Willie Nelson’s Life in Photos

Willie Nelson’s Early Days

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Willie Nelson was born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, and was raised, with his older sister Bobbie, by grandparents. The siblings grew up playing music together, though in high school, Nelson picked up another hobby and played football.

Here, Nelson is seen suited up during his sophomore year at Abbott High School in 1948.

Willie Nelson and His Sister Bobbie Nelson

Courtesy Willie and Bobbie Nelson

Willie and his sister were dear friends and would play music together for decades to come. Here, the siblings pose together in 1946 as teenagers.

In 2020, they released a book together: Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band.

Willie Nelson Leaves Texas

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After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Nelson became a disc jockey and started making his own music. By the early 1960s, Nelson had relocated to Nashville.

He released his first two records while signed to Liberty Records: 1962’s …And Then I Wrote and 1963’s Here’s Willie Nelson.

Here, a young Nelson is seen performing on KPHO TV in Phoenix in December 1962.

Willie Nelson Marries Shirley Collie

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Nelson first married high school sweetheart Martha Matthews in 1952, and they divorced 10 years later. Nelson married his second wife, singer Shirley Collie (pictured here), in 1963 and the two remained together until 1971.

Willie Nelson Signs to RCA

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Nelson began playing bass for Ray Price’s band. Price was just one of the artists who would record songs written by Nelson that turned into hits, including “Night Life” sung by Price and “Crazy” for Patsy Cline.

In 1964, Nelson signed a record deal with RCA Records (pictured here).

Willing Nelson in the Recording Studio

Willie and Bobbie Nelson in 1973.

In the early 1970s, Nelson decided it was time to move back to Texas and considered pursuing pig farming, The New York Times noted. In 1972, though, he met the Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler at a party back in Nashville and was offered a contract, the paper said.

From there he recorded albums like 1973’s Shotgun Willie, 1974’s Phases and Stages and 1975’s Red Headed Stranger.

Along with country star Waylon Jennings, Nelson would lead a subgenre of music known as “outlaw country.”

Here, Nelson is joined by his sister Bobbie, longtime friend and drummer Paul English and producer Arif Mardin in the Atlantic Records studios in New York City in February 1973.

Nelson established his band, The Family, in 1972, the Times explained, which consisted of Bobbie, English, Mickey Raphael, Bee Spears and Jody Payne.

Willie Nelson on ‘Saturday Night Live’

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Nelson performed as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live during the show’s third season in 1977.

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings

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Nelson and Jennings together in New York in April 1978.

Willie Nelson as an Actor

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In addition to his expansive career as a musician and songwriter, Nelson brought his talents to the silver screen. His first film role came in 1979’s The Electric Horseman (pictured here).

Since then, he has landed numerous screen roles including Stagecoach, Half Baked and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Willie Nelson at the CMA Awards

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Nelson has won numerous Country Music Association Awards including this one, in 1979, for Entertainer of the Year.

Willie Nelson at the White House

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In 1979, Nelson visited the White House with singer Charley Pride to present President Jimmy Carter with a special award for his support of country music — as voted on by the Country Music Association Board.

Willie Nelson and Connie Kopeke

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Nelson welcomed daughter Paula with Connie Koepke in 1969 (while he was still married to Shirley Collie, prior to their 1971 divorce). Nelson and Kopeke had another daughter, Amy, in 1973.

He met and became involved with his fourth wife, Annie D’Angelo, while still married to Kopeke, and the pair went their separate ways in 1988.

“I messed up another marriage. My wandering ways were too much for any woman to put up with,” he wrote in his memoir. “I’ll always love Connie.”

Willie Nelson as a Dad

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By the time Paula arrived in 1961, Nelson was already a father of four (though he didn’t learn about his eldest daughter Renée until decades after her birth).

Renee Butts (née Lynda Renee Barley) was born on Jan. 22, 1953, to Nelson’s friend Mary Haney, but it wasn’t until much later on — more than 50 years — that he learned of their lineage.

He shares daughters Lana Nelson Fowler, Susie Nelson and son William “Billy” Hugh Nelson Jr. with his first wife, Martha Matthews. Billy died by suicide in 1991.

Paula and and Amy (pictured here with their dad in 1980) were his daughters by Koepke, and he and D’Angelo welcomed two sons, Lukas Autry Nelson in 1988, followed by Jacob “Micah” Nelson in 1990.

Willie Nelson and Farm Aid

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In 1985, Nelson founded Farm Aid alongside fellow singer-songwriters Neil Young and John Mellencamp. The annual benefit concert raises money for farmers across the U.S. The organization’s mission, per its website, “is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America.”

The first Farm Aid (pictured here) took place in Champaign, Illinois, and featured performances by artists including Billy Joel, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan.

Willie Nelson’s Friendship with President Jimmy Carter

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In 1985, Nelson joined President Carter in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Nelson and Carter have a friendship spanning decades, Nelson noted once in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

When talking about his visits to the White House, Nelson said: “Jimmy and I would jog together and hang out, and his son and I would hang out together in the White House — we had a lot of fun.”

Cooper then asked Nelson about smoking marijuana on the roof of the White House, which he discusses in his autobiography — and Carter himself confirmed was with his son, James Earl “Chip” Carter.

“I don’t remember,” Nelson demurred.

Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton

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Willie Nelson posed with Dolly Parton during the Grand Ole Opry 60th Anniversary TV special, which aired in 1986.

