George Jones, a plaintive country singer who won praise outside his genre and was dubbed "The Possum," died at the age of 81 in Nashville following a hospitalization for fever and irregular blood pressure, the Associated Press reported.
Tributes have begun pouring in for the man that Frank Sinatra once famously said was the "the second greatest singer in America," but who also had his share of personal troubles. He missed shows and battled with drug addiction. Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote:
His singing, which was universally respected and just as widely imitated, found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk. With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.
At the Houston Chronicle Andrew Dansby wrote:
For decades, Jones' history was country music's history. He was a honky-tonk pioneer with hits such as "Why Baby Why" and "White Lightning," but his wild and pugnacious streak didn't render him too rigid to change with the times. When country moved from hard-driving music driven by steel guitar and fiddle based music to lush, string-laden countrypolitan, Jones evolved with it, scoring hits after his early contemporaries had faded from relevance. In 1980, 25 years after his first charting hit, he released perhaps his most enduring song: "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
You can watch a 1980 live performance of that song here:
Jones, who long struggled with alcohol, had a tumultuous relationship with wife and duet partner Tammy Wynette. They divorced in 1975, but still sang together.