Beloved Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member Mel Tillis has passed away. He was 85 years old.
Tillis' publicist Don Murry Grubbs confirmed his passing early Sunday morning (Nov. 19). He died at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. According to the Tennessean, it is believed that his death was caused by respiratory failure.
His incredible career spanned over sixty years and included over thirty Top 10 singles. The Florida native was known for his warm and humorous personality and lifelong speech impediment, which he often poked fun at during his sets.
Tillis started his country music career by moving to Nashville after leaving the Air Force in the mid 1950s. He wrote big cuts for Brenda Lee, Ray Price and Webb Pierce before charting his own Top 40 tune, "The Violet and a Rose."
Over the next few decades, he cemented himself as a country mainstay with hits like "Heart Over Mind," "I Ain't Never" and "Coca Cola Cowboy." But Tillis' also continued to write major hits for other country legends. He penned Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," Waylon Jennings "Mental Revenge" and Randy Travis' "Diggin Up Bones."
He passed on his talents to his children, including his daughter, Pam. She first found success on the country charts in the 1990s with hits like "Maybe It Was Memphis" and "Shake The Sugar Tree." Pam often performed with Mel at his theater in Branson, Mo., where he regularly appeared until the early 2000s.
Tillis has been awarded dozens of professional honors over the years, including the National Medal of Arts and Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.
He is survived by his partner Kathy DeMonaco, his six children, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. Funeral arrangements are currently pending.