Willie Nelson Says Wife Found Out About Affair After Seeing Mistress' Hospital Bill

The musician's second wife found out about his soon-to-be third wife in a shocking manner.

At age 90, country music icon Willie Nelson is looking back on his life, including his four marriages, in the new Paramount+ docuseries Willie Nelson & Family. The star reflects on both his career and his personal life in the show, telling some pretty jaw-dropping stories from his past. For one, while Nelson readily admits to having affairs, it's the way his second wife found out about his cheating with the woman who would become his third wife that's shocking.

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Nelson has been married four times. First, he wed Martha Matthews in 1952 when he was 19 years old. They welcomed three children together: Lana, Susie, and Billy Nelson. Their tumultuous relationship (Nelson tells a story in the docuseries about her stabbing him with a fork) ended in 1962, and he soon married musician Shirley Collie, with whom he had collaborated on the song "Willingly".

During their marriage, Collie found out that Nelson was having an affair when she saw the hospital bill for the 1969 birth of Nelson's child, Paula Nelson, with Connie Koepke, who was listed on the invoice as Mrs. Connie Nelson.

"Shirley wanted to know who in the hell was Connie Nelson," Nelson said in the docuseries, according to People. "The truth is Connie [Koepke] had been my girlfriend for several years before becoming pregnant." Koepke said in the documentary that "the farthest thing from my mind was getting pregnant and telling my mom and dad."

Willie Nelson and Shirley Collie performing in 1961
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Collie and Nelson divorced in 1971, and he married Koepke the same year. In Willie Nelson & Family, Koepke said that she began helping to raise Nelson's children, who he had with Matthews. "Anyway, it happened," she continued. "Honestly, I was the next one, and I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just Shirley wasn't their mother, she was gone. I bonded with those kids so much. I loved those kids. They all became my kids, too."

Paula said that the situation was "hard" for his first three children, but that they're "all close" today. She added, "That's dad's doing. He brought us together as one big tribe."

Nelson and Koepke went on to welcome another child together, Amy Nelson. The couple divorced in 1988, and three years later, Nelson married his current wife, Annie D'Angelo. They had two kids together, Lukas and Micah Nelson. The "On the Road Again" singer later found out that he had an eighth child, Renee Butts, who was born in 1953 to a friend of his named Mary Haney. According to People, he did not find out that he fathered a child with Haney until 2012. He also learned that through Butts he had a granddaughter and great-granddaughter.

Nelson also opened up about his affair with Koepke in his 2020 co-memoir with sister Bobbie Nelson, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band. 

"Shirley saw a bill from a Houston hospital. I tried to play it off as no big deal. I told her that I had to go to the hospital for something minor," he wrote in the book (via People). "Shirley wasn't buying that for one simple reason: The bill said the charges were for the birth of a baby girl, Paula Carlene, born to a Mrs. Connie Nelson." He continued that Collie wanted to know who the woman was. "Couldn't lie," he continued. "Was caught flatfooted. Had to get the words out of my mouth. 'Connie's my girlfriend and Paula's our daughter.'"

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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