Following a lengthy struggle to regain his health, country music legend MelTillis passed away yesterday morning at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. Tillis battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure. Tillis was 85.
The Country Music Hall of Famer leaves behind six children (Pam Tillis, Connie Tillis, Cindy Shorey, Sonny Tillis, Carrie April Tillis, and Hannah Puryear), six grandchildren, a great grandson, a sister (Linda Crosby) and brother (Richard Tillis), the mother of five of his children (Doris Tillis), his longtime partner (Kathy DeMonaco), and many lifelong friends and fans around the world.
The Tillis family asks for your prayers and will soon release more information regarding funeral services in Florida and Nashville.
Throughout his 60+ year career, the Grand Ole Opry member recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, six #1 hits ("I Ain't Never," "Coca-Cola Cowboy," "Southern Rains," "Good Woman Blues," "Heart Healer," and "I Believe In You"), was named the Country Music Association's coveted Entertainer of the Year, and was elected a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He wrote over 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major artists including Kenny Rogers ("Ruby, Don't You Take Your Love To Town"), George Strait ("Thoughts Of A Fool"), and Ricky Skaggs ("Honey, Open That Door"). Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades. In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.Lonnie Melvin Tillis (August 8, 1932 – November 19, 2017) was an American country music singer and songwriter. Although he recorded songs since the late 1950s, his biggest success occurred in the 1970s, with a long list of Top 10 hits.
Tillis' biggest hits include "I Ain't Never", "Good Woman Blues", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy". On February 13, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to country music. He also won the Country Music Association Awards' most coveted award, Entertainer of the Year. Additionally, he was known for his speech impediment, which didn't affect his singing voice. His daughter is country music singer Pam Tillis.
Mel Tillis was born on August 8, 1932, in Tampa, Florida, but later raised in Pahokee, Florida (near West Palm Beach). His stutter developed during his childhood, a result of a bout with malaria. As a child, Tillis learned the drums as well as guitar and at age 16, won a local talent show. He attended the University of Florida but dropped out and joined the United States Air Force. While stationed as a baker on Okinawa, he formed a band called The Westerners, which played at local nightclubs.
After leaving the Air Force in 1955, Tillis returned to Florida where he worked a number of odd jobs, eventually finding employment with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Tampa, Florida. He used his railroad pass to visit Nashville and eventually met and auditioned for Wesley Rose of famed Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose Music. Rose encouraged Tillis to return to Florida and continue honing his songwriting skills. Tillis eventually moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and began writing songs full-time. Tillis wrote "I'm Tired", a No. 3 country hit for Webb Pierce in 1957.
Other Tillis hits include "Honky Tonk Song" and "Tupelo County Jail". Ray Price and Brenda Lee also charted hits with Tillis' material around this time. In the late 1950s, after becoming a hit-making songwriter, he signed his own contract with Columbia Records. In 1958, he had his first Top 40 hit, "The Violet and a Rose", followed by the Top 25 hit "Sawmill".
Rise to fame.
Although Tillis charted on his own Billboard's Hot Country Songs list, he had more success as a songwriter. He continued to be Webb Pierce's songwriter. He wrote the hits "I Ain't Never" (Tillis' own future hit) and "Crazy, Wild Desire". Bobby Bare, Tom Jones ("Detroit City"), Wanda Jackson, and Stonewall Jackson also covered his songs. Tillis continued to record on his own. Some well-known songs from his Columbia years include "The Brooklyn Bridge", "Loco Weed", and "Walk on, Boy". However, he did not achieve major success on the country charts on his own.