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The world is mourning the loss of the legendary Mel Tillis AP Photo/Mark Zaleski
Mel Tillis arrives at the ceremony for the 2013 inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. The inductees are Bobby Bare, the late “Cowboy” Jack Clement and Kenny Rogers. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

The country music world is mourning the passing of another legend.

Country Music Hall of Fame member and distinguished singer-songwriter Mel Tillis passed away on the morning of Nov. 19 at a Florida hospital.  According to a statement from his publicist, Mel is believed to have died as a result of respiratory failure after a lengthy battle with poor health.

He was 85 years old.

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Born Lonnie Melvin “Mel” Tillis on Aug. 8, 1932, in Dover, Florida, Mel’s love for music began at an early age. Despite his infamous speech impediment that was believed to be the result of a bout with malaria, he went on to produce big hits like “Good Woman Blues,” “Coca Cola Cowboy,” “Heart Healer,” “Southern Rains,” “I Believe In You” and “I Ain’t Never.”

In the ’50s, Mel joined the United States Air Force. While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he formed a band called The Westerners. After serving as a baker in the military, he eventually moved to Nashville and found success penning chart-toppers for Webb Pierce. In 1958 he earned country credit as a solo artist with the song “The Violet and A Rose.” That song followed a nearly three decade-long string of other hits as a recording artist.

He landed 77 singles on “Billboard’s” Hot Country Songs chart between 1958 and 1989, including six No. 1 hits and another 30 songs that reached the Top 10. He won the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1976.

Aside from launching his career songwriting for Webb, Mel — who is also father to country singer Pam Tillis — wrote hit songs for major artists including Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare, Brenda Lee, Ray Price and George Strait.

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The 2007 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, who joined the Grand Ole Opry cast that same year, was also an actor, with credits in films such as 1975’s “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings,” 1979’s “The Villain” and 1980’s “Smokey and the Bandit II” and 1981’s “The Cannonball Run.”

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In addition to Pam, Mel is survived by five other children, six grandchildren, a great grandson, a sister, a brother and his longtime partner, Kathy DeMonaco.

It is with a heavy heart that we offer our prayers and share our condolences with Mel’s family at this time.

Tricia Despres is a senior correspondent for Rare Country, based out of Chicago. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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