Last Updated: May 28, 2024
Richest CelebritiesSingers
Net Worth:
$5 Million
Apr 6, 1937 (87 years old)
5 ft 8 in (1.75 m)
Guitarist, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Actor, Fiddler, Singer, Songwriter, Composer, Record producer
United States of America
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What was Merle Haggard's Net Worth?

Merle Haggard was an American country and western songwriter, singer, and instrumentalist who had a net worth of $5 million at the time of his death in 2016. Merle Haggard, nicknamed "The Hag," helped create "the Bakersfield sound," along with country great Buck Owens and Haggard's band The Strangers. The Bakersfield sound was characterized by the unique mix of traditional country steel guitar and the twang of a Fender Telecaster guitar. The sound also incorporated a new vocal harmony style and a rough edge that a more polished Nashville music industry was not accustomed to. In the 70s, Haggard aligned with another growing movement known as the Outlaw Country movement, and his success continued to increase well into the 2000s.

In his early years, Haggard committed a number of minor legal offenses, including thefts and writing back checks, and was even sent to a juvenile detention center in 1950 for shoplifting. He was also once arrested for robbery, along with a friend, but they were later released when the real robbers were found. In 1957, he was arrested after he tried to rob a Bakersfield roadhouse and was sent to a Bakersfield jail, where he attempted an escape and was transferred to San Quentin Prison in California. President Ronald Reagan pardoned Haggard in 1972.

In 1964, Haggard's life was finally on track when he recorded Wynn Stewart's song "Sing a Sad Song," which resulted in a national hit. Haggard's subsequent #1 hits include "Mama Tried," "Okie from Muskogee," "The Fightin' Side of Me," "Cherokee Maiden," and "Pancho and Lefty." In total, Merle Haggard had 38 #1 hits during his career. He won multiple awards, including Top Male Vocalist, seven times between 1966 and 1970.  In 1994, Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Merle Haggard died on April 6, 2016, the day of his 79th birthday.

Early Life

Haggard was born on April 6, 1937, in Oildale, California, to parents Flossie Mae and James Francis Haggard. The family had relocated to California from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. His father started working for the Sante Fe Railroad and also converted an old boxcar into a house for his family to live in. In 1946, his father died of a brain hemorrhage, which deeply affected Haggard, who was nine at the time.

Haggard began playing the guitar at the age of 12 after his older brother gave him his guitar. He was influenced by artists like Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Williams. He also started getting into trouble, which eventually led to him being sent to a juvenile detention center. When he got out, he ran away to Texas with his friend Bob Teague. Much of his youth was spent in and out of various detention centers, as he was often getting into trouble for stealing. He was sentenced to prison at San Quentin in February 1958 after attempting to escape from the Bakersfield Jail. During his time at San Quentin, Merle was in the audience for what became a legendary performance by Johnny Cash.

While in prison, he was inspired to change his life and, earned a high school equivalency diploma, and kept a steady job in the prison's textile plant. He also played music in the prison's country music band until his release in 1960.


After being released from prison, Haggard began digging ditches for his brother's electrical contracting company. He also started performing with Tally Records. At the time, the Bakersfield sound, a subgenre of country music, was developing in reaction to the overproduced Nashville sound, and Haggard fit well into the genre. His first record was "Singing My Heart Out." He later performed at a Wynn Stewart Show in Las Vegas and heard Wynn's "Sing a Sad Song." He asked permission to record it and what resulted became a national hit in 1964. He continued releasing some successful tracks, culminating in the release of his 1967 album "Branded Man," which became an artistic and commercial success for Haggard.

By the end of the 1960s, Haggard had composed several number-one hits, including "Mama Tried," "The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde," "Hungry Eyes," and "Sing Me Back Home." In 1969, he released "Okie from Muskogee." The song received massive attention and topped the country charts for a month. That track, along with "The Fightin' Side of Me" and "I Wonder If They Think of Me," were hailed as anthems of the Silent Majority in America and were recognized as promoting a patriotic trend in American country music.

Over the next decades, Haggard's career continued to grow. He appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1974 and dominated the country charts for much of the decade. He produced 12 more top-10 country hits throughout the early 1980s. After some personal troubles and drug use, he spent much of the late 1980s and 1990s hampered by financial woes. However, he made a comeback of sorts in the 2000s.

Over the course of his career, Haggard has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. He has received many awards from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In 1977, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and then into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1994. In 1997, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. To recognize his lifetime contribution to country music, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and also was honored as a BMI Icon at the 54th annual BMI Pop Awards the same Year. In 2010, he accepted a Kennedy Center Honor.

Merle Haggard

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images


As we detail in the next paragraph, Merle was married five times during his life. These marriages and subsequent spousal and child support payments zapped his finances throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, he declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He would later claim in a rolling stone that:

"Johnny Carson and I were spending more money on spousal support in the 1980s than any other Americans."

Personal Life and Death

Haggard was married five times throughout his life. In 1956, he married Leona Hobbs. They had four children together – Dana, Mary, Kelli, and Noel – before divorcing in 1964. In 1965, he married singer Bonnie Owens. He credits Owens with helping him make his big break as a country artist. She played in active role in helping raise Haggard's children from his first marriage. They divorced in 1978 but remained very close friends. Owens acted as the maid of honor for Haggard's third marriage and continued as his backing vocalist until her death in 2006. In 1978, Haggard married Leona Williams. They divorced in 1983. Two years later, in 1985, he married Debbie Parret and then divorced in 1991. In 1993, he married his fifth wife, Theresa Ann Lane. They had two children together named Jenessa and Ben.

In November of 2008, it was announced that Haggard had been diagnosed with lung cancer, though he had already undergone surgery to remove part of his lungs. A couple of months later, he played two shows in Bakersfield and then continued touring and recording. In December of 2015, he received treatment for pneumonia, causing him to postpone several concerts. In March of 2016, he was again hospitalized, and his concerts were canceled due to ongoing pneumonia. On the morning of April 6, 2016, he died of complications from pneumonia at his home in Palo Cedro, California. It was the day of his 79th birthday. He was buried in a private funeral at his ranch a few days later.

California Mansion

For his last several decades, Merle Haggard lived on a 200-acre property in the town of Palo Cedro, California. The property at one point spanned nearly 1,000 acres, but he lost all but 200 as part of his 1993 bankruptcy restructuring.

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