Tampa native, country music legend Mel Tillis dies at 85

20 November, 2017, 02:17 | Author: Rita Burton
  • Country music legend dead: Mel Tillis dies at 85 following health battle

Mel Tillis, who embraced his own speech impediment to become one of Nashville's most celebrated singer-songwriters during a six-decade career in country music, has died at age 85, his publicist said on Sunday. The cause of death is believed to be respiratory failure. Among the hits he wrote for others were "Detroit City" for Bobby Bare; "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town", by Rogers and the First Edition; and "Thoughts of a Fool" for George Strait.

His commercial peak came in the 1970s when he had a string of top 10 hits, including "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer" and "Coca Cola Cowboy". He wrote some of country music's most compelling and consequential songs, he fronted a remarkable band, and he sang with power and emotion.

He also appeared in films such as "Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit".

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

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In February 2012 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts - the highest honor given to artists by the U.S. government - by President Barack Obama. He joined the US Air Force to serve in the Korean War and was stationed in Okinawa, where he spent his time cooking and singing on Armed Forces Radio. He was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry and a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.

He held a variety of odd jobs before breaking out, including being a truck driver, a strawberry picker, a firefighter on the railroad and milkman, which inspired his breakthrough song.

Shortly after leaving the Air Force in 1956, Tillis wrote I'm exhausted, which became a No. 3 hit for Webb Pierce and helped launch Tillis' career. His family plans to announce funeral arrangements in Nashville and Florida soon.

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