On this day in 2013, legendary country singer and songwriter George Jones, whose numerous hit songs include “White Lightning,” “Walk Through This World With Me” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” dies at age 81 in Nashville. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Jones had more than 140 Top 40 country hits, including 14 No. 1 songs. Praised by many in the country music world as the greatest country singer of all time, Jones also was known for his hard-drinking lifestyle and stormy marriage to third wife and fellow singer Tammy Wynette (1942-98), with whom he recorded such duets as “We’re Gonna Hold On” and “Golden Ring.” Fellow country musician Waylon Jennings once sang of Jones: “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones.”
Born into a poor family in Saratoga, Texas, on September 12, 1931, Jones began singing and playing guitar as a boy and performing on local radio as a teenager. A disc jockey nicknamed Jones “Possum” for his close-set eyes and turned-up nose. Jones married briefly and served in the Marines in the early 1950s before signing with a record label and releasing his first single in 1954. He had his first top-five country hit the following year, with “Why Baby Why,” and his first chart-topper with 1959’s “White Lightning.”
He went on to record a slew of hits, including “The Window Up Above” (1960), “Tender Years” (1961), “She Thinks I Still Care” (1962), “The Race Is On” (1964) and “Walk Through This World With Me” (1967). In 1969, Jones married country star Tammy Wynette, best known for her hit single “Stand by Your Man” (1968). The couple recorded and toured together during and after their turbulent marriage, which was hurt by Jones’ substance abuse issues and ended in divorce in 1975. Their hit duets included “The Ceremony” (1972), “We’re Gonna Hold On” (1973), “(We’re Not) the Jet Set” (1974), “Golden Ring” (1976), “Near You” (1976) and “Two Story House” (1980). The last album they recorded together was 1995’s “One.”
Off stage, Jones made headlines for his erratic behavior and drinking and drug use (following one bender, Jones’ wife hid his car keys, so he drove a motorized lawn mower to a liquor store). He missed so many scheduled appearances he was dubbed “No-Show Jones.” However, in the 1980s, Jones started to turn his life around, marrying for the fourth and final time, curbing his excessive habits and recording such hit songs as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980), which earned him a Grammy Award for best male vocal performance and was named song of the year by the Country Music Association.
Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and published a best-selling autobiography, “I Lived to Tell It All,” in 1996. In 1999, he drove his SUV into the side of a bridge near his Tennessee home and was nearly killed. The music icon later pleaded guilty to DWI and reportedly sobered up for good. He continued to record and tour into the 21st century. In 2008, Jones was honored by the Kennedy Center and in 2012 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
On April 26, 2013, Jones died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he had been admitted the previous week with a fever and irregular blood pressure. His funeral was held at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, with politicians, former first lady Laura Bush and numerous country stars in attendance.