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Willie Nelson Fun Facts: 25 Things You May Not Know About the Country Icon

Willie Nelson
Paul Marotta, Getty Images

Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson! In a career that has encompassed performing, songwriting, acting and activism, there are so many highlights to consider when looking back at the American icon’s first eight decades. However you may choose to celebrate this special day (and we have a few ideas of how you might), we’re commemorating it by pointing to 25 of our favorite things you might not know about Willie.

1. Willie Hugh Nelson was born April 30, 1933 in Abbott, Texas. Also born in Texas that same month were future TV stars Carol Burnett and Carolyn Jones (“The Addams Family”).

2. Because he was born close to midnight, some sources list Willie’s birth date as April 29.

3. Willie’s sister Bobbie, who plays piano in his band, is two years older.

4. Willie was raised by his grandparents, Alfred and Nancy Nelson, who both studied music courses through the mail from the Chicago Music Institute.

5. The first song Willie ever learned was “Amazing Grace.”

6. For his first-ever public performance, at 5 years old, Willie recited a poem.

7. Because he was so nervous about reciting the poem, Willie picked his nose until it bled, earning him the nickname “Booger Red.”

8. Willie wrote his first song at 7 years old.

9. At just 13 years old, Willie performed with Bob Wills, the inventor of Western swing music.

10. In 1950, Willie played the role of Uncle Billy Babcock in the senior-class production of “Oh, Aunt Jerusha.”

11. In addition to a stint in the Air Force, Willie has worked as a cotton picker, saddle maker, disc jockey and Bible, vacuum cleaner and encyclopedia salesman.

12. Willie was signed to Pamper Music as a songwriter. His $50-a-week salary was paid from a raise that fellow songwriter Hank Cochran was due to get but had sacrificed so Willie could be signed.

13.Willie’s first album was titled And Then I Wrote. It included “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” songs that would initially become huge hits for Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Billy Walker, respectively.

14. One night, Willie and Hank Cochran wrote seven songs together in the basement of Willie’s home in Ridgetop, Tenn. Among the songs was one called “What Can You Do to Me Now?” The next day, Willie’s house burned down.

15. After his house burned, Willie moved to Austin and later to Hawaii.

16. His first Fourth of July Picnic was held in Dripping Springs, Texas in 1973.

17. Willie’s 1978 album of pop standards, Stardust, remained on the country album chart for 540 weeks — that’s 10 consecutive years.

18. In 1979, Willie made his big-screen acting debut in “The Electric Horseman,” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

19. The following year, Willie starred in “Honeysuckle Rose.”

20. Willie wrote one of his most famous songs, “On the Road Again,” while on an airplane with director Sydney Pollack.

21. In 1980, Willie played a concert at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and performed a duet with First Lady Rosalynn Carter. The song they performed: “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.”

22. Willie Nelson’s trusty acoustic guitar, named Trigger after cowboy star Roy Rogers’ horse, is a 1969 Martin N-20.

23. While “Trigger” carries the signatures of many fellow artists, the first person to sign it was Leon Russell.

24. Willie worked to settled his 1990s IRS tax debt by releasing a double-album called The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?

25. Among his many honors, Willie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and, for his support of family farms, the National Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2011.

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