County music lost one of its greatest voices—and characters—when George Jones died on April 26, 2013, at age 81. George passed away at a Nashville hospital due to respiratory failure after being admitted on April 18 with a slight fever and irregular blood pressure.
With a distinctive voice that put him in another class from his peers, George Jones lived the last 20 or so years of his life being known as the “greatest living country singer.” That’s not an easy moniker to shoulder. But George proved it with ease every time he stepped on the stage. Of course, over his 50-plus-year career, George earned a lot of nicknames, including the “Possum” and “No Show Jones,” for his penchant of missing gigs due to his hard-partying ways.
With more than 140 of his songs reaching the Top 40 (that’s not a typo: 140), George’s musical honors could fill a museum. Actually, he has his own museum in Nashville now. George earned multiple Grammy Awards, numerous Male Vocalist of the Year Awards (both CMA and ACM), a Nation Medal of Arts in 2002, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and more. The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted George in 1992.
George’s catalog of No. 1 hits includes “White Lightning,” “Still Doin’ Time,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and more. Understandably so, he was also one of the most sought-after duet partners. George famously shared the mic with Tammy Wynette (both while married to her and afterwards), Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and more.
George Jones Gets His Start
Born in Saratoga, Texas, in 1931, George grew up in nearby Beaumont. After his dad bought him a guitar at age 9, George developed a talent for both playing and singing. Two years later, George played his first gig on a shoeshine stand in front of a penny arcade. Before the day was over, George had amassed $24 in change—a tidy sum in the early 1940s.
Of course, as George recounted in his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It, the money burned a hole in his pocket. “I stepped inside the arcade with $24 in my pockets,” wrote Jones. “I’m not sure I left there with a cent. That was my first time to earn money for singing—and my first time to blow it afterward.”
George left home at age 16 to pursue his career. He found work performing on radio stations, and eventually earned himself a spot on the honky-tonk circuit.
George scored his first charted hit in 1955 with “Why Baby Why,” which peaked at No. 4. Of course, as previously mentioned, the tune was the first in a long string of Top 40 hits.
Country Music Mourns a Legend
If George Jones’ public funeral service at the Grand Ole Opry House on May 2, 2013, was any indication, his impact on country music is immeasurable. A legion of country music’s biggest stars, dignitaries, and fans took time to mourn the legend and bid farewell.
Artists performing musical tributes included Randy Travis (“Amazing Grace”), Brad Paisley (“Me & Jesus”), Vince Gill (“Go Rest High on That Mountain”), Travis Tritt (“Why Me Lord”), Wynonna (“How Great Thou Art”), Ronnie Milsap (“When the Grass Grows Over Me”), Alan Jackson (“He Stopped Loving Her Today”), and more.
Attendees and speakers included First Lady Laura Bush, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, CBS political correspondent Bob Schieffer, Charlie Daniels, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker, and more.