Willie Nelson Was Gravely Ill with Covid, House Turned into Hospital

It’s rarely not cringe worthy these days when reporters from The New York Times or other elite media outlets decide to veer into the country music space, sourcing their information from a cloistered echo-chamber of fellow elites on Twitter while talking down to the great unwashed country fans out there in flyover country. But Jody Rosen of The New York Times Magazine has been one of the few that takes the time to really understand the subject matter he’s writing about no matter if it’s country music or otherwise, partly because the magazine side of The New York Times is a publication that allows journalists the opportunity to focus on a subject until its complete.

Along with being responsible for coining the term “Bro-Country” in 2013, Jody Rosen recently published a feature on Willie Nelson called “Willie Nelson’s Long Encore.” Some or maybe most of you won’t be able to get past the paywall, but the upshot is something we’ve been discussing here at Saving Country Music for years now: the appeal of Willie Nelson’s late career output is not just based on sentimentality and nostalgia. Willie remains a creative powerhouse in country music—including his 2022 album A Beautiful Time—while continuing to be a cultural icon as relevant in popular culture as ever.

But there is also a bit of news that it feels pertinent to share from the article that should make us all take pause and appreciate how we still get to reside in this mortal coil with Willie Nelson as we speak. According to his wife Annie, Willie Nelson contracted COVID-19 the week after his 89th birthday in early May, and nearly died from the disease.

On May 7th, the Willie Nelson camp announced they were cancelling his headlining set at the annual New Orleans Jazz Fest on Sunday May 8th along with other shows “due to a positive Covid case in the Willie Nelson Family band,” leaving just who had tested positive ambiguous. The fact that anyone who could have been near Willie had tested positive was concerning, let alone Willie himself. Sure, with treatments and the latest strains of COVID, it has become significantly less deadly. But with a long history of respiratory problems, any respiratory illness could be fatal for the 89-year-old.

Willie Nelson had been sleeping on his tour bus when he woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. After he tested positive, they threw the kitchen sink at the disease, including utilizing a nebulizer they already had on the bus for his breathing problems, as well as monoclonal antibodies and steroids. After returning home to his ranch in Spicewood just outside of Austin, they brought a mobile medical unit to his home.

“We turned the house into a hospital,” says Annie Nelson. “There were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure he was going to make it.” But luckily, Willie pulled through, and two weeks later was playing back-to-back shows at the Whitewater Ampitheater in New Braunfels, TX on May 27th and 28th.

“I had a pretty rough time with it,” Willie Nelson says. “COVID ain’t nothing to laugh at, that’s for sure.”

Perhaps an 89-year-old surviving COVID tells us just how far we’ve come with the disease. But as Jody Rosen attempted to underscore, we shouldn’t take for granted a single minute we get to share on this earth in the presence of Willie Nelson.

Willie is currently on hiatus for the rest of August, resuming his Outlaw Fest tour on September 9th in Georgia.

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