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Willie Nelson Was Devastated in 1991 When His Son Took His Life 2 Years after His Mom’s Death

Stephen Thompson
Oct 26, 2021
06:40 A.M.

American musician and actor Willie Nelson led a successful career, but we can't say the same for his life away from the screen. The actor was left in disarray when his son committed suicide two years after Willie's wife's death.


Originally Willie Hugh Nelson, famous by his stage name Willie Nelson, is one of America's showbiz legends. The now 88-year-old star is a multi-talented actor with a successful career; sadly, his personal life was pretty tumultuous.

Wealth and fame can surely not provide all the happiness desired. Willie was devastated when he lost his first love, Martha Matthews. To intensify the already heart-wrenching situation, he lost his eldest child more tragically two years after.

Willie Nelson performs at the 30th Annual Bridge School Benefit concert on Day 1 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 22, 2016. | Photo: Getty Images

Willie Nelson performs at the 30th Annual Bridge School Benefit concert on Day 1 at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 22, 2016. | Photo: Getty Images


Away from show business, Willie is notably an activist. He was widely known for his hit songs "Crazy" and "On the Road Again." The singer and songwriter rose to stardom in the '60s.


He was born to Myrle and Ira D. Nelson on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas. The actor and his older sister, Bobbie, lived with their paternal grandparents in a town where they attended a small Methodist church.

The siblings were first introduced to music at the town's small church, and thankfully Willie and Bobbie's grandparents had a musical background. A statement Willie once made revealed that the older citizens were devoted music teachers.


The grandparents were a big boost to Willie's interest in music. He got his first guitar when he was only six and began writing songs and poetry shortly after. He started his music career with gospel songs — an impact of his religious upbringing.

However, Willie had so much energy as a young star, and he wanted to explore his environment. In the 88-year-old country singer's memoir "It's a Long Story: My Life," he noted that the church "did not calm my restless and rambunctious soul."


His mother sometimes had to tie little Willie to a pole to keep him from wandering off. He soon started playing with a local polka band which was a deviation from his religious background.

Willie once remembered in an interview that when he first got invited to play at a place that sold alcohol, he said: "To hell with all the objections raised by the bible-thumpers."


It is also safe to say that Willie has always stood by the truth and fought for what he believes in. While his career was still young, the iconic country singer imparted on the "outlaw country" music genre, which questioned the music industry conservatism of Nashville.

Bonnie Garner's report revealed that Willie handled his kid's death the best way he could.


Willie took off to the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1960, where he secured a job as a songwriter for Pamper Music, earning a salary of around $50 a week. His hit songs include "On The Road Again" in 1980 and "Seven Spanish Angels" in 1982.

Over the years, Willie has written one of the most popular country songs and has gotten a permanent position as fans' favorite. Even in his 80s, the activist still records and tours while finding time for charitable and political programs.



The road to success is not always smooth, and like some celebrities who face different challenges before fame, Willie also had a story to tell. During the early years of the country music star's career, he had to take so many odd jobs for extra cash.

The music legend worked as a gas attendant, a radio DJ, a factory worker, a laborer at a flooring business, and even sold encyclopedias door-to-door.

But, Willie later quit his job as an encyclopedia salesman because he felt bad about selling a 600 dollar book to customers "who couldn't afford a couch."


Willie worked as a songwriter for musicians from the '60s till the '70s. And, although he was successful, writing for other musicians affected his music career, and he eventually offered about 14,000 dollars to buy himself out of his contract with RCA Records, according to a source.

He moved back to his hometown after a series of events that almost made him quit the music industry for good. But thankfully, going back home had a good outcome as he came back to the industry bigger and better.

After some time exploring his musical interest and different hit songs, the icon took to Hollywood, where he appeared in many top movies. Some of the films Willie starred in include "Barbarosa," "Honeysuckle Rose," and "Once Upon a Texas Train."



Although Willie, 88, had a successful career, things weren't always rosy behind the scenes. The star has been married four times, and he is a father to seven children.

He was married to Martha Matthews​ from 1952 to 1962, ​Shirley Collie from 1963 to 1971, Connie Koepke from ​1971 to 1988, and Annie D'Angelo ​in 1991.

Even while Willie had long separated from some of his spouses, he still saw them as family, and when his first wife Matthews died, the star's heart was shattered. Willie met Mathews when she was sixteen and working as a waitress.


They got married when the music star was 19, and she was 16-years-old, but their relationship soon became sour, and things ended with a divorce. However, Mathers death is Willie's biggest pain yet.

Two years after Willie's ex-wife's passing, their first son William Hugh Nelson Jr. — "Billy" Nelson, who was named after the artist, took his life in 1991. He was 33 at the time of the tragic event.



Billy was found dead on Christmas day in his log cabin home in Davidson County, Tennessee. The father-son duo had been working on a project when Billie decided to hang himself with a cord. Reports showed that Willie was in Abbott, Texas, when he received the news.

Following his son's death, the music star said he had never been so devastated in his life. The younger Hugh Nelson, who had taken in Willie's career footsteps, was reportedly drunk when he died.


After his death, a friend Buddy Frank who had visited Billy a few days before his apparent suicide explained in a statement that the young star seemed happy and normal. According to Frank, he and his friend hung out as usual, and there was no indication that he might take his life.

While Billy's family was still grieving over his death, spokesman Bonnie Garner's report revealed that Willie handled his kid's death the best way he could. He also noted that the singer is a believer in "reincarnation," which made things easier.



The "Always On My Mind" singer and his children, Lana and Susie, sat in an interview that dived into his children's career and success so far.

The actor, music star, and activist reminisced on his first wife's memory during the interview. Speaking on their romantic affair in his book, "It's a Long Story: My Life," he noted:

"It was love – my first full blast of love, the kind of love where you lose your mind and let your heart lead the way."

 Willie Nelson performs at the "Strictly Bluegrass 3" Festival at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park on October 5, 2003 in San Francisco, California. | Getty Images

Willie Nelson performs at the "Strictly Bluegrass 3" Festival at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park on October 5, 2003 in San Francisco, California. | Getty Images

Lana, Susie, and Billy were Willie's kids with Mathews before she died. Billy couldn't join the interview because he, too, had passed away. Lana is Willie and Matthews' eldest daughter, and she is an actress and costume designer.

While Susie is a writer, her book "Heart Worn Memories: A Daughter's Personal Biography of Willie Nelson" describes her life as the child of a superstar.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

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