Country Music Legend Mel Tillis Passes

Mel Tillis performs during the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert benefiting victims of the May tornadoes at Gaylord Family- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman Okla. Saturday

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.

A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. The cause of death is suspected respiratory failure. Over the course of his long career, he wrote more than 1,000 songs, recorded more than 60 albums, had almost three dozen top-10 singles, and pegged six No. 1 hits, including "Coca-Cola Cowboy", "I Ain't Never", and "I Believe in You".

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis on August 8, 1932, "Mel" gained fame in the 1970s with a string of successful hits.

Additionally, Tillis had other hits such as Stateside, I Got the Hoss, Send Me Down to Tucson, Neon Rose, Sawmill and Midnight, Me and the Blues.

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

Tillis was raised in Pahokee, Florida, and developed his stutter as a child while being treated for malaria.

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He joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed as a baker in Okinawa, where he formed a band called the Westerners.

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".

His first big hit as a songwriter was "I'm exhausted", which was recorded that same year by Webb Pierce, who went on to record several more of Tillis's compositions.

Tillis also appeared in movies with Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood.

"I'm just so thankful, for everything", he said when he was inducted.

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