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George Jones, affectionately known as “The Possum,” died today (Friday) in Nashville. He was 81. An early member of the Grand Ole Opry, George was a country favorite for nearly five decades with such hits as “Why Baby Why” and “The Race Is On.”
Born George Glenn Jones on September 12th, 1931 in Vidor, Texas, he was introduced to country music at age seven, when his family bought a radio. Two years later, he received a guitar as a gift and began performing on the streets of Beaumont, Texas. During a stint in the Marines, George honed his skills playing bars and clubs around his base in California. Upon his discharge he recorded his first single, which went nowhere, but his second single, “Why Baby Why,” which he co-wrote, also became his first Top 5 hit in 1955. In 1956 he joined the Grand Ole Opry after a series of Top 10 singles and got his first number-one with “White Lightning” in 1959. Throughout the ‘60s, George changed labels several times but managed to remain at or near the top of the charts with such classics as “The Race Is On” and “Love Bug.”
As his success grew, so did his alcohol abuse and, consequently, his inclination to miss concerts -- earning him the moniker “No Show Jones.” After moving to Nashville, George met and married Tammy Wynette in 1969. But they couldn’t record together until 1971 because they were under contracts to different record labels. Even after their divorce in 1973, they continued to record and tour together throughout the '70s. Jones was also married twice before Tammy -- once in his teens to Dorothy Bonvillion, which resulted in the birth of his daughter Susan, and then to Shirley Ann Corley,with whom he had sons Jeffrey and Brian.
During his marriage to Shirley, the legendary riding mower story evolved. After several days on a bender, his wife confiscated the keys to every vehicle in the house and left George alone with no way to obtain his liquor fix. Disgruntled and desperate, he spied their riding lawnmower with keys in the ignition -- and drove it to the liquor store. Vince Gill later parodied the event in the video for “One More Last Chance.”
In March 1983 George married Nancy Sepulveda, who helped him get sober. She also became his business partner, not only in his music, but in ventures including the Possum Holler restaurant in Enterprise, Alabama.
George is survived by four children -- Susan, Jeffrey, Brian and country singer Georgette, his daughter with Tammy Wynette. His wife, Nancy also survives.
Here's the song that George Jones was most famous for.
"White Lightning" – Jones' first No. 1 hit was written by J.P. Richardson, who recorded under the name the Big Bopper and died in a plane crash two months before the song was released. In his autobiography, Jones said he showed up to the studio drunk and took 80 takes to get this vocal right.
"She Thinks I Still Care" – The classic country weepie spent six week at No. 1 in 1962. It was later recorded by a variety of artists, including Connie Francis, Anne Murray, Elvis Presley and James Taylor.
"We're Gonna Hold On" – Jones and Tammy Wynette had a stormy five-year marriage that ended in 1975, but the union produced a number of duets that landed on the country charts. "We're Gonna Hold On" was the first, getting to the top of the charts in 1973.
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" – Jones' career was at a low point when he reluctantly recorded the mournful ballad often called the greatest country song ever – but he was back on top when it was released in 1980. "A four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song," he later said.
"The Grand Tour" – A room-by-room trip through a house left empty after a man's wife leaves him, "The Grand Tour" was Jones' greatest divorce song – even though it was released a year before the end of his marriage to Wynette.