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Willie Nelson is a musical icon and a pioneer of outlaw country, but he’s also been a husband and father for a very long time. And now he’s a grandfather and great-grandfather, too. As it turns out, he actually had a whole branch of family tree he didn’t know about. Here are a few things to know about him as a family man.

Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson, and Lukas Nelson perform during the Farm Aid 2021 music festival
Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson, and Lukas Nelson | Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Willie Nelson’s oldest son died by suicide

Now 88, Nelson has been married four times and had eight kids, but his oldest son died tragically in 1991. Willie “Billy” Nelson Jr.’s suicide at 33 devastated Nelson, as reported to the Associated Press, but also led to a haunting duet years later.

Bonnie Garner, a spokeswoman for Nelson’s management company, said at the time the country star “spent some time with Billy, and everyone thought everything was fine″ in the weeks before his death, which led to a tragic shock for the family. The father and son were working on a gospel album at that point.

After a few years, Nelson released Peace In The Valley, which contained two songs featuring his late son, but one was particularly poignant. “My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul” features Willie Nelson Jr. and includes the lyrics, “When my last breath is drawn/I’ll unpack and ramble on/And play my blues down on those streets of gold/My body’s just a suitcase for my soul.”

One of Nelson’s friends told Sun Sentinel, “It was very tough for Willie. He had doubts about coming out with this album at all. But now that the record is out, it seems to be helping him to come to grips with the tragedy.”

In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

Willie Nelson revealed he had a daughter, who had a daughter, who had a daughter that he didn’t know about

In 2012, Nelson revealed he had a three generations of offspring he was completely unaware of. The weed advocate wrote about the discovery in his book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, and said his daughter, Renee, was born from a very friendly relationship with a woman named Mary.

“Turns out Mary and I had a child together called Renee. It also turns out Renee has a daughter, Noelle, who has a daughter, ­Jordan, who I am happy to now call my great-granddaughter,” Nelson shared. “My newly discovered family sure took some time to surface.”

He noted that his wife was as happy as he was to find out about their new family members, but they regretted it took so long. Still, he noted, “I consider them as much a part of ­Willie Nelson and Family as I do my other children.”


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Willie Nelson’s children joined him for an album

“Shotgun Willie” is joined by his sister, Bobbie, and four of his kids on his latest album. His sons, Lukas and Micah, and his daughters, Amy and Paula, joined him to record 2021’s The Willie Nelson Family. It includes original songs as well as covers of classics by artists like Hank Williams and George Harrison.

And the musical roots are spreading more than that. His granddaughter, Raelyn Nelson, is an emerging artist in Nashville with The Raelyn Nelson Band. She shared with Spin that some of her earliest memories include being taught to sing “On the Road Again” by Nelson — “Papa Willie” — and her late father, Willie Nelson Jr.

So, in the end, that’s one musical family. And to conclude with a rundown, Nelson fathered eight children and now has five grandkids and four grandkids — that we know of.