“A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong,” Haggard’s youngest son, 22-year-old Ben, shared on his Facebook page in the wake of the country music icon’s death. “[An] hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends. He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music.”
Ben continued: “He wasn’t just a country singer .. He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
Haggard’s musical community has been paying tribute as well.
“We’ve lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time,” said Dolly Parton in a statement. “His heart was as tender as his love ballads. I loved him like a brother. Rest easy, Merle.”
Hank Williams Jr. also shared his thoughts.
“Merle Haggard was an original,” Williams Jr. wrote. “Not just a singer, not just a songwriter, not just another famous performer. He was your common everyday working man.”
He continued: “I remember when I was 15 years old on tour with Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. They both were wondering which one of the two was going to make it. Well, they both made it. Today, ole Merle joined Waylon, George, and daddy to sing in the Heavenly choir.”
CMT will air a tribute special, CMT Remembers Merle Haggard Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.