Willie Nelson has made quite a name for himself as a true music icon. Born on April 29th, 1933, Nelson recorded his first album, No Place For Me, in 1956. From there he went on to have a very successful career that earned him a total of 12 Grammy Awards and a whopping 56 nominations. In 1993, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame; five years later, he was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
As he has aged, however, Nelson has been the victim of numerous death hoaxes and false health rumors. Given his age, it’s only natural for fans to be worried about his well-being.
To sort fact from fiction, we took a look at the origins of this gossip and do a little digging to find out how Willie Nelson is doing today.
Nelson Has Been The Target Of Several Death Hoaxes
Although he remains alive and well, Nelson has been the target of not one but several death hoaxes.
Snopes reported that a fake news site, MSMBC.co, published a false report of the country icon’s death on February 21, 2015, claiming that he was found unresponsive on the front lawn of his Maui home by a groundskeeper. This report then circulated on social media, fooling many readers. The same outlet updated the hoax article on April 11 of the same year, setting off a second round of death rumors. These rumors, of course, were completely false.
Chicago’s WLS-AM set off another death rumor via social media on August 3, 2017:
The radio station later confirmed they had been taken in by a hoax and that the rumors were fortunately untrue. Buddy Cannon, Nelson’s friend and songwriting partner, told CMT.com, “[Willie] and I laugh about. What can you do? People just say stuff.”
Being the legend that he is, Nelson went on to do far more than just laugh about his death hoaxes. He and Cannon wrote “Still Not Dead,” which was released in his album God’s Problem Child, mocking these rumors. Nelson also released a tongue-in-cheek music video of the song, celebrating his life despite dubious reports to the contrary.
What Is The Status of Willie Nelson’s Health?
Nelson has survived a few health scares in his lifetime. In 1981, his lung collapsed while swimming in Maui, and in 2012, he canceled a Denver concert, citing “problems due to the high altitude and emphysema,” according to Rolling Stone.
The longtime tobacco and pot smoker told NPR in 2012 that he gave up the former after two or three cases of pneumonia. He underwent stem-cell therapy in 2015 to improve his lung health. But in 2019, he hit pause on a summer tour because lung problems flared up again. He announced the tour’s cancellation on Twitter:
Later that year, he told San Antonio station KSAT that he had finally given up marijuana.
“I have abused my lungs quite a bit in the past, so breathing is a little more difficult these days and I have to be careful,” said Wilson. “I don’t smoke anymore—take better care of myself.”
Since then, Wilson seems to be in good health and spirits. He kicked off quarantine by spending quality time with his family. By January 2021, he had received his COVID vaccine and encouraged fans to follow suit.
Nelson Continues To Pursue The Things He’s Passionate About
Age and health concerns certainly haven’t slowed Willie Nelson down. Although he no longer smokes himself, Nelson continues to be an advocate for the legalization of marijuana. In April 2021, he cohosted Luck Summit: Planting the Seed. The four-day virtual festival aimed “to destigmatize, educate, and promote cannabis culture in an informative and entertaining way.”
“I think people need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug,” Nelson said (via the Austin American-Statesman). “Marijuana is an herb and a flower…If [God] put it here and He wants it to grow, what gives the government the right to say that God is wrong?”
Of course, Nelson hasn’t forgotten his first love: music. He even continues to experiment with genres and collaborate with unexpected artists. In October 2020, he released a cover of David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s frontwoman Karen O. He also released the Frank Sinatra cover album That’s Life—his 71st solo studio album—in February 2021.
Nelson certainly hasn’t lost any of his musical chops with age; he won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album in 2023 with his record A Beautiful Time. Not bad for a man only a few months shy of 90!
Does Willie Nelson Still Tour?
All that’s left for Nelson is a return to the live stage. Even his son Lukas encouraged him via social media to get back on the road again:
Nelson answered fans’ and family members’ calls. He toured again in 2022, although some dates had to be canceled as a result of COVID-19 precautions.
It’s a thrill to hear that he survived a bleak pandemic. We also love that he’s the same spirited singer and songwriter fans fell in love with back in the ’70s. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Nelson while he’s still here. His contribution to culture and society can never be replicated.