The Tragic Life Of Willie Nelson's Son, Billy Nelson

Success, fame, and fortune are no sure passport to happiness. Nor do they vaccinate a person from personal pain and heartbreak. And while tragedy often is the stuff of which art is made, it's still just that: tragedy. It happens to all of us, regardless of celebrity.

Case in point: Willie Nelson, arguably one of the most influential country music singers and songwriters to ever pick up a guitar. Besides astronomical success in and out of the studio, Nelson also helped establish Farm Aid, to assist and raise awareness of the place of family farms in America, and participated in numerous benefit concerts and telethons for worthy causes, including A Tribute to Heroes after the 9-11 attacks. But he's also fought a much-publicized battle with the IRS, been married four times — three ended in divorce — and although he's the father of seven children, one child from his first marriage brought about a father's greatest heartache, and most dreaded nightmare.

Willie was devastated by his son's death

The year was 1991, and Willie's son, William Hugh Nelson Jr. — "Billy" Nelson — was 33 years old. On Christmas Day, Billy was found dead. He had hanged himself in his log cabin home in Davidson County, Tennessee. Willie Sr. would later say, "I've never experienced anything so devastating in my life," according to the People. Billy's death was ruled a suicide.

Billy was one of three children from Willie's first marriage to Martha Matthews, according to the Associated Press story at the time of Billy's death. Billy had undergone alcohol abuse treatment the year before, said AP. He was reportedly intoxicated when he died.

Willie and Billy were in the process of recording an album of gospel music together. With the death of his son, Willie shelved the project for a time. Once he was able to focus again on that particular dream, Willie completed and released the album, titled Peace in the Valley, in 1994. Included among the cuts was a special duet between father and son, with Billy singing lead vocal, "My Body's Just a Suitcase for My Soul." The album saw a re-release in 2015.