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Legendary country music star Mel Tillis dies at 85
March 22 2018, 07:45 | Perry Erickson
Image courtesy of Jason Davis Getty Images
The Country Music Hall of Famer had battled intestinal issues ever since he was hospitalized in 2016 after undergoing colon surgery, and he never fully recovered.
The singer-songwriter's publicist Don Murry Grubbs confirmed the tragic news, with his suspected cause of death believed to be respiratory failure.
Tillis, born Lonnie Melvin Tillis, grew up in Florida and developed a stutter that would stay with him throughout his life as a result of an early bout of malaria; the stutter did not affect his singing voice. In October 2007, he became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. In February 2012, President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.
He started performing in the early 50s with a group called The Westerners.
A representative for Tillis' daughter Pam Tillis, also a country singer-songwriter, wrote on her Facebook page that his death was "sudden and unexpected". According to his website, his career launched in 1956 when Webb Pierce recorded a song written by Tillis.
His commercial peak came in the 1970s when he had a string of top 10 hits, including "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer" and "Coca Cola Cowboy". After leaving the Air Force in 1955 and working several odd jobs, Tillis auditioned for Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to pursue songwriting.
Tillis wrote more than 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major artists including Kenny Rogers ("Ruby, Don't You Take Your Love To Town"), George Strait ("Thoughts Of A Fool") and Ricky Skaggs ("Honey, Open That Door").
Tillis also had something of an acting career, with small roles in a number of films such as "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit II".