Pop Culture

George Jones, legendary country singer, dies at 81

Country music legend George Jones has died in Nashville, Tenn., his representative confirmed in a statement on Friday. He was 81.

Jones had been in the midst of a year-long goodbye tour, deciding to withdraw from the road over health issues including an upper respiratory infection. He was hospitalized on April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. A cause of death has not yet been reported.

  • Slideshow Photos

    George Jones: 1931-2013

    Born in a humble log cabin in the Big Thicket of East Texas, George Jones became, in the opinion of most of his peers, the greatest-ever country singer. Take a look back at a life of triumph and turmoil.

  • George Jones: 1931-2013

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    An early start -

    Considered by many to the greatest country singer ever, George Jones spent his earliest years in the Big Thicket of East Texas. Born in a log cabin on Sept. 12, 1931, to a sometimes-violent alcoholic father and a devoutly Christian mother, he first sang in church. After being given a guiitar when he was 9, he was soon singing on the streets of Beaumont (pictured), where the family moved when he was about 11, and surprised himself by earning several dollars a day. Apart from a stint in the Marines, singing pretty much became the only job he ever had.

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  • 1956, Nashville, George Jones

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    Young George -

    Jones left home at 16 and worked with a duo called Eddie and Pearl, who performed at Texas radio stations and honky tonks in the east of the state, until he enlisted in the Marines in 1951. On his return from California in 1953, he started playing the circuits again before being discovered by a Houston record producer, Harold "Pappy" Dailey, who was to guide his career for the next 20 years. Jones' first hit was "Why Baby Why," which came out around the time this picture was taken.

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    Hitmaker on stage -

    From his Texas roots, Jones quickly became a major artist, charting hits such as "The Window Up Above" and "She Thinks I Still Care" and being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. At the same time, he developed a reputation as a drunk and a fighter, and had to be bailed out of prison several times by Dailey. He even was reported to have flushed $1,000 down a toilet during one of his crazier moments. This picture was taken in 1969, when he had a huge hit with "I'll Share My World With You."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • WYNETTE JONES

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    The king meets the queen -

    In 1969, Jones met an up-and-coming country star, Tammy Wynette, and they were married the same year. At the same time, Jones severed his relationship with longtime producer Dailey and signed with Wynette's producer, Billy Sherrill, who introduced him to a much lusher, violin-filled production and persuaded him to abandon the high, lonesome sound that had marked his early career. Jones also recorded several songs with his new wife, including "Golden Ring" and "The Ceremony."

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    A rose between two thorns -

    Both as soloists and a duo, Jones and Wynette had many hits, leading them to be called the King and Queen of Country Music. But their marriage, which resulted in a daughter, Tamala Georgette, soon became rocky, with accusations of violence and drunkenness. In this picture, taken around 1972, the couple pose with rhythm and blues star Little Richard.

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  • Wynette & Jones On Television

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    Apart but still together -

    Jones and Wynette divorced in 1975, but the split didn't prevent them from continuing to sing and make records together. Here they are seen on the set of the television show "Nashville Palace" in 1981.

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  • JONES

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    Cheerful shirt, cheerless life -

    After his divorce from Wynette, Jones' already turbulent life went into an ever-worsening tailspin, with increasing drug use added to his drinking. His weight dropped to below 100 pounds and he missed many concerts, leading to the non-affectionate nickname "No-Show Jones." Concerned friends even took away his car keys so he couldn't obtain alcohol, but, in one famous incident, Jones drove his lawnmower to the liquor store.

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    Daddy of mine -

    Through all his troubles, though, Jones continued to produce some of his best records, including "He Stopped Loving Her Today," his biggest hit and often voted as the best country song ever. The song led him to win the top male vocalist award at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where he is seen with daughter Georgette in 1981.

    AP / AP
  • George Jones, Tommy Campsey

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    Caught, and on camera -

    Jones' wild ways exploded onto the airwaves in May 1982 when he was filmed being arrested for drunk driving, including a scene where he lashed out at the news crew. Here, he is put in a patrol car by Brentwood, Tenn., police officer Tommy Campsey after being stopped on Interstate 65. Jones spent about four hours in the Williamson County jail before being released on $500 bond.

    AP / AP
  • Jones

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    A savior swoops in -

    Jones was at the depths of his addictions when, in the early '80s, he met Nancy Sepulveda, who was to become his fourth wife. She was able to rid him of the many hangers-on who kept him supplied with drugs and alcohol, and got him into a rehab hospital, where he regained some control over his life. He married Sepulveda in 1983; they are seen here in early 1984.

