Merle Haggard joins several other entertainment giants in the spotlight on Tuesday’s CBS special “The Kennedy Center Honors,” an event that’s carried enormous weight ever since it was established in 1978.
Mixing celebrities and politicians, this year’s edition was shot earlier this month in Washington, D.C., with Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Broadway lyricist Jerry Herman and choreographer Bill T. Jones joining Merle among the honorees.
Merle, meanwhile, is frustrated with the treatment of another former Kennedy Center Honors recipient, Willie Nelson. Willie was arrested in El Paso over Thanksgiving weekend for possession of pot. It led to a lot of headlines, but Merle believes the laws surrounding weed are unfair, particularly in light of the way Americans abuse prescriptions.
“There are some people in this world that have no idea what the real deal is,” Merle told The Bakersfield Californian. “I think it’s silly to put someone in jail for [marijuana possession]. I think it’s a threat to the pharmaceutical industry that you can go to the garden to grow something that might keep you from having to use Lipitor.”
Merle kicked off one of his most famous songs, “Okie From Muskogee,” with the line “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” but he later became a self-avowed pot smoker himself. Merle stopped smoking anything after he had a lemon-sized tumor removed from a lung in November 2008. He had to cancel a number of concerts this fall in the aftermath of the surgery, but he doesn’t intend to stay down long.
“For the two years following the surgery [for lung cancer] you get infections from the hospital,” he said. “They call them staph infections — I guess because the staff gets ‘em first. I had an ongoing infection that lasted for the best part of two years after that. It was touch and go because I only have this one part of my lung and I had an infection in it. We’re going to try [touring] another year.”
For “The Kennedy Center Honors,” Merle didn’t have to perform. Instead, his songs were done by Willlie, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert, Kid Rock, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill. The celebration airs on CBS beginning at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday.