The influence Ronald Reagan had on Merle Haggard’s life will astound you Associated Press
Merle Haggard performs on stage during the 2015 Stagecoach Festival at the EmpireClub on Friday, April 24, 2015, in Indio, Calif. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

Merle Haggard was a country legend, and Ronald Reagan was a legendary president. So when their paths crossed, it created a story that will live on forever, especially now that both of them are gone.

As the story goes, Merle, who passed away April 6 on the same day of his 79th birthday, spent time in the San Quentin State Prison for burglary during his younger years. After being paroled, he went on to country music stardom. Yet, his time in jail still haunted him.

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That is, until Ronald Reagan stepped in.

The then governor of California and future president gave Merle a full pardon after it was determined that he was improperly convicted.

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“I was just overwhelmed with that,” Merle told CMT in 2004. “It was too good to be true. Twelve Supreme Court judges and Ronald Reagan — the governor — found it right to pardon me. God, it meant everything.”

With this sort of history, it went without saying that Merle profoundly felt the loss of President Reagan upon his death in 2004.

“I was in mourning,” he told CMT at the time. “He was a wonderful man in my life. He gave me a second chance at life in the form of the pardon he gave me.”

Tricia Despres is a senior correspondent for Rare Country, based out of Chicago. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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