George Jones, the peerless, hard-living country singer who recorded dozens of hits about good times and regrets and peaked with the heartbreaking classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today", has died. He was 81.
Jones died today at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville after being taken to hospital with fever and irregular blood pressure, according to his publicist Kirt Webster.
With one of the most golden voices of any genre, a clenched, precise, profoundly expressive baritone, Jones had No 1 songs in five separate decades, 1950s to 1990s.
He was idolised 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 a career that lasted more than 50 years, "Possum" evolved from young honky-tonker to elder statesman as he recorded more than 150 albums and became the champion and symbol of traditional country music, a well-lined link to his hero, Hank Williams.
Jones survived long battles with alcoholism and drug addiction, brawls, accidents and close encounters with death, including bypass surgery and a tour bus crash that he only avoided by deciding at the last moment to take a plane.
His failure to appear for concerts left him with the nickname "No Show Jones," and he later recorded a song by that name and often opened his shows by singing it. His wild life was revealed in song and in his handsome, troubled face, with its dark, deep-set eyes and dimpled chin.
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 and in 1999. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2008 was among the artists honoured in Washington at the Kennedy Centre.
In 1983, Jones married his fourth and final wife, Nancy Sepulveda, whom he credited with stabilising his private life. He had four children, one with first wife Dorothy Bonvillion, two with second wife Shirley Ann Corley and one with Wynette.
His daughter with Wynette, Georgette Jones, became a country singer and even played her mother in the 2008 TV series Sordid Lives.