NASHVILLE, Tenn. — George Jones, the hard-living country singer who recorded dozens of hits about good times and regrets and reached the pinnacle with the classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” has died at 81.
Jones died Friday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.He’d been hospitalized for a few weeks with high fever and irregular blood pressure and had to postpone a few shows.
He possessed one of the most instantly recognizable, golden voices in any genre and he was idolized not just by fellow country artists, but by Frank Sinatra, Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello, James Taylor and countless others. “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones,” Waylon Jennings once sang.
In song, he was rowdy and regretful, tender and tragic. His hits included the sentimental “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” the foot-tapping “The Race is On,” the foot-stomping “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” the melancholy “She Thinks I Still Care,” the rockin’ ”White Lightning,” and the barfly lament “Still Doing Time.” Jones also recorded several duets with Tammy Wynette, his wife for six years, including “Golden Ring,” ‘’Near You,” ‘’Southern California” and “We’re Gonna Hold On.” He also sang with such peers as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and with Costello and other rock performers.
But his signature song was “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a weeper among weepers about a man who carries his love for a woman to his grave. The 1980 ballad, which Jones was sure would never be a hit, often appears on surveys as the most popular country song of all time.
Jones won Grammy awards in 1981 for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and in 1999 for “Choices.” He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2008 was among the artists honored in Washington at the Kennedy Center.
Jones continued to make appearances and put out records, though his hit records declined.
“I don’t want to completely quit because I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said in 2005. “I’ll be out there as long as the people want me to be out there.”
Jones was a purist who lamented the transformation of country music from the family feeling of the 1950s to the hit factory of the early 21st century. He was so caught up in country, old country, that when a record company executive suggested he record with James Taylor, Jones insisted he had never heard of the million selling singer-songwriter. He was equally unimpressed when told that Neil Young had come to visit backstage and declined to see him, saying he didn’t know who he was. He did listen to the Rolling Stones, only because of the guitar playing of Keith Richards, a country fan who would eventually record with Jones.
Jones was born Sept. 12, 1931, in a log house near the east Texas town of Saratoga, the youngest of eight children. He sang in church and at age 11 began performing for tips on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. His first outing was such a success that listeners tossed him coins, placed a cup by his side and filled it with money. Jones estimated he made more than $24 for his two-hour performance, enough to feed his family for a week, but he used up the cash at a local arcade.