Country music legend Mel Tillis dead at 85

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The country legend died of suspected respiratory failure at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, publicist Don Murry Grubbs said in a statement.

Tillis had undergone colon surgery in January 2016 and canceled a scheduled trip on the Country Music Cruise. He also went to No. 1 in 1980 with "Southern Rains".

Tillis, born Lonnie Melvin Tillis, grew up in Florida and developed a stutter that would stay with him throughout his life as a result of an early bout of malaria; the stutter did not affect his singing voice.

"Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience", Grand Ole Opry announcer and WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs told The Tennessean.

His commercial peak came in the 1970s when he had a string of top 10 hits, including "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer" and "Coca Cola Cowboy". "It's a way of showing people that it hasn't licked me, so it doesn't have to lick others".

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The singer, who wrote Detroit City and Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town), passed away on Sunday following a health battle.

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

His career took off in 1956 after Webb Pierce recorded "I'm exhausted", which Tillis wrote.

"Tillis" mainstream success lasted about a decade.

He joined Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Jerry Reed to form Old Dogs and released an album in 1998. Later that year, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In February 2012, President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts. He was also inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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