Published: Mon, November 20, 2017
Entertaiment | By Minnie Bishop

Mel Tillis, country music star known as 'Stutterin' Boy,' dead at 85

Mel Tillis, country music star known as 'Stutterin' Boy,' dead at 85

According to the Tennessean, Tillis died early Sunday morning at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. after nearly two years of ill health stemming from a bout of diverticulitis, for which he received surgery.

Country Music Hall of Famer, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and Grand Ole Opry member Mel Tillis died early Sunday morning, The Tennessean reports.

"Tillis battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered", he said. Under his own name, he cut six singles that topped the country charts, including "I Ain't Never", "Coca-Cola Cowboy" and "Southern Rains".

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida in 1932, Tillis caught malaria as a child, leaving him with a speech impediment for which he was mocked in his youth but which he embraced as an adult, incorporating it into his performances for comic effect. Many of those songs were recorded by other country music stars such as Kenny Rogers, George Strait and Ricky Skaggs.

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Perhaps his best-known crossover hit was "Ruby, Don't You Take Your Love to Town", narrated by a military veteran paralyzed during "a insane Asian war".

A representative for Tillis' daughter Pam, also a country singer-songwriter, wrote on her Facebook page that his death was "sudden and unexpected".

Tillis, known for his rich baritone and the smooth sincerity of his vocal performances, spoke with a stutter since he was a toddler, according to online biographers. After leaving the Air Force in 1955 and working several odd jobs, Tillis auditioned for Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to pursue songwriting.

In February 2012 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts - the highest honor given to artists by the United States government - by President Barack Obama. In 2007, Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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