The Truth About Willie Nelson’s Ex-Wives
Willie Nelson’s innovative music and prolific career — spanning more than seven decades — have made him one of country music’s most iconic stars. But, as is often the case, the overactive mind behind his genius is also responsible for a difficult temper that has made living with him a … challenge. “I’m not easy to live with,” he admitted in a 2010 interview with Parade. “I’m pretty temperamental, you know. I’ve been used to doing things my own way for so long that I’m not interested in any suggestions.”
With that in mind, it might come as no surprise that Nelson has been married four times. While his first three marriages were short-lived, his union with makeup artist Annie D’Angelo is as strong as ever after 30 years. “There was friction with my other wives. But it seems like Annie and I did okay with each other. It takes a special person to live with me,” he told Parade.
Nelson was 58 years old when he wed D’Angelo in September 1991, having met her five years earlier on the set of “Stagecoach.” “[I]n the mideighties I fell head over heels in love with Ann Marie D’Angelo, called Annie. Never had met a woman like her before,” Nelson wrote in his 2020 memoir “Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band” (via People). Nelson himself admits he wasn’t a great husband to his previous wives. Keep reading to learn more about his tumultuous earlier marriages.
Willie Nelson married Martha Matthews as a teenager
Willie Nelson met Martha Matthews when he was discharged from the Air Force due to back injuries, as Sunset Blvd Records noted. She was 16 and he was 19 when they tied the knot in 1952. “I was always a sucker for long-black-haired women,” he told Parade. The union proved to be volatile from the get-go as Nelson pursued his career in music, a time in which the young couple “quarreled, brawled, drank heavily,” as Parade wrote.
Nelson and Matthews had three children together; Lana, Susie, and Willie Nelson Jr., best known as Billy, who died on Christmas morning in 1991, per People. For 10 years, the couple kept their relationship alive as they raised their kids and Matthews put up with Nelson’s drinking and partying. But it eventually ended in 1962, not long after Matthews infamously tied up her husband and beat him with a broomstick, as the Los Angeles Times noted. Oy.
While the story goes that she sewed him up in a bedsheet, Matthews has made an effort to set the record straight in the 1988 “Willie: An Autobiography,” per the Tallahassee Democrat. “How dumb would I have to be to try to sew Willie into a bed sheet? You know how long that would take to sit there and take stitch after stitch? The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jump ropes before I beat the hell out of him,” she is quoted as saying.
Willie Nelson married singer Shirley Collie in 1963
One year after divorcing Martha Matthews, Willie Nelson was saying “I do” for the second time, this time to rockabilly singer Shirley Collie. If his first marriage had a traumatic ending, his second would show just how ugly things could get. After marrying in 1963, his and Collie’s relationship came to a halt in 1969 when the country singer found out Nelson had just had a daughter with another woman, as he detailed in his 2020 memoir “Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band” (via People).
In October of that year, Collie found a medical bill in their house issued by a Houston hospital, which Nelson attempted to pass off as his, arguing he had gone to the hospital for “something minor,” per People. But Collie wouldn’t be fooled. “Shirley wasn’t buying that for one simple reason: The bill said the charges were for the birth of a baby girl, Paula Carlene, born to a Mrs. Connie Nelson,” Nelson recalled. “Shirley wanted to know who in the hell was Connie Nelson. Couldn’t lie. Was caught flatfooted. Had to get the words out of my mouth. ‘Connie’s my girlfriend and Paula’s our daughter.'”
Nelson and Collie had no children of their own, and their divorce was finalized in 1971.
Willie Nelson then married Collie Koepke
According to Parade, Willie Nelson began seeing Collie Koepke in 1964, one year after marrying Shirley Collie. In 1971, the same year Nelson and Collie’s divorce was finalized, he then married Koepke — when their daughter Paula was about 2 years old. Nelson and Koepke went on to have another daughter, Amy (both seen above). The union took Nelson back to his home state, per Parade. “I really felt like I needed to be in Texas, playing to the people that were and still are my base,” he told the magazine.
But Nelson was unfaithful to Koepke as well, which eventually put an end to their relationship in 1988. In 1986, Nelson met his current wife, Annie D’Angelo, while filming “Stagecoach.” “I messed up another marriage. My wandering ways were too much for any woman to put up with,” Nelson admitted in his 2020 memoir,” per People.
Nelson, however, shared he still admires Koepke and all of his ex-wives. “I’ll always love Connie. I’ll always love all my wives. I’ve always said that there’s no such thing as a ‘former’ wife. Once in your life, a wife never leaves. I regret the pain I caused Connie — and Martha and Shirley before her — and have no excuses,” he wrote in his book, per People.
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