Country Legend George Jones passes away at 81

George JonesGeorge Jones, widely considered the greatest male voice in country music, and equally known for living the life of pain, heartache, sin and redemption featured so often in his famous songs, passed away Friday morning in a Nashville, TN, hospital due to illness. He was 81 year old.

Jones was in the midst of a farewell tour when he was admitted to a Nashville hospital earlier this month following a routine examination. The tour was supposed to end with a tribute show this November at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, which had already sold out.

Country music starts expressed the sadness and sympathies towards Jones and his family today upon learning the news.

Another country music superstar, Garth Brooks, offered this tribute by email to the Associated Press:

“The greatest voice to ever grace country music will never die. Jones has a place in every heart that ever loved any kind of music.”

Some, like Keith Urban, chose to express their tributes in song.

Jones was born September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, TX. He grew up singing in church and eventually working the streets of Beaumont in his early teens, singing for tips. He first worked in radio in the late-1940’s, then recorded his first single in 1954, following three years of service with the United States Marine Corps.

His first hit, the 1955 single “Why Baby Why,” also became the first of many that not only served as signature classics of Jones, but also all of country music.

Fans and critics often hail his 1980 hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the greatest country music song of all time. The song, which took a year to record, not only resurrected Jones’ career, but also forced him to deal with the wreckage of decades of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Pretty simple, eh?” Jones wrote in his memoir (regarding recording the song). “I couldn’t get it. I had been able to sing while drunk all of my life. I’d fooled millions of people. But I could never speak without slurring when drunk. What we needed to complete that song was the narration, but Billy could never catch me sober enough to record four simple spoken lines.”

Jones’ life embodied the spirit and conflict always prevalent in the delivery of his vocals. No one could ever imitate or misidentify a George Jones recording because nobody could replicate the life he lived.

Jones witnessed many of the behaviors he carried on through his career firsthand as a child through his hardscrabble upbringing and alcoholic father. He was married four times, including his famous loving and volatile marriage to fellow Country superstar Tammy Wynette. His alcohol and drug-fueled lifestyle led to a string of arrests and missed performance, garnering him the dubios nickname “No Show Jones” by the end of the 1970’s.

Jones’ recovery still reflected the human challenges every addict faces. He almost died and suffered severe injuries from a 1999 car accident. Jones claimed the accident was caused in part by talking on a handheld cellular telephone, but it is also believed that alcohol played a part as well.

Somehow, despite his weaknesses and personal failures, Jones remained a beloved singer and entertainer. His ascension as a elder statesman of country music since the 1980’s, not to mention releasing more than 150 albums over a career that spans all or part of 7 decades, reflects both on the immense regarding fans and musicians had for his talent, as well as the genuine sense of forgiveness and humility of the country music faithful.

Jones was inducted into the membership of the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. He is  survived by his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvado.