Country Music Star Merle Haggard Dies

Country Music Star Merle Haggard Dies

Country music icon Merle Haggard has died in California, his manager has said.

Haggard succumbed to pneumonia on his 79th birthday, Frank Mull told the Associated Press.

A masterful guitar player, fiddler and songwriter, Haggard was known for celebrating outlaws and underdogs in his lyrics.

His career spanned over 40 years and spawned dozens of albums and No 1 hits, including Sing Me Back Home, Mama Tried and Okie From Muskogee.

Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

He won dozens of county music awards throughout his career, along with three Grammy Awards.

In 2010, Haggard was among several artists, including Sir Paul McCartney, to be honoured at the White House by President Barack Obama at the annual Kennedy Center Honors.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday the President was sending his thoughts and prayers to Haggard's family.

"His passing is a loss for country music, but obviously is a loss for all the people who got to know him personally, too," Mr Earnest said.

Haggard's rise to stardom began under inauspicious circumstances. His parents were poor and lived in a converted railway boxcar.

At age nine, Haggard's father suddenly fell ill and died. The young Haggard turned to a life of petty crime and spent several years in and out of institutions.

But it was a three-year stint for burglary at San Quentin, where he saw Johnny Cash perform, that eventually prompted Haggard to turn his life around and pursue music.

He would go on to collaborate with some of the industry's biggest stars though the years. His own works have been covered by the likes of The Byrds, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Grateful Dead, among others.