Willie Nelson Reveals Suicide Attempt Early in His Career
Editor’s note: This article contains a book excerpt that graphically describes a suicide attempt
Willie Nelson is recalling how his late friend Paul English touched his life, including helping him get past a suicide attempt.
English, who was Nelson’s drummer and best friend, died in 2020. To commemorate their 65 year friendship the country legend is publishing a book “Me and Paul: Untold Stories of a Fabled Friendship.” The book hits shelves September 20.
In an excerpt shared with People, Nelson recalls a particularly painful moment in his past when he flirted with self-destruction.
“Looking back over my life, my early days in Nashville were a definite low point,” Nelson writes. “I’m not one to easily fall prey to depression, but depression had me in its grips.”
During one night of drinking he recalled, “I thought about an old song I’d heard Lightnin’ Hopkins cut back at Gold Studios in Houston. He sang about feeling so bad until he lay his head on some lonesome railroad line and let it ease his troubled mind. So why not?”
He goes on to describe how it was snowing outside. There were no railroads nearby “but there was Broadway—the city’s main thoroughfare.”
He then writes that he laid himself out in the middle of the road, “Eyes closed. Ready to move on and move out. If this world wasn’t working, maybe the next one would. I lay for five minutes, then ten, then fifteen. Don’t know why—maybe it was the bad weather and the late hour—but there was hardly any traffic. If one or two drivers saw me, they swerved out of the way.”
He says he then went back into the bar and started drinking again. It was only the following afternoon, hung over, that he slowly found himself reawakened to life’s possibilities by a chance drop-in by his friend Paul, who was passing through Nashville.
After a meal and a night out with his pal, Nelson writes that Paul “really believed in a rosy future at a time when I couldn’t afford to buy my wife a dozen roses.” Something about the visit lifted him up and he went on to start his career as a songwriter.
However, this was not Willie’s last encounter with suicide. His son Billy Nelson died by suicide in 1991. He was 33.
Billy, the country star’s son from his first marriage, sought treatment for alcohol abuse in 1990. Billy’s mother, Martha, who divorced his father in 1963, died two years before his suicide.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress.