Definitive country male vocalist George Jones passed away on Apr. 26.
Like Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra–other contenders for the title of all-time greatest popular singer–Jones simultaneously transcended the genre he sang in, while being the absolute embodiment of it.
The 81-year-old, who was hospitalized in Nashville for a fever and irregular blood pressure on Apr. 18, had many monikers, including “The Possum” (because of his close-set eyes and pointed nose) and “No Show Jones” (because, mid-career, the singer missed a few performances.)
But perhaps the most fitting epithet is “The King of Broken Hearts.”
“With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string,” writes the New York Times, “he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.”
“In his most memorable songs, all the pleasures of a down-home Saturday night couldn’t free him from private pain. His up-tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude, and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation. ‘When you’re onstage or recording, you put yourself in those stories,’ he once said.”
“He was bruised by alcohol and drug use, and in later, happier and sober years he wondered at the adulation afforded him,” says The Tennessean, “given the recklessness with which he had at times treated his talent.”
“I messed up my life way back there, drinking and boozing and all that kind of stuff,” he told the paper in 2008. “And you wish you could just erase it all. You can’t do that, though. You just have to live it down the best you can.”
Jones, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award last year, was married four times, including five years to singer Tammy Wynette.
The New York Times also noted Jones’s difficulties relating to both finances and love: “He bought, sold and traded dozens of houses and hundreds of cars; he made millions of dollars and lost much of it to drug use, mismanagement and divorce settlements. Through it all, he kept touring and recording, singing mournful songs that continued to ring true.”