Country Singer Mel Tillis Dead at 85

Jay Jacobs
November 20, 2017

The country music world is reacting to the death of Mel Tillis, who passed away Sunday (Nov. 19) after a long illness.

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"). It wasn't until 1971 that he had his own first No. 1 hit as a recording artist, with "I Ain't Never", which he followed later in the decade with the chart-toppers "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer", "I Believe In You", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy". He was also inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

According to the Tennessean, Tillis died early Sunday morning at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. after nearly two years of ill health stemming from a bout of diverticulitis, for which he received surgery.

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".

Tillis had undergone colon surgery in January 2016 and canceled a scheduled trip on the Country Music Cruise. He wrote some of country music's most compelling and consequential songs, he fronted a remarkable band, and he sang with power and emotion.

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Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis on August 8, 1932, "Mel" gained fame in the 1970s with a string of successful hits. "There will never be another Mel Tillis!". He developed the stutter as a child after a bout with malaria.

Musical from an early age, he started performing in the early 1950s with a group called The Westerners, while stationed in Okinawa and serving as a baker in the Air Force.

Shortly after leaving the Air Force in 1956, Tillis wrote I'm exhausted, which became a No. 3 hit for Webb Pierce and helped launch Tillis' career. "The more I go onstage", he said, "and feel my independence and that power over audiences, the less I stutter". Four years later, he received the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to country music during a White House ceremony.

Grubbs says the Tillis family will release information about funeral services in Florida and Nashville.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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