Country music icon George Jones died Friday at 81 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, according to his publicist Kirt Webster. He was hospitalized with fever and irregular blood pressure, forcing him to postpone two shows.
Last month Jones brought his farewell tour to Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet as part of his announced "Final Grand Tour."
I've seen the legendary George Jones perform a number of times, beginning as far back as 1993.
I also remember watching him with ex-wife Tammy Wynette perform together during a short national tour that brought them to the Star Plaza Theatre during Labor Day weekend in 1997. It was just a few months before Wynette died from a blood clot at age 55 the following April.
But after I watched Jones, who is now 81, perform in 2010 his at Blue Chip Hotel and Casino, I observed it now seems much of his energy and zest seemed drained.
In November 2009, he last performed at Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville. And in November 2010, he also played the Rialto in Joliet.
Of course, some of Jones' most famous songs were recorded with Wynette and were all No. 1 hits, such as "We're Gonna Hold On" in 1973, "Golden Ring" in 1976 and "Near You" in 1977.
During his song "Choices," one of his stronger numbers during the night, large screens displayed the infamous news footage of Jones being arrested on the side of the road in the early ’80s, along with photos of theater marquees (including the Genesee Theater north of Chicago) announcing the cancellation of Jones' concerts over the years. The cancellations led to his tag as "No Show Jones," in addition to being dubbed "Possum."
His current wife, since 1983, Nancy Sepulveda, 58, was also his manager and credited by her husband with rescuing him from drinking and drugs. The couple lived in Franklin, Tenn., for the past 17 years.
Dolly Parton told The Associated Press on Friday: "My heart is absolutely broken. George Jones was my all-time favorite singer and one of my favorite people in the world."
Jones survived long battles with alcoholism and drug addiction, brawls, accidents and close encounters with death, including bypass surgery and a tour bus crash that he only avoided by deciding at the last moment to take a plane.
Jones was scheduled to complete the tour in November with an all-star packed tribute in Nashville. Stars lined up to sign on to the show, many remembering kindnesses over the years.
Kenny Chesney remembers Jones for more than the voice. He was picked for a tour with Jones and Wynette early in his career and cherishes the memory of being invited to fly home on Jones' private jet after one of the concerts.
"I remember sitting there on that jet, thinking, 'This can't be happening,' because he was George Jones, and I was some kid from nowhere," Chesney told the AP. "I'm sure he knew, but he was generous to kids chasing the dream, and I never forgot it."
Jones was married to Wynette from 1969 to 1975. He is survived by four children, one with first wife Dorothy Bonvillion, two with second wife Shirley Ann Corley and one with Wynette, the latter named Georgette Jones, also a country singer, who even played her mother in the 2008 TV series "Sordid Lives."