    AP / AP
  • George Jones

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    Back in the saddle again -

    With his wife's guidance, Jones resumed his career and produced a new string of hits, including "I Always Get Lucky With You" and "Who's Gonna FIll Their Shoes," for which he received a Country Music Association award in 1986.

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    Coal miner's daughter, lumberman's son -

    More and more, Jones was recognized as one of the greatest country singers of all time. Here he is joined on stage by Loretta Lynn as he receives the Living Legend Award during the annual Music City News Country Awards in 1987.

    AP / AP
  • RIMES JONES

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    Youth meets experience -

    In this 1997 photo, Jones bends an ear toward 14-year-old newcomer LeAnn Rimes during the opening segment of the TNN-Music City News Country Awards show in Nashville. Jones, Rimes and Randy Travis co-hosted the event.

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    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    Hard days behind him -

    Looking spry at 75, Jones was lucky to be alive, given his history of drinking and drugging. It was also revealed that he hadn't entirely escaped the bottle when he drove into a bridge section in 1999, when he was 67. A bottle of vodka was found in the car. After the accident, Jones sobered up.

    AP / AP
  • 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    In good company -

    As the years passed, Jones continued to gather more accolades, including being named a 2008 Kennedy Center honoree. Here he is pictured with (back, left to right) Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who; (front, left to right) dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, actor Morgan Freeman and actress/singer Barbra Streisand. The six stars were honored in a live show hosted by President and Mrs. George W. Bush.

    Pool via Getty Images / Pool via Getty Images
  • Dolly Parton's "Live From London" DVD Premiere Party - Backstage

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    A thorn between two roses -

    Jones and fellow country stars Dolly Parton, left, and Wynonna Judd pose backstage at Parton's "Live From London" DVD premiere party in Nashville in 2009.

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  • Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute: A Celebration of Friends and Family - Show

    George Jones: 1931-2013

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    Remembering the Man in Black -

    Kris Kristofferson (left), Willie Nelson and Jones perform "Big River" during a two-hour 2010 special honoring Johnny Cash. Cash, who died in 2003 and toured often with Jones early in their careers, was quoted as saying: "People often ask me who my favorite singer is. I always answer, 'You mean, apart from George Jones?'"

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  • Country Crossing Grand Opening Kick-Off Celebration In Dothan, AL - Day 3

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    Home away from home -

    Jones and his fourth wife, Nancy, cut the ribbon to open the seven-room George Jones Possum Holler Bed and Breakfast in Dothan, Ala., in 2010.

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  • Country Crossing Grand Opening Kick-Off Celebration In Dothan, AL - Day 2

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    Time out for a legend -

    The couple enjoy a cozy moment at the George Jones Possum Holler Bed and Breakfast in Dothan, Ala.

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  • George Jones' 80th Birthday Party

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    Celebrating fourscore years -

    A host of country stars attend Jones' 80th birthday party at Rippy's Bar & Grill on Sept. 13, 2011, in Nashville. The star was born on Sept. 12, 1931.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards -  Special Merit Awards Ceremony And Nominee Reception

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    Trio of legends -

    Jones joins fellow Lifetime Achievement Award winners Diana Ross and Glen Campbell at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2011.

    WireImage / WireImage
  • The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards -  Special Merit Awards Ceremony And Nominee Reception

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    Trophy time again -

    Jones accepts a Grammy Lifetime Achievement trophy, one of many awards showered on the singer late in his career.

    WireImage / WireImage

Jones was a Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member and Kennedy Center Honoree, and the singer of such hits as "The Grand Tour," "She Thinks I Still Care" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

Born in Saratoga, Tex., on Sept. 12, 1931, Jones grew up in nearby Beaumont and played on the streets for tips while still a teenager, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps. When he left service he began recording for the Starday label in Houston, and his first top 10 song "Why Baby Why" hit the charts in 1955. He hit No. 1 with "White Lightning" four years later. He continued to record and hit the charts throughout the next few decades, shifting from a classic honky-tonk style into a more mainstream sound called "countrypolitan."

Jones' public persona was shaped by his addiction to alcohol and cocaine; he became known for missing many concerts, notes the Houston Chronicle. In 1983 police chased after an intoxicated Jones through Nashville, and the event was captured on TV (documentary video clip here).

He was married four times; his third wife was country singer Tammy Wynette, with whom he recorded several songs. They hit No. 1 three times, with "We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring," and "Near You." Their daughter Georgette Jones is a performer, and appeared onstage with her father.

He is survived by his wife of 30 years Nancy Jones, a sister and offspring.

This is a developing story. Check back with TODAY.com for updates.

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