by Shellie Branco
At the insistence of his family and personal physician, Merle Haggard had a cancerous growth removed from his lung Monday at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. Friends and associates of the country music icon said the surgery was a success and he is in stable condition.
The 71-year-old country star and Oildale native had a malignant tumor, apparently the same growth that was discovered in May, according to sources who wished to remain anonymous.
Haggard told The Californian while on tour in August that he didn’t plan to treat the growth, which was discovered May 5. He said he doesn’t trust hospitals but, all along, family members wanted him to seek treatment.
“Of course, everyone wanted me at the Mayo Clinic, someone wanted me in Santa Barbara (to) do this and that,” he told The Californian in August. “And they said, ‘Oh, my God,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna do anything.’”
At the time, he said it wasn’t cancerous and it hadn’t changed two months after the discovery, but that doctors didn’t know what it was.
The singer, to whom fans gave a warm welcome in February at the dedication of Merle Haggard Drive in Oildale and a hometown concert, was admitted to the hospital last week.
Haggard’s family has been by his side at the hospital and the singer is in good spirits, according to sources.
Local performer and longtime Haggard fan Monty Byrom said the news broke his heart. He even joked his father, a singer and guitarist himself, was the spitting image of Haggard until recently, when Dad eclipsed the star in the looks department.
“Whether he lives or not, if he can never sing again, we’ve probably just lost the greatest singer of our time,” said the Big House front man. “The difference between Merle and everyone else is he could sing everything: big band, blues, jazz. He was the consummate singer’s singer. I’ve never heard a purer voice.”
Byrom wanted to tell Haggard to “hang in there” and thank him for the inspiration.
“People think he’s just this redneck ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me,’ but he’s more like Willie (Nelson),” he said. “He’s much more of a common man. He’s not this redneck everyone thinks of.”