On November 9, 1990, famous singer-songwriter Willie Nelson had a very, very bad day. On this day in history, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized nearly all of Nelson's assets to cover some pretty serious tax debt stemming back to the early 1980s. Test your knowledge of Nelson and his tax fiasco with these trivia questions.
How Much Did Nelson Owe to the IRS? Hold onto your cowboy hats: according to initial figures from the IRS, Nelson owed an estimated $32 million in unpaid taxes and interest. You might wonder how someone makes that big of an "oops" with an organization like the IRS (who don't have much of a reputation for messing around). Well, according to Nelson, it was a mix of poor money management and awful advice from accountants that got him so deep in the hole. Nelson's lawyers eventually negotiated with the IRS for a cash settlement of $6 million, but Nelson couldn't afford to pay that either. So, on November 9, 1990, the IRS took action.
What did the IRS Seize from Willie Nelson? Nelson owned properties in six states, all of which — including his beloved Texas ranch — were seized by the IRS. Additionally, the IRS came after boxes of priceless original recordings and master tapes, Nelson's tour buses and other equipment, gold and platinum records and pretty much anything else they could get their hands on. The one thing they didn't get? Nelson's famous guitar, Trigger. Sensing that negotiations with the IRS were going south and a seizure of this magnitude was on the horizon, Nelson had his daughter ship Trigger to him in Hawaii where he hid it from the IRS. Nelson is famously quoted as having said, "As long as I got my guitar, I'll be fine."
What Happened to Nelson's Assets? While Trigger remained safe throughout Nelson's entire tax ordeal, the same cannot be said for the remainder of Nelson's assets, including his recording studio, golf course, ranch, and twenty other properties. Initially, the IRS planned to put everything up for auction. But, at the last minute, they showed some compassion and allowed a group of Nelson's friends to purchase sentimental items — like instruments and his gold and platinum records —for the low price of $7,000. And that's not the only help Nelson received: his Texas ranch was bought at auction by a mega-fan with the encouragement of a group of local farmers who supported Nelson. The bidder rented the home back to Nelson at a low cost.
What Agreement did Nelson Reach with the IRS to Repay his Debt? In June 1991, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?, an album of acoustic renditions of some of his popular songs. The album was part of a strict revenue-sharing agreement between Nelson and the IRS. Though it didn't come close to paying off the $6 million he owed, a combination of money received from a settled lawsuit with his former accountant and extensive touring allowed Nelson to pay off his IRS debt by 1993.