Willie Nelson’s iconic status as an outlaw country music legend is well established, but a new docuseries promises to peel back the curtain on his equally colorful personal life.
Ex-Wife’s Shocking Discovery of Decades-Long Affair
The series, titled “Willie Nelson & Family,” contains several bombshell revelations, chief among them how Nelson’s ex-wife Shirley Collie discovered his affair with Connie Koepke, which lasted nearly two decades and produced a daughter.
As reported by People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, Collie made the discovery only after Koepke gave birth at the hospital. According to the docuseries, Collie found a copy of Koepke’s $892 hospital bill while going through Nelson’s tax paperwork.
“The first thing on it was the woman’s name,” Nelson recalls in the series. “So Shirley asked me, she said, ‘Who’s Connie Koepke?'”
Collie filed for divorce soon after. She went on to stab Nelson with a fork during a heated argument, a violent incident Nelson describes in the film.
The affair began in the late 1960s when Nelson was still married to Collie. Koepke worked as a makeup artist and wardrobe assistant for Nelson’s band. Their daughter Paula was born in 1969.
Multiple Suicide Attempts During Low Points
The docuseries also delves into Nelson’s struggles with drinking and depression during his career, including multiple suicide attempts.
Nelson describes reaching low points where he welcome death. “I think I tried [suicide] a couple of times. There was no reason to live for me,” he says. “I was pretty low down.”
The first attempt came around 1965-1966 after a period of heavy drinking. The second occurred sometime later when Nelson stopped his car on a highway, hoping to get hit.
“I laid down on the white line in the middle of the highway, waiting to get run over,” he recalls. “No cars came for 20 minutes.”
Eventually Nelson got up and continued living, going on to stardom. But his drinking and IRS troubles brought more strife before he eventually got sober.
Other Hardships: Death of a Son, Tax Debts
In addition to his marital turmoil, the series touches on other trials Nelson has endured, like the 1991 death of his son Billy at age 33. Billy took his own life shortly after a heated dispute with his father over Billy’s struggle with substance abuse.
Nelson also infamously ran afoul of the IRS in the early 1990s after getting entangled in an illegal tax shelter. He owed $32 million and many of his assets were seized. His debts took years to resolve even after he released albums specifically to pay the IRS.
Despite the many challenges, Nelson has persevered with his laidback attitude and resonant voice to become an American icon. And based on the docuseries’ revelations, his eventful backstory played a role in shaping his singular artistry.
What’s Next for the 90-Year-Old Legend?
At 90 years old, Willie Nelson continues touring and making music after over 60 years in the business. 2023 will likely see more intimate concert performances as Nelson limits his schedule while still playing for devoted fans.
The new publicity from his docuseries may introduce Nelson to younger listeners less familiar with the breadth of his career beyond the biggest hits like “On the Road Again.” Collaborations with contemporary artists could also raise his current profile.
But the foremost priority is Nelson’s health and comfort at this stage in his life. Close friends worry about his cannabis use exacerbating breathing issues. However, Nelson insists he has no plans to slow down, let alone retire.
“I love the bus,” Nelson says of life on the road. “That’s my home.”
So while the iconic musician’s days of heavy touring may be over, a Willie Nelson farewell tour announcement remains unlikely. Like the road, his journey still lies ahead.
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