Country music legend Mel Tillis has died at the age of 85. The cause of death has been reported as respiratory failure. Tillis’s legendary career dates back to the 1950s but his career peaked in the 1970s, when he released a number of classic hit songs such as “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” which was featured in the classic Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose.
According to USA Today, Mel Tillis released over 60 albums in his career over six decades and racked up three dozen top ten singles. In 1976, Tillis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Tillis was born near Tampa, Florida, in 1932. He suffered a bout of childhood malaria that left him with a stutter that remained with him throughout his life. Tillis was mocked for his stuttering as a young boy, but later in life it became something of a personal trademark that he used for comedic effect on stage and on screen. Writing in his 1984 autobiography, Tillis explained the impact the speech impediment had left on his life.
“After a lot of years and more hurting than I like to remember, I can talk about it lightly — which eases things a bit,” Tillis wrote in Stutterin’ Boy. “It’s a way of showing people that it hasn’t licked me, so it doesn’t have to lick others.”
Tillis was known throughout the country music industry as a man of great warmth and humor and he developed many friends over the course of his storied career. Many of them are today reflecting on his passing with some words of remembrance for their late friend.
Country legend Crystal Gayle tweeted, “there will never be another Mel Tillis.”
Charlie Daniels also tweeted in memory of Tillis.
Mel Tillis, you will be missed by so many of us you touched over the years.— Charlie Daniels (@CharlieDaniels) November 19, 2017
Rest in peace my friend.
Blake Shelton, in a series of tweets, explains how some of his best memories involve time spent with Mel Tillis, describing Tillis’s death as a “devastating loss.”
“Some of my most cherished memories are the times I spent with Mel Tillis,” Shelton wrote. “Many many great memories. From fishing, to just having a beer, to him crashing my concert!”
He once spent an entire day at his place in Tennessee showing me all the memorabilia he'd gathered over the years where he gave me a pair of his stage boots. He even took time to talk me through some hard times in my life on a couple phone calls.— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) November 19, 2017
He did his best to try and keep my head on straight. I looked up to Mel more than he could've possibly known. A talented songwriter. An incredible entertainer. And a funny funny guy. It has been a couple years since I saw him last. I deeply regret that now.— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) November 19, 2017
What a truly devastating loss. I loved Mel. I will miss him terribly. My thoughts and prayers to all his family.— Blake Shelton (@blakeshelton) November 19, 2017
Tim McGraw described Mel Tillis as “one of the coolest guys in country music.”
Man, one of the coolest guys in country music ever and an extraordinary songwriter! So glad I got a chance to hang out with him a bit early in my career. Thinking about his family... #MelTillis pic.twitter.com/C0opYMRCJX— Tim McGraw (@TheTimMcGraw) November 19, 2017
As news of Tillis’s passing hits the country world, more artists will assuredly voice their love and appreciation for Tillis, both as a songwriter and performer and as a great friend.
We lost Mel Tillis today on this earth... He has gone home... He was always good to us. He taught us a lot in our early days Great singer, great writer and oh so funny... the jokes never ended! So crazy that we are in Independence KS today :) Rest Easy Mel— The Oak Ridge Boys (@oakridgeboys) November 19, 2017
Mel Tillis and I became laughin buddies many years ago! He was truly one of a kind, and it was a real privilege to call him my friend. This is my favorite pic of him hosting "Dirty Joke Night" at my house a few years back... #RIPMELTILLIS #MelTillis @PamTillis @KixBrooks pic.twitter.com/wLsKoj5CGI— John Rich (@johnrich) November 19, 2017
Mel Tillis has truly left his mark on country music and will long be remembered as one of the great legends of its golden age. Over the course of six decades, Tillis gifted the world with no shortage of classics songs and albums. Watch Tillis perform “Coca-Cola Cowboy” at the Grand Ole Opry in the video below.
[Featured Image by Jason David/Getty Images]