Country music icon George Jones – a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and a legend of the Grand Old Opry – died today in Nashville, where he had been hospitalized for more than a week with fever and irregular blood pressure. He was 81.
His recording career spanned more than 50 years, kick-started with his 1959 hit, “White Lightning.” He charted more than 160 singles, a record in pop-music history that still stands. Over the decades, Jones worked with Mercury Records, United Artists, Epic Records, and MCA, as well as producers and songwriters including Billy Sherrill and Bobby Braddock, who were often behind Jones’ series of duets with his then-wife Tammy Wynette – “Golden Ring,” “Near You,” and “We’re Gonna Hold On.”
Jones and Wynette’s tumultuous professional and personal relationship became a defining dynamic in country music, and his personal struggles with drugs and alcohol were also well documented; he later credited second wife Nancy Jones with helping him to reach and maintain his sobriety for the last three decades of his life.
Jones’ final Top 20 country hit came in 1998, with “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me,” featuring Patty Loveless, followed 10 years later by a fêting at the Kennedy Center Honors. Jones announced his farewell tour in 2012, which was to conclude in November of this year with a sold-out show featuring Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, and Garth Brooks, among several others.
Jones is survived by his wife, Nancy, as well as his children and grandchildren.