(RNN) – Country singer George Jones, who awed listeners with his ability to immerse himself in his songs and compelled them to do the same, has died. He was 81 years old.
Jones was a revelation in the country music culture – equal parts vocal phenom and bad boy – whose drinking and impulsiveness made him just as legendary as his performances.
Jones enjoyed his first No. 1 hit, White Lightning, in 1959 and had racked up 150 more chart-topping songs since then. He did it in duets and as a solo artist.
He Stopped Loving Her Today was his most famous song and arguably the most famous country song of all time. The song reeked of sorrow and loss and a strong tinge of believability both because listeners could relate to it and because it was reflective of the singer's personal life.
"If we all could sound the way we wanted, we'd all sound like George Jones," said singer Waylon Jennings in a tribute song to Jones.
Praise like that came from people all over the entertainment spectrum, and Jones had the undying adoration of fans and contemporaries.
His career has earned him the highest awards an entertainer can achieve. Then-President George W. Bush awarded Jones the National Medal of Arts in 2002. He also earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, a salute from the Kennedy Center and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992.
He earned one of his most infamous nicknames, "No Show," because he missed numerous performances due to alcohol addiction during one period of his career.
Tales of the lengths he went through to acquire and abuse alcohol or cocaine would have been unbelievable had they not been true.
He admitted to going on a two-week binge while married to his second wife, Shirley Conley. In desperation, he drove a 10-horsepower riding lawn mower eight miles to buy liquor after his wife took the keys to their cars when she left the house.
The stunt boosted his status as a hard-drinking crooner and drew song parodies from his contemporaries for several years afterward.
"I never had anything as a kid, and all of a sudden I had everything thrown at my feet," Jones said in a 1996 autobiography. "It can ruin you quickly,"
Aside from his wild lifestyle, Jones's most famous association was with Tammy Wynette. The pairing played both behind the microphone and in real life.
Jones married Wynette, the third of his four wives, in 1969 and they remained wed until 1974. They recorded several top hits while they were together and continued recording No. 1 duets for years after they ended their marriage.
The couple had one daughter together, Tamala Georgette, who forged a music career of her own and sometimes performed on stage with her father.
Jones divorced his first wife, Dorothy Bonvillion, after less than a year, and the two had one daughter. Jones and his second wife had two sons together.
He married his current wife, Nancy Sepulvado, in 1983 and credited her with helping him kick his addictions.
George Glenn Jones was born Sept. 12, 1931 in Saratoga, TX and grew up in nearby Beaumont.
His early exposure to country music through radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry sparked his desire to sing, and he left home at 14 to cut his teeth on the honky-tonk circuit.
His career took off in 1956 when Billboard named him the "Most Promising New Country Vocalist." From there he went on to record hits for multiple labels.