Longtime country singer, songwriter Mel Tillis dies

Country music legend dead: Mel Tillis dies at 85 following health battle

Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis, known for songs such as "I Ain't Never" and "Coca-Cola Cowboy", died early Sunday aged 85, his publicist confirmed. He overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, such as "Good Woman Blues", "Coca Cola Cowboy" and "Southern Rain".

Mel Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

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. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure.

Tillis was also a regular personality on the big and small screens, appearing on TV shows like Hee Haw and Hollywood Squares and in films such as The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit 2.

In all, the Country Music Hall of Fame member wrote more than 1,000 songs and in 2012 received a National Medal of Arts for bringing "his unique blend of warmth and humour to the great tradition of country music". He developed the stutter as a child after a bout with malaria.

The heroic American joined the US Air Force to serve in the Korean War and was stationed in Okinawa, where he served the country by cooking and singing on Armed Forces Radio. "Exhausted of living this ol' way".

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His career took off in 1956 after Webb Pierce recorded "I'm exhausted", which Tillis wrote.

Country singers are responding with their own sentiments.

He said that when he was in the Air Force as a flight leader, he marched airmen right into a wall.

"I was so bashful and scared", he said in 2002 of his hesitancy about speaking in public, "and she said, 'If they laugh they'll be laughing with you, not against you'".

"Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience", said Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.

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