* Successful duets with Tammy Wynette, but their marriage
* "Race Is On," "He Stopped Loving Her Today" among his hits
* Career hurt by cocaine, alcohol, "no show" reputation
(Adds reaction from country music stars)
By Bill Trott
WASHINGTON, April 26 George Jones, a classic
country singer with a voice full of raw honky-tonk emotion and a
life full of honky-tonk turmoil, died on Friday at age 81, his
Jones, whose career spanned more than six decades and
included hits such as "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "Window
Up Above," died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in
He had been hospitalized since April 18 with fever and
irregular blood pressure, spokesman Kirt Webster said.
In November 2012, Jones embarked on a farewell tour after a
career that produced his first top 10 record in 1955 with "Why
The "Grand Tour" was to conclude in Nashville in November
this year, where Jones was to be joined by some of the many
stars who influenced him.
News of his death brought tributes from a number of country
music's top stars.
"Heaven better get ready for George Jones. He will always be
the greatest singer of real country music - there'll never be
another," Alan Jackson said on Twitter.
Dolly Parton said, "My heart is absolutely broken. George
Jones was my all time favorite singer and one of my favorite
people in the world."
"George Jones has passed. Damn. Thought he'd live forever.
Let's break out his catalogue and play it all day," said Toby
Like his idol, Hank Williams, Jones battled addiction.
Alcohol and cocaine frequently derailed his career and at one
point his reputation for canceling performances earned him the
nickname No-Show Jones.
But when Jones did show up and was in good form, listeners
were treated to a powerful and evocative voice. Jones was at his
best with cry-in-your-beer songs made extra mournful by his
As his late contemporary Waylon Jennings put it, "If we
could all sound like we wanted to, then we'd all sound like
Born in Saratoga, Texas, on Sept. 12, 1931, Jones began
performing for spare change as a boy on the streets of nearby
Beaumont. Under the influence of Williams, Ernest Tubb and Lefty
Frizzell, he graduated to the rough roadhouses of East Texas.
Jones had an early marriage, a divorce and a stint in the
Marines before his first hit, "Why Baby Why" in 1955. His first
No. 1 song, "White Lightning," came in 1959, followed by "Tender
Years" in 1961.
The next two decades brought a string of top 10 songs - "If
Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," "Window Up Above,"
"She Thinks I Still Care," "Good Year for the Roses," "The Race
Is On" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which Jones said was
his favorite. He also had a successful run of duets early in his
career with Melba Montgomery.
Jones, who was known as "The Possum," divorced his second
wife in 1968 and the next year married one of country music's
most popular singers, Tammy Wynette. The pairing was an enormous
professional success for both as they recorded and toured
together and Jones began working with Billy Sherrill, Wynette's
During his time with Sherrill, Jones refined his honky-tonk
voice and sang more ballads, often with the lush string
accompaniment that had become a trend in the country music
capital of Nashville.
The marriage to Wynette went bad as Jones' addiction problem
escalated and Wynette claimed he once came at her with a gun.
They divorced in 1975 but later resumed recording together.
Wynette died in 1998 at age 55.
Jones continued to put out hit songs in the early 1980s,
even as cocaine compounded his personal tumult. Amid a string of
hospitalizations and arrests, he disappeared for days at a time,
missed shows and recording sessions and took police on a drunken
chase through Nashville.
Jones credited fourth wife Nancy, whom he married in 1983,
with helping him clean up. But in 1999 he was seriously injured
after driving drunk and crashing into a bridge, leading to
another stay in rehab.
At one point Jones was so incorrigible that one of his four
wives cleared the liquor from their home and hid all the car
keys so he could not go for more. Jones responded by cranking up
his riding lawn mower and driving it to a bar - an escapade he
chronicled in "Honky Tonk Song."
Although he was heard infrequently on mainstream country
radio in the later years of his career, Jones was a sought-after
duet partner and won a Grammy for the song "Choices" in 1999.
He also won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance
in 1980 for "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and received a
lifetime achievement Grammy last year.
(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville and Jill
Serjeant; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Vicki Allen)