Nelson had become a member of the legendary Opry in 1964.

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles

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In 1988, Nelson took the stage with his friend, Ray Charles, for a CBS TV special broadcast in 1988.

The two men collaborated on the song “Seven Spanish Angels” together.

Willie Nelson and the IRS

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In 1990, Nelson was forced to file bankruptcy after it was revealed that he owed $16.7 million in taxes to the IRS. The government seized some of his belongings, including furniture from his cabin (pictured here).

He released an album called The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? in an effort to help pay back the debt, and did so successfully.

Willie Nelson and the Highwaymen

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In addition to being a solo act, Nelson was also a part of the country group the Highwaymen, which was made up of music legends: Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson (pictured here at Central Park SumerStage in New York City in 1993).

Willie Nelson and the Country Music Hall of Fame

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Nelson was joined on stage by Kristofferson and Cash while giving a thank-you speech for his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame during the Country Music Association Awards in 1993.

Willie Nelson and Kennedy Center Honors

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In 1998, Nelson was awarded at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside John Kander and Fred Ebb, Shirley Temple Black, Andre Previn and Bill Cosby (Cosby’s award was rescinded in 2018).

Willie Nelson and Annie D’Angelo


Nelson met Annie D’Angelo in 1986; they welcomed their first son, Lukas Autry in 1988 and second son Jacob “Micah” in 1990, before tying the knot in 1991.

Here, the couple poses together at the 42nd annual Grammy Awards in 2000. Nelson has been nominated for 56 Grammys and has won 12.

Willie Nelson and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame

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In 2001, Nelson was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Willie Nelson and Ray Price


Nelson performed with his old friend Ray Price at the Beacon Theatre in New York City for the Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin’ TV special. Here, the two are seen rehearsing.

Willie Nelson and Marijuana

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Nelson, an avid fan of marijuana who even has his own curated line called Willie’s Reserve, has also long been an advocate of its legalization. In 2007, he played Freedom Fest, which raised money for the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and WAMM’s hospice and support services, per NORML’s website.

Willie Nelson Reunites with His Eldest Daughter

Lynda Renee Butts Facebook

In Nelson’s 2012 memoir, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road, he talked about how he learned about his eldest daughter, Renée Butts.

“I have an old, dear friend, Mary Haney, who I’d lost touch with but recently met again after decades,” he wrote. “Turns out Mary and I had a child together called Renée. It also turns out Renée has a daughter, Noelle, who has a daughter, [­Jordyn], who I am happy to now call my great-granddaughter.”

He added, “My newly discovered family sure took some time to surface.”

Butts died in August 2017.

Willie Nelson as a Family Man

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In 2013, Nelson was joined by many of his family members at Hard Rock International’s artist spotlight benefit concert for the singer at Hard Rock Cafe in New York City. There were nephew Trevor Nelson, daughter Paula Nelson, son Micah Nelson, son Lukas Nelson, granddaughter Raelyn Nelson, his wife Annie, daughter Amy Nelson, granddaughter Rachel Fowler, great grandson Dean Hubbard, granddaughter Martha Fowler and daughter Lana Nelson.

Willie Nelson Performs with Bobbie

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Nelson was joined onstage by his sister Bobbie on New Year’s Eve at Austin City Limits Live in 2014 in Austin.

Willie once told PEOPLE his sister was “the most naturally talented of all the Nelsons.”

Bobbie died in 2022 at age 91.

Willie Nelson Gets His Black Belt

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As a man of many talents, it’s no surprise that a fifth-degree black belt is part of Nelson’s résumé. Here, he poses with a fellow student during his fifth degree black belt award ceremony in 2014.

WIllie Nelson Wins the Gershwin Prize

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In 2015, Nelson was honored with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Here, he takes the stage during the tribute concert DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Willie Nelson and His Sons

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Lukas and Micah, who are both musicians themselves, pose with their dad at the Producers & Engineers Wing 12th annual Grammy week event honoring Nelson in 2019 in Los Angeles.

Willie Nelson and Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves and Willie Nelson.
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Nelson and Kacey Musgraves share a tight-knit friendship after having shared the stage together on numerous occasions.

While giving a tour of her home for Architectural Digest in 2022, Musgraves showed off the half-smoked joint she has framed — given to her by Nelson.

“He rolled this huge fatty and we all sat around and smoked it with him,” Musgraves said. “Then he said, ‘Save the rest for another time,’ and I did.”

Here, the two pose together at the producers & Engineers Wing 12th annual Grammy week event in his honor in 2019.

Willie Nelson and Political Activism


Nelson has long been politically active (with causes including marijuana legalization, LGBTQ+ rights and anti-war legislation) and here he took the stage to perform during a rally to support voting rights in his home stage of Texas at the state capitol in 2021.

Willie Nelson Turns 90

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After more than half a century in the industry, Nelson is still performing. A month before his 90th birthday, he performed at the Autism Speaks Light Up The Blues 6 Concert in Los Angeles.

He will celebrate the milestone birthday with friends and colleagues with a set of shows at the Hollywood Bowl on April 29 and 30.

He will be joined by a slew of artists including Musgraves, Beck, Chris Stapleton, Leon Bridges, The Chicks and Snoop Dogg.

“I can’t say thank you enough to all the people who are taking time out of their daily lives to come out and help me sing ‘Happy Birthday’ on my 90th birthday,” Nelson told PEOPLE. “I really appreciate it. I love them all for doing it.”

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