Mostly Credited As: Willie Nelson
Sometimes Credited As: The Highwaymen
Birth Name: Willie Hugh Nelson
Date Of Birth: April 30, 1933 (Age 81)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Abbott, Texas
Height: 5' 6" (1.67 m)
The versatile, eclectic, rather wanderlust country crossover star known for his classic ballads ("Always On My Mind"), autobiographical road songs ("On the Road Again") and catchy rhythms ("Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys") started out life as Willie Hugh Nelson on April 30, 1933 in Depression-era Abbot, Texas where he worked in the cotton fields. He and sister Bobbie Lee were raised by gospel-singing grandparents after his mother abandoned the family and father died. Willie was handed his first guitar at age six and within a short time was writing woeful country songs and playing in polka bands. During his teenage years, he played high school dances and honky-tonks. He also worked for a local radio station and by graduation time he had become a DJ with his own radio show. Briefly serving a stint with the Air Force (discharged because of a bad back, which would plague him throughout his life), he sold his first song called "No Place For Me" while getting by with menial jobs as a janitor and door-to-door Bible salesman. Married in 1952 to a full-blooded Cherokee, he and first wife Martha had two children. He initially came to be known in Nashville for selling his songs to well-established country artists such as Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Faron Young ("Hello Walls") and Ray Price ("Night Life"). In 1962 he recorded a successful duet with singer Shirley Collie, whom he would later take as his second wife, but his career didn't progress despite joining the Grand 'Ol Opry. In the early 1970s after touring with his band, which included sister Bobbie on the piano, and a number of career downswings, he started performing and recording his own songs instead of selling them to others. Willie had recorded two albums "Shotgun Willie" and "Phases And Stages" and grew in stature. In 1975 it all came together with the album "Red-Headed Stranger'" which would became the top selling country music album in history and helped to push him into the country music stratosphere. His offbeat phrasing, distinctive nasal tones and leathery, bewhiskered hippie-styled looks set a new standard for 'outlaw' country music. Around 1978, Willie proved a loose and friendly presence in front of the camera and was able to launch his own movie career. Nelson played roles in several films, his first opposite Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in The Electric Horseman (1979). He played his first lead as a country music star in Honeysuckle Rose (1980), which would include a number of his songs on the soundtrack. He played opposite James Caan and Tuesday Weld in Thief (1981) and a legendary outlaw in the western Barbarosa (1982). In the movie _Red-Headed Stranger (1986)_ , which was adapted from his hit 1975 album, Nelson played a preacher, and he teamed up with pal Kris Kristofferson as a couple of country singers in Songwriter (1984). He and Kristofferson went on to form The Highwaymen with the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and successfully recorded and toured with the group for a number of years. They also teamed for a 1986 TV remake of the film classic "Stagecoach." As a unique song stylist, the bearded, braided-haired, bandanna-wearing non-conformist took a number of non-country standards and made them his own, including Elvis Presley's "You Were Always on My Mind" and Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind." He happily married fourth wife Ann-Marie in 1991 and has survived more hard times in recent years, including a 16.7 million dollar debt to the IRS and the suicide of one of his sons, Billy. Joining the Country Musical Hall of Fame in 1993, Nelson received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998.