Five Revelations from the 'Willie Nelson & Family' Miniseries on Paramount+

Willie Nelson then and now in "Willie Nelson & Family" (via Paramount+)

Willie Nelson's life is pretty much an open book in Willie Nelson & Family on Paramount+. The four-part miniseries tops off a terrific year for the country music legend, during which he turned 90 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Each episode begins with a clip of Nelson playing one of his favorite songs, like "Whiskey River" to kick off the series, an appropriate choice since it's his traditional concert opener. The episodes cover Nelson's life and career from the '50s to the '90s. Many fascinating stories are told. Here's our Top 5.


Ep. 2: The Fire

In 1969, Nelson had moved his family to a house in Ridgetop, TN. One night the house caught fire, Despite the intense blaze, Nelson raced into the burning building. He recalls:

"I decided there were a couple of things I needed to run in there and rescue: First of all, my guitar Trigger, and a bag of primo Colombian pot. I wasn't about to lose a few pounds of good pot."


Ep. 2: The Coke Bust

This is pretty shocking. It's revealed that Nelson's longtime manager Mark Rothbaum was arrested for shipping cocaine to Waylon Jennings in 1978. At the time, Rothbaum worked for Jennings' and Nelson's manager Neil Reshem. Rothbaum explains:

"Waylon and Neil were birds of a feather: They were doing lots of cocaine... I got a call from Neil to take a package – I knew what was in it, it was cocaine. Not a lot [27 grams], but it was in an envelope. The courier company was to pick it up and you had to sign the slip and give it to the guy, and my name was on that, so technically I sent it.

"I truly loved Neil and Waylon and could not conceive of cooperating with the government to put them in jail. I couldn't do it. It didn't go well for me. I was given a year sentence. Once I pled guilty, Neil fired me. I was no longer of use to him. And now I was really alone - except for Willie."

Nelson chimes in:

"I felt that was a pretty strong thing for him to do. So, Immediately I liked the guy."

Rothbaum concludes the story:

"Willie said I'm going to fire Neil and when Mark gets out of jail I'll hire Mark as my manager."

Rothbaum, who's an executive producer of the series, is still Nelson's manager 44 years later. And for the record, Nelson was never into coke. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael says, "We just hid it for years."


Ep. 3: Dolly Parton's Special Request

During he '80s, Nelson did a number of duets albums. Dolly Parton recalls:

"I just remember singing this one song with Willie Nelson. I could not catch his phrasing, I could not do it. So, I called him up and I said, 'Willie, if you're going to send me a song to sing with you, can you send me a sack of dope because I can't sing it with you? I don't know what you're smoking, but I ain't got none of that."


Ep. 2: Yesterday's Wine

In 1971, Nelson's album Yesterday's Wine album confounded fans and critics. "Increasingly, I thought pot was mellowing me out," he says. "People asked if I was smoking dope and I said, 'Yes.'"


Ep. 2: Smoking at the White House

The legendary story of Nelson firing up a "Texas torpedo" on the roof of the White House in 1978 with Pres. Jimmy Carter's son Chip gets a quick mention:

"Me and his son went on the White House and smoked dope one time. He's a good president."


More Nelson Links

90th Birthday Celebration High-Lights

Inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Wins 2023 Grammys

Bobbie Nelson Passes at 91

Top 10 Movie Roles

The Story Behind Trigger


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.