George Jones, whose marriage to Tammy Wynette was one of the most turbulent in country music, dies at a hospital in Nashville. He was 81.
His publicist, Kirt Webster, said that Jones was hospitalized for a fever and irregular blood pressure.
Jones was one of the most honored performers in his profession. Music writers often placed him in the same echelon as Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday for his expressive and unguarded style.
“With other country singers, it’s almost about what they hold back. With Jones, it’s almost a cry for help, pure emotion,” said country music historian Bob Allen, describing Jones’s singing style. “He could bring a palpable anguish to a song.”
In a career that spanned more than six decades, Jones influenced several generations of singers and put an astonishing 72 hits from 1955 to 1988 on the Billboard Country charts — including his first success, “Why Baby Why” (1955), the moonshiner’s anthem “White Lightning” (1959) and “The Race Is On” (1965).
He recorded with fellow country singers Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck but also duetted with such pop performers as Linda Ronstadt, Keith Richards and Gene Pitney.
Within the confines of country music, Jones was versatile. He recorded up-tempo rockabilly novelties such as “Who Shot Sam” (1959) and smooth, “countrypolitan” ballads like “Tender Years” (1961), where tinkling, cocktail piano replaced the country fiddles.
However, Jones was best known for such tearjerkers as “She Thinks I Still Care” (1962) and the 1980 Grammy Award-winning ballad of obsessive, unrequited love, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Throughout his career, Jones drew attention for his heavy drinking and wild behavior.
In his 1996 memoir, “I Lived to Tell It All,” written with Tom Carter, Jones recalled driving a riding lawn mower to the liquor store when his second wife hid the keys to his many cars — an incident later alluded to in one of Jones’s music videos.
George Glenn Jones was born Sept. 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Tex., in a log cabin built by his father.
The elder Jones — an alcoholic who struggled to support his wife and eight children — worked variously as an iceman, lumberman and pipe fitter. He bought his son his first guitar for his 11th birthday but, according to Jones, he would also beat the boy if he didn’t sing for his drinking buddies.
Jones quit school in the seventh grade and began singing gospel songs on the streets of Port Arthur, Tex. After leaving home at 16, he performed on radio and in honky-tonks in East Texas. At 17, he married Dorothy Bonvillion, but they divorced before their daughter was born. His second marriage, to Shirley Ann Corley, also ended in divorce.
After Marine Corps service in California during the Korean War, Jones returned to the East Texas honky-tonks. He first recorded in the mid-1950s for a fledging Houston label, Starday Records, with a style modeled on twangy honky-tonk singers Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.