81 Amazing Things Willie Nelson Has Done With His Life

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It’s been a big week for Willie Nelson, releasing Band of Brothers as his 48th full-length release at the age of 81–which reminds us that the Willie Nelson catalogue really covers over 80 albums, and that’s not even getting into compilations. Willie also marked the week with another achievement, as he proved to be one of the few musicians out there with the star power to get Johnny Depp into his band as a backing guitarist.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good week. Still, maybe it wasn’t a particularly significant one for a guy like Willie Nelson. Check out this list of 81 achievements, and then ponder all the stuff we left out. We don’t even mention Thief, which remains his best film, and had him working with James Caan while creating the template for Miami Vice, since the film was directed by–okay, we’ll talk about later. Check out these other amazing achievements…

  1. Willie Nelson released his first record in 1962 at the age of 29–titled …And Then I Wrote, which was a nod to what old classic songwriters always say when performing in concert.
  2. In 1980, Willie played a concert at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and performed a duet with First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
  3. And according to his biography, he smoked weed on the roof of the White House.
  4. Willie had a profound influence on world affairs, as Jimmy Carter explained in an interview with Rolling Stone: When I was in trouble in the White House or when I wanted to have some deep thoughts, I had a very high quality hi-fi player, and the number one thing I played was Willie Nelson songs.  All the good things I did as a president, all the mistakes I made–you can blame half of that on Willie.
  5. Willie Nelson performs the song “Whiskey River” for Grand Theft Auto V.
  6. He wrote “On The Road Again” for the movie Honeysuckle Rose, with Willie in his first starring role. The movie kind of bombed, but the song won a Grammy.
  7. The producer of Honeysuckle Rose asked him to make a song about traveling during a meeting about the movie. Nelson ad-libbed the entire song sitting in that chair.
  8. His classic composition “Always on My Mind” was performed on two–yes, two–episodes of Knight Rider.
  9. In 1979, Willie made his acting debut in The Electric Horseman, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
  10. In the 2008 comedy Surfer, Dude, WIllie Nelson plays a stoner guardian angel named Farmer Bob who bestows free weed on Matthew McCoughney.
  11. Nelson plays the title character in Barbarosa, a Western that had him as a legendary bandit mentoring Gary Busey. Roger Ebert personally championed the movie after Universal was unsure about releasing it in theaters.
  12. He’s produced 11 films–starting with a 1984 documentary about the kids living on the streets of Seattle.
  13. Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. That took a while.
  14. Toby Keith asked Willie to join him on a record, and the legendary songwriter agreed after simply hearing the title of the song–which turned out to be the huge country hit “Whiskey For My Men, Beer For My Horses.”
  15. Willie Nelson has performed on the same Martin classical acoustic guitar for over 30 years, even though there is gaping hole on the front of it.
  16. That guitar is covered in famous signatures.
  17. Willie did a duet with Ray Charles called “Seven Spanish Angels” in 1985. it was on the Billboard Country Hit Chart for twelve weeks. spending one week as #1.
  18. Willie’s eco-friendly tour bus is called the “Honeysuckle Rose IV” and runs on a variety of biofuels.
  19. He performed at the 1994 wedding reception of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Melinda Gates in Lanai, Hawaii.
  20. He’s been married to four different women since 1952. We’re counting that as an accomplishment because that’s some serious survival skills.
  21. Nelson played Uncle Jesse Duke in the 2005 big-screen take on The Dukes of Hazzard, in which he hits an apple bong.
  22. He appears as himself at the end of the 2006 film Beerfest, smoking a joint in an Amsterdam alley.
  23. Willie Nelson has said in interviews that he is “the worst actor ever” despite his many performances and recognitions. Humility!
  24. He first got recognition for selling his songs to famous country musicians: Patsy Cline (“Crazy”), Faron Young (“Hello Walls”) and Ray Price (“Night Life”)
  25. He was playing high school dances and honky-tonks while still in high school himself.
  26. Nelson was also a high school tri-athlete.
  27. At 78, he became a black belt in kung fu.
  28. He took a year off of songwriting to raise hogs in Tennessee.
  29. When he was a bored kid in Abbott, Texas, he and his friends would fight swarms of bumblebees.
  30. Willie Nelson put on 138 shows in 2013, making him one of the hardest working performers in the business.
  31. He donated the proceeds from his 2013 birthday concert to the West Village Volunteer Fire Department.
  32. Nelson sold the song “Family Bible” to Claude Gray for $50.00
  33. When he moved to Columbia Records in 1975, he had complete control over his recording of Red Headed Stranger–and he reported that it was his first truly gratifying album release.
  34. Red Headed Stranger is considered to be the first country-music concept album–which is fair enough, in the sense that it tells a story and is more than just a collection of songs with a similar theme.
  35. He formed a group of country singers called The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
  36. They all starred in the movie Stage Coach.
  37. In 1999, Nelson received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
  38. For his support of family farms, Nelson was inducted into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2011.
  39. The Fourth of July was named Willie Nelson Day by the Texas Senate in 1975.
  40. In 1975, Nelson was part of the compilation album called Wanted! The Outlaws (#10 on the pop charts, #1 country) with Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter. It was the first platinum country album, and labeled a movement of country music.
  41. Nelson was initially rejected by the Nashville music industry because his vocals and sparse instrumental backings were considered commercially unappealing–or, you know, too country for country, which is pretty punk rock.
  42. In a 2005 interview, Nelson gave weed credit for helping him give up cigarettes and alcohol.
  43. Willie Nelson is said to be the only celebrity that outsmokes Snoop Dogg, who smokes 80 blunts a day.
  44. He has been the advisory co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for more than 25 years.
  45. Willie Nelson is  the author of seven books. His latest book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road, came out in 2012.
  46. He has been on four covers of the publication High TImes.
  47. Nelson has been arrested four times for marijuana possession.
  48. After getting charged with a Class A misdemeanor in 2012 for 3 Oz on his tour bus, Nelson started The Tea Party, an event focused on legalizing marijuana.
  49. The Facebook page got over 50,000 likes in 24 hours without publicity.
  50. He has smoked weed for almost 70 years.
  51. He has crafted his own strain: a smooth, seedless, finely ground mixture of several cannabis strains that he calls “Willie Weed.”
  52. Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land
  53. Farm Aid has raised more than $45 million.
  54. He produces his own kind of biodiesel fuel.
  55. Willie Nelson has won seven Grammies.
  56. Nelson is working with label archivists to help curate a historic catalog of his own artistic work.
  57. Willie Nelson’s first release for Legacy Recordings, Heroes, spent five consecutive weeks at #1 on the Americana Radio Chart.
  58. Willie Nelson calls his backup band his family: siste Bobbie Nelson (on piano), drummer Paul English, and harmonica shaman Mickey Raphae.
  59. They have been on the road together over forty years.
  60. Nelson went to Baylor University for one year.
  61. He served in the Air Force.
  62. In 1990, the Internal Revenue Service seized most of Nelson’s property against more than $16 million in unpaid taxes. Nelson responded with the album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories, with all profits directed to paying his back taxes. It succeeded.
  63. Many of his devoted fans bought his possessions and then returned them to him for free.
  64. Nelson has nine platinum and two double-platinum albums.
  65. In the 60s, he always performed in a suit while sporting a haircut that made him look more like an accountant.
  66. While Willie was in college, he was a member of the Fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon
  67. Willie Nelson worked for a short time for Ray Price, as a bassist in Ray’s band.
  68. While he was trying to get a career going in music, Willie worked several odd jobs as a radio DJ, door to door Bible salesman, and a as a janitor.
  69. Willie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965
  70. He has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman 8 times in his career.
  71. He has appeared on the Tonight Show (with Jay Leno) 14 times.
  72. He appeared as himself in a TV documentary about Elvis.
  73. He voiced himself in the Simpsons Behind the Music spoof called The Simpsons: Behind the Laughter.
  74. He supports veteran advocacy groups such as Operation Firing For Effect.
  75. He reportedly once gave a joint as a offering to Jesus.
  76. Nelson lives on a compound in Maui powered entirely by solar panels.
  77. “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” is Willie’s biggest hit–and was named by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 300 Greatest Songs of All Time.
  78. In 1984, there was a pretty deranged idea to have Richard Pryor hosting a children’s show called Pryor’s Place. Willie Nelson appeared on it as a lost astronaut.
  79. The first movie to ever feature a Willie Nelson song was The Deer Hunter–followed by Coal Miner’s Daughter, both of which went on to be Oscar winners.
  80. Willie Nelson has appeared on Saturday Night Live three times as a musical guest. One stint had him also serving as the host.
  81. In 2002, Nelson became the official spokesman of the Texas Roadhouse. That’s a chain of steakhouses, so that’s almost as good as getting your own breakfast cereal.
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