Merle Haggard, one of country’s most revered songwriters, died Wednesday, his birthday, at the age of 79. The pioneer of the Bakersfield Sound influenced many generations of musicians, including Dolly Parton, who had a friendship with the singer-songwriter over the years.
In a statement to EW on Wednesday, Parton remembered her late friend. “We’ve lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time,” she said. “His heart was as tender as his love ballads. I loved him like a brother. Rest easy, Merle.”
Haggard and Parton’s relationship goes back decades. The two toured together in the mid-’70s and Haggard admitted to writing his 1975 song “Always Wanting You” as a tribute to the country queen. His affections for Parton are well documented, too. “I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for her,” Haggard wrote in his 2002 memoir, My House of Memories. “And she knows it.” And in a 1981 interview with People, Haggard said he was attracted to the “exceptional human being.”
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In later years, the two would perform together in public again, including a duet on the Parton’s ABC variety show, Dolly, in the late-80s. Watch it below.