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George Jones, the peerless, hard-living country singer who recorded dozens of hits about good times and regrets, has died. He was 81.
Jones died Friday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, according to his publicist Kirt Webster. He had been hospitalized with fever and irregular blood pressure, forcing him to postpone two shows.
With one of the most golden voices of any genre, a clenched, precise, profoundly expressive baritone, Jones had No. 1 songs in five separate decades, 1950s to 1990s. He was idolized not just by fellow country artists, but by Frank Sinatra, Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello, James Taylor and others.
In a career that lasted more than 50 years, "Possum" evolved from young honky-tonker to elder statesman as he recorded more than 150 albums and became the champion and symbol of traditional country music, a well-lined link to his hero, Hank Williams.
Jones survived long battles with alcoholism and drug addiction, brawls, accidents and close encounters with death, including bypass surgery and a tour bus crash that he only avoided by deciding at the last moment to take a plane.
His failure to appear for concerts left him with the nickname "No Show Jones," and he later recorded a song by that name and often opened his shows by singing it.
In song, he was rowdy and regretful, tender and tragic. His hits included the sentimental "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," the foot-tapping "The Race is On" and "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," the melancholy "She Thinks I Still Care," the rockin' "White Lightning," and the barfly lament "Still Doing Time." Jones also recorded several duets with Tammy Wynette, his wife for six years, including "Golden Ring," "Near You," "Southern California" and "We're Gonna Hold On." He also sang with his peers, such as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, as well as Costello and other rock performers.
But his signature song was "He Stopped Loving Her Today," a weeper about a man who carries his love for a woman to his grave. Jones was convinced the 1980 ballad was too "morbid" to catch on. But "He Stopped Loving Her Today" became an instant standard. His fee jumped from $2,500 a show to $25,000.
Jones won Grammy awards in 1981 for "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and in 1999 for "Choices." He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and in 2008 he was among the artists honored in Washington at the Kennedy Center.
Jones was in the midst of a yearlong farewell tour when he passed away. He was scheduled to complete the tour in November with an all-star packed tribute in Nashville.