George Jones, Country Music Icon, Dies at 81


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George Jones, the legendary country singer known for such hits as “The Race Is On,” “White Lightning,” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” died early Friday morning in Nashville, Tennessee, his publicist said. Jones, who had been hospitalized the week before with fever and irregular blood pressure, died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

A member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry, and a Kennedy Center Honoree, Jones is unanimously regarded as one of the most influential performers in the history of American popular music.

Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas, in 1931, and began performing on the streets of Beaumont as a teenager. After serving in the Marines, he launched his music career and scored his first top 10 country single with “Why Baby Why,” in 1955. Jones landed his first Number 1 hit just four years later with “White Lightning,” which paved the way for other smash singles like “A Good Year For The Roses” and “Walk Through This World With Me” during the next decade. In 1971, he signed with Epic Records, which paired him with notable Nashville producer Billy Sherrill and resulted in songs like “The Grand Tour” and “Bartender’s Blues.” When it was all said and done, the singer nicknamed “The Possum” had garnered more than 160 charting singles throughout his career, more than any other American performer, of any format.

In addition to his critical and commercial success, Jones was well known for his bouts with alcohol and drugs, which threatened to derail his career in the ’70s and earned him the sobriquet “No Show Jones.” By 1980, his marriage to Tammy Wynette (with whom he scored several hits) had ended in divorce, and his career was in desperate need of rescuing.  Luckily, he connected with Billy Sherill again and recorded “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which shot to the top of the charts.

In his autobiography I Lived To Tell It All, Jones wrote of the song, “I looked Billy square in the eye and said, ‘Nobody will buy that morbid son of a bitch.’” Of course, the song’s success changed his tune. “To put it simply I was back on top,” he wrote. “Just that quickly. I don’t want to belabor this comparison, but a four-decade career was salvaged by a three-minute song.”

Jones is survived by his wife of 30 years Nancy Jones, his sister Helen Scroggins, and by his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Read our recent Behind The Song column on “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

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