Country music legend Mel Tillis dead at 85

In all, the Country Music Hall of Fame member wrote more than 1,000 songs and in 2012 received a National Medal of Arts for bringing "his unique blend of warmth and humor to the great tradition of country music".

Tillis had undergone colon surgery in January 2016 and canceled a scheduled trip on the Country Music Cruise. It wasn't until 1971 that he had his own first No. 1 hit as a recording artist, with "I Ain't Never", which he followed later in the decade with the chart-toppers "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer", "I Believe In You", and "Coca-Cola Cowboy".

Lonnie Melvin Tillis was born in Tampa, Florida on August 8, 1932.

"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", Shelton's account said.

Tillis was perhaps best well known for a speech impediment that he used for comedic effect, being named comedian of the year six times.

Tillis was raised in Pahokee, Florida, and developed his stutter as a child while being treated for malaria. It disrupted his speaking, but did not affect his ability to sing.

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The heroic American joined the US Air Force to serve in the Korean War and was stationed in Okinawa, where he served the country by cooking and singing on Armed Forces Radio. According to his website, his career launched in 1956 when Webb Pierce recorded a song written by Tillis.

In 2007, Tillis became a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry country music show.

Country music icon Mel Tillis has died at age 85.

The former Air Force baker - who had his heyday in the 1970s - also dipped into film and television, appearing on shows such as "Hee Haw" and movies including "Smokey and the Bandit II" (1980) and "Every Which Way but Loose" (1978), alongside Clint Eastwood.

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

  • Stacy Houston