Country music star Mel Tillis dies aged 85

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Mel Tillis, an American country music legend who wrote more than 1,000 songs, has died at age 85.

Mr Tillis, who has struggled with intestinal issues since 2016, died at the Munroe Regional Medical Centre in Florida after a “lengthy struggle to regain his health,” his publicist said. The suspected cause of death was respiratory failure.

Mr Tillis recorded more than 60 albums over his six-decade career, including six No. 1 hit singles. He is perhaps best known for 1970s hits such as “I Ain't Never", "Good Woman Blues", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy". In 1976, he won the the Country Music Association’s most coveted prize: Entertainer of the Year.

The singer-songwriter also penned hundreds of songs that were covered by fellow stars like Kenny Rogers, George Strait, and Ricky Skaggs. He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience," Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs told the Tennessean. "There’s a big difference between a concert and a show. Mel Tillis always put on a show ... You always felt good about being around him."

Mr Tillis served in the Air Force and worked as a fireman on the Atlantic Coast Line railroad before moving to Nashville to pursue music full-time. As a child, he struggled with a stutter that disappeared when he sang. Later, he would tell People magazine that performing helped him control his speech impediment.

"The more I go onstage and feel my independence and that power over audiences, the less I stutter,” he said.

Mr Tillis went on to serve as spokesman and honorary chairman of the Stuttering Foundation of America, according to his website. He is survived by his six children, six grandchildren, a great grandson, the mother of five of his children, and his longtime partner.

A post on his daughter and singer-songwriter Pam Tillis’s Facebook page said that she was “deeply saddened” by her father’s “sudden and unexpected” passing. She urged fans to visit his Facebook page and share how they felt about the “master songwriter, brilliant comedian and beloved father”.