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Country Music Legend Dead at 81 NY Times

One of country music’s greatest legends -- described as “the definitive country singer of the last half-century” by The New York Times -- has died. George Jones, 81, died today in a Nashville hospital.

He was admitted April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure, his publicists said.

“Mr. Jones -- nicknamed Possum for his close-set eyes and pointed nose and later No-Show Jones for the concerts he missed during drinking and drug binges -- was universally respected and just as widely imitated,” The Times reports. “With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk and brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.”

Jones, who notched a string of No. 1 country hits from “White Lightning” in 1959 to “I Always Get Lucky With You” in 1983, racked up countless honors, including being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and becoming a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2008. Just last year he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.

“In his most memorable songs, all the pleasures of a down-home Saturday night couldn’t free him from private pain, the story reports. “His up-tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude, and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation.”

Jones, who was a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1956, once said of his songs: “When you’re onstage or recording, you put yourself in those stories.”

The Times report adds: “Fans heard in those songs the echoes of a life in which success and excess battled for decades. Mr. Jones bought, sold and traded dozens of houses and hundreds of cars; he earned millions of dollars and lost much of it to drug use, mismanagement and divorce settlements. Through it all, he kept touring and recording, singing mournful songs that continued to ring true.”

His other signature songs included “The Race Is On,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “Walk Through the World With Me,” He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Yesterday’s Wine,” a duet with Merle Haggard.

george-jones.jpgGeorge Jones