Merle Haggard beats lung cancer, but craves pot

Wed Dec 31, 2008 4:46pm EST
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Merle Haggard is not letting a bout with lung cancer get in the way of his ambitious touring and recording plans.

Seven weeks after the 71-year-old country legend had a lemon-sized tumor removed in what he calls "the greatest test of my fortitude," he said on Wednesday that he expects to work harder in 2009 than he has in 20 years.

Haggard says he is singing better now that he is in the throes of kicking his daily marijuana habit. More importantly, the son of Depression-era Dust Bowl migrants from Oklahoma views himself as a cheerleader during tough times.

"I think we can stir up some good humor out there among the folks that are crying for good news, and just give them a moment's happiness," he told Reuters.

Haggard will play his first concerts in a little over two months on Friday and Saturday in his central California hometown of Bakersfield.

They will be the first shows of his life where he has not loosened up before with either tobacco or marijuana, he said. "So it's gonna be interesting as to what kind of a show comes out of this body that's used to performing the other way."

Haggard, who once derided pot-smoking hippies in his 1969 hit "Okie From Muskogee," got hooked on marijuana after a doctor said it was a good substitute for his Valium habit.

WOMEN'S PRISONS   Continued...

<p>Country music star Merle Haggard is shown in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters December 31, 2008. REUTERS/Pamela Springsteen/Handout</p>