George Jones, the country singer affectionately called "the Possum" and known for hits including "He Stopped Loving Her Today," has died at 81, his publicity firm confirms to TheWrap.
The Country Music Hall of Famer, member of the Grand Ole Opry and Kennedy Center Honoree died Friday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. He was hospitalized April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.
Jones' has been the target of death hoaxes in the past, but his publicity firm told TheWrap that this time was no hoax.
Born Sept. 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Tex., Jones was one of the most influential singers in American popular music. His hits included "She Thinks I Still Care," "The Grand Tour," "Walk Through This World With Me," "Tender Years" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today." The latter song often tops lists of the greatest country music singles of all time.
Jones played on the streets of Beaumont for tips as a teenager and served in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning home and recording for the Starday label in Houston. In 1955, his "Why Baby Why" became his first Top 10 country single, peaking at number four. His first number one hit was "White Lighting," in 1959. He would ultimately record more than 160 charting singles.
Jones signed with Epic Records in 1971 and worked with producer Billy Sherrill. During this period he recorded songs including "The Grand Tour" and "Bartenders Blues." With then-wife Tammy Wynette (pictured above with Jones), he also recorded duets including "We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring" and "Near You."
By 1976, he was divorced from Wynette and battling personal demons. He received the nickname "No Show Jones" because of a reputation for missing shows because of his hard-partying ways. That nickname was in addition to the nickname "The Possum," a joke on Jones' facial features.
His career picked up again in 1980, when he recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today," a ballad penned by Curly Putman and Bobby Braddock that helped Jones win Country Music Association prizes for best male vocal and top single. Jones won the CMA's top male vocalist award in 1980 and 1981 and earned a Grammy for best male country vocal performance. In 1983, he married the former Nancy Ford Sepulvado, a union he credited with helping end his troubles with drugs and alcohol. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and his guest vocal on Patty Loveless' "You Don't Seem To Miss Me" won a CMA award for top vocal event in 1998. It was his final Top 20 country hit. In 1999, Jones was nearly killed in a car wreck, but resumed touring and recording. He received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in 2008. Last year, he announced his farewell tour, which concluded with a sold-out Nov. 22 show at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena that featured Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Sam Moore, The Oak Ridge Boys and others. Jones is survived by his wife, his sister Helen Scroggins, and by his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Watch Jones perform "He Stopped Loving Her Today":