LOS ANGELES — George Jones, whose anguished vocals on the 1980 single “He Stopped Loving Her Today” lifted it to the top of polls of the greatest country music songs of all time, died Friday. He was 81.
Jones died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, publicist Kirt Webster told the Associated Press. He had been suffering from a fever and irregular blood pressure.
The baritone from east Texas astonished and delighted fans who had seen him struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, multiple marriages and divorces, lawsuits over his erratic behavior and brushes with death in motor vehicle accidents. His life became the stuff of country legend: Following a drinking binge during which his wife took his car keys so he couldn’t drive, Jones famously commandeered a motorized lawn mower and drove himself to the nearest liquor store.
“Hopefully (history) will remember me for my music and forgive me of the things I did that let ‘em down,” Jones told an interviewer in 2006. He also said he understood there might be some things fans wouldn’t absolve him of: “There are some things you just can’t make up to people,” he said of the many performances he missed over the years because of his struggles with alcohol and drugs, which led to the nickname “No Show Jones” that followed him for many years in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yet along the way he continued to deliver hit after hit, starting in 1955 — when he first scored with “Why Baby Why” — through his final appearance on the pop chart 50 years later as a guest of Waylon Jennings’ son Shooter Jennings on “4th of July.”
He put 167 records on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart during that time, more than any other artist. He also placed more inside the Top 40 — 143 — than anyone in the history of country music. He won two Grammy Awards, was a five-time Academy of Country Music Awards winner and a multiple honoree from the Country Music Assn. In 2008, he was given a lifetime achievement award as part of the annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.