The taxman will always collect. Everyone is on equal footing when it comes to the Internal Revenue Services. There are actually dozens of celebrities who have had issues with the IRS even if they do have a small army of accountants helping them file. Willie Nelson’s case isn’t as far off.
Willie Nelson got himself in trouble with the IRS after the investments he made in the 80s were found to be illegal. The IRS charged a total of $32 million. After seizing his assets, his fans bought back his possessions at auction, and gifted them back to him.
Who is Willie Nelson?
If you have been following country music since the 50s you would probably know who we are talking about.
Willie Hugh Nelson was born on April 29, 1933 in Abott, Texas where he lived all throughout his childhood. He attended the Abbot High School and played for the football, basketball, and baseball team. Like most of the families in Texas at the time, Nelson helped raise farm animals.
He was also into music back then. He would sing and play the guitar. He eventually started a band with his brother-in-law called The Texans.
In 1950, after he graduated from high school, Nelson enlisted in the United States Air Force. He was first stationed in San Antonio. His career in the military was cut short when persistent health issues, caused by previous injuries led to a medical discharge. He was only able to serve for 9 months. (Source: Biography)
Nelson had dozens of odd jobs here and there. He eventually moved to Pleasanton, Texas where he auditioned to be a DJ at local radio station. In spite of him not having any experience with radio work, he got the job.
He rose to fame at the end of the 60s and heavily contributed to the sub-genre outlaw country that truly revolutionalized country music.
He has written tons of of music through the years and devoted a lot of his time to charitable causes. (Source: Biography)
Why Did Willie Nelson Owe the IRS 32 Million Dollars?
Willie Nelson earned a lot throughout the 50s and 60s. He became one of Nashville’s best known song writers. When his home in Nashville burned down, he moved back to Texas in the 70s. He still kept earning awards for his music, and would even appear on films like Honeysuckle Rose andThe Electric Horseman. He was definitely living the life. (Source: The Rolling Stone)
By 1990, the IRS seized Nelson’s properties in 6 different states. Other assets like master tapes, music equipment, gold and platinum records, and even clothes were also taken.
The IRS estimated a total debt of $32 million from his income which were hidden in tax shelters. Nelson claimed that his earnings were mismanaged and that he got bad advice from his accountants.
After taking away his assets, the IRS charged the famed country singer a total of $16.7 million, with $10.2 million as interest and penalties alone. (Source: The Rolling Stone)
Was Willie Nelson Able to Pay His Debt to the IRS?
In January 1991, Willie Nelson’s ranch was put up for auction. The winning bidder turned out to be a huge fan who purchased the ranch for a group of farmers. These farmers supported Nelson as a thank you for organizing tons of charitable concerts for Farm Aid.
This was not the only time his fans came through for him. Several of them bid at the auctions and returned his prized possessions. (Source: Time)
By June 1991, an album entitled The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories was released. This was album was intended to be revenue share with the IRS to pay off the debt. Though the album sold well, with a great amount of support from his fans, sales were not close to completing the payment.
By February 1993, Willie Nelson was able to pay his debt in full. (Source: History)