their marriage, and she has been credited with helping him become a country superstar. She continued working as his backup singer after their divorce, and Haggard joked about the situation later on.
When he wrote his hit song “I’ve Got a Darlin’,” he added the subtitle (for a wife) because “the audience might get to wonder who I was talking about.”
They split everything 50/50 when they got divorced, she told People at the time.
3. He Married Leona Williams in 1978
In 1978, Haggard married country music colleague Leona Williams, and at the time, he told People that their relationship was “either peaches and cream, or it’s dill pickles.”
He opened up about the fact that they’d moved from her home in Nashville, Tennessee to a home near Redding, California. The move didn’t make Williams happy.
“She wasn’t too thrilled about that,” Haggard said. “Tennessee’s a nice place if you’ve never been anywhere else.”
Because Owens still worked as his back-up singer, there were some issues built in to their relationship from the start, according to a 1979 article in People. Fortunately, Williams liked the balance between freedom, homemaking and independence in her life.
Haggard was attracted to her voice before anything else, he said. “Leona had something a little different in her voice. I wondered what the female looked like that was doing that.”
Then, he hired her as her backup singer.
4. His Fourth Wife Co-Wrote Songs With Haggard
Haggard married Debbie Parret in 1985. The two were married for 5 years, and they dated for one year before officially tying the knot.
Parret was a songwriter herself, and she was credited for Haggard’s song “Thank You For Keeping My House.”
Haggard often worked professionally with his wives. Both Owens and Williams worked as backup singers for the star.
5. Haggard Had Six Children With Two of His Wives
Haggard and Williams had four children in their time together: Dana, Marty, Kelli and Noel. In 1968, Haggard had another child named Scott Haggard. Then, he married his wife Theresa Ann Lane on September 11, 1993.
They had two children together, Jenessa and Ben. Four of Haggard’s sons are in the music industry. Marty, who was born in 1958, focused on Christian songs and formed a music ministry. Noel, who was born in 1963, wrote and sang country songs but now tours with his youngest brother Ben.
Scott Haggard, who was born in December 1968, didn’t meet Merle until around 2005. He worked as a blue-collar truck driver and country singer.
Haggard’s youngest son, Ben took up the songs, bus and band following his father’s passing.