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


Longtime country music star, Mel Tillis has died.

In his later years, Tillis was known more for his songwriting than his own recording - 600 of his songs have been recorded by major artists ranging from Kenny Rogers to George Strait to Ricky Skaggs. 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".

Tillis died early on Sunday in an Ocala, Florida, hospital, a statement posted on Absolute Publicity's website said.

The singer-songwriter's publicist Don Murry Grubbs confirmed the tragic news, with his suspected cause of death believed to be respiratory failure.

Lonnie Melvin Tillis was born on August 8, 1932, near Tampa, Fla.

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The Country Music Association named Tillis Entertainer of the Year in 1976, the Tennessean reported, and he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that same year. Later that year, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He penned the song Coca Cola Cowboy for Clint Eastwood flick Every Which Way but Loose. He started performing in the early 50s with a group called The Westerners. In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts. He also briefly co-hosted an ABC prime-time series, "Mel and Susan Together", with supermodel Susan Anton in 1978. He turned his lament into "I'm exhausted", which became a hit for Webb Pierce. TV guest spots were frequent, including a debut acting appearance on "Love: American Style" in 1973, followed by shows like "The Dukes of Hazard", "The Tim Conway Show", and "The Love Boat".

The singer was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in June of 2007.

Crystal Gayle posted, "I'm saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Mel Tillis".