Mel Tillis, an American country music singer and songwriter died on Sunday, November 19 at age 85, according to his publicist as disclosed in an ABS-CBN News story.
His publicist, Don Murry Grubbs, said that Tillis died of suspected respiratory failure at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida.
“Tillis battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered,” Grubbs added.
The Country Music Hall of Famer recorded more than 600 albums since the late 1950s, and had his biggest success in the 1970s. His major hits include “I Ain’t Never”, “Good Woman Blues”, and “Coca-Cola Cowboy”.
Though he had entered the weekly music charts on his own Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs list, he was more successful as a songwriter. Some of the hits he wrote were “I Ain’t Never” (Tillis’ own future hit) and “Crazy, Wild Desire” with Wanda Jackson, and Stonewall Jackson also covering his songs.
When he was a kid, he was stricken with malaria which resulted to his speech disorder which fortunately didn’t affect his singing voice. His stuttering and self-deprecating charm made him more loved and endeared by fans. He was also said to have learned to play drums and guitar at a young age.
Tillis, a former United States Air Force and a baker in Okinawa, formed his band called “The Westerners” which played at local nightclubs.
Even after his heyday in the 1970s, he remained a songwriter; a year after which he wrote hits for Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis. He also appeared on television as a commercial spokesman for “Whataburger”, a fast-food restaurant chain during the 1980s, and starred in movies, including Love Revival, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981), and comedy westerns Uphill All the Way (1986).
He remained on top of his career as one of country music’s most successful vocalists of the era; building up a financial empire when he invested in music publishing companies such as Sawgrass and Cedarwood.
On February 13, 2012, then-President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts for his country music contributions. He was also recognized as the Country Music Association Awards’ most coveted award, and Entertainer of the Year.
Meanwhile, co-stars and entertainers took to Twitter their heartfelt tribute to their friend, Tillis. Blake Shelton described the artist’s passing as “a truly devastating loss”, while actor and musician Tim McGraw called him as “one of the coolest guys in country music ever.”
Crystal Gayle, Grammy Award-winning country singer also tweeted: “I’m saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Mel Tillis. There will never be another Mel Tillis!”
Moreover, The Grand Ole Opry thanked Tillis “for the songs, stories and years of incredible entertainment” he had contributed in the music industry.
Here’s a throwback video: