First Lady of Country Music Tammy Wynette, whose signature hit, "Stand by Your Man," became an anthem for long-suffering lovers and a flashpoint for the 1992 presidential election, died in her sleep at her Nashville home Monday. She was 55.

Tammy Wynette, "Stand By Your Man"
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The cause of death was a blood clot to the lungs, her longtime doctor said. Funeral services were set for Thursday.

Wynette's former husband, fellow country legend George Jones, said Tuesday he was glad he recently reunited (professionally) with his partner in high-living and entertaining.

"It was very important for us to close the chapter on everything we had been through," Jones said, in a statement. "...In the end we were very close friends. And now, I have lost that friend. I couldn't be sadder."

Jones and Wynette ruled as country music's First Couple from 1969 to 1975.

Other reactions to Wynette's death:

"She was a wonderful and brave girl."--Elton John "I'm devastated and deeply saddened. We've truly lost a legend."--Lorrie Morgan "Tammy came to town about the same time that I did, in the '60s. There was no question that she was going to make it--and she did!"--Waylon Jennings

Wynette suffered a variety of health problems in recent years. (Just last month, though, she won a settlement from two supermarket tabloids that published stories claiming she needed a liver transplant.)

Born on a Mississippi cotton farm on May 5, 1942, the former Virginia Wynette Pugh toiled as waitress, doctor's receptionist, barmaid, shoe-factory worker and beautician before scoring her big break in music.

That break came in the mid-1960s, when she caught the eye of Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner, who asked her to sing at his road shows.

The first No. 1 hit came in 1967--"My Elusive Dreams," a duet with David Houston.

But the real magic time started in 1968. That was the year of "Stand By Your Man," its seeming retort, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," and "Take Me To Your World"--chart-toppers all.

"Stand By Your Man," in particular, became such a touchstone that future first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton invoked it during a 1992 60 Minutes interview--the one where she explained why she was supporting husband (and accused philanderer) Bill Clinton. Said Clinton: "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette."

Wynette called Clinton's comments an insult to country music fans, in particular, and self-made people, in general. Things were smoothed over and she later performed at the Clinton White House. On Tuesday, President Clinton said he and Hillary were "deeply saddened" by her death.

From 1968-1970, Wynette was named the Country Music Association's top female vocalist. Only Reba McEntire has won the honor more times (four).

The hits stopped coming in the mid-1970s--"Near You" in 1976 was the last No. 1--but Wynette's status as a country queen was secure. In her 25-year career, she sold more than 30 million albums and recorded 20 No. 1 singles.

Her private life was dicier--every bit as melodramatic as one of her weepy bestsellers. There were five marriages, an addiction to painkillers, even a kidnapping. (She was abducted, briefly, by a masked man at Nashville shopping center in 1978. Really.)

Somehow Wynette survived--and country music fans loved her for it. In 1991, they voted her legend status in the Music City News awards.

The stoic Wynette wasn't buying it.

"I don't consider myself a legend," Wynette said once. "I think it's kind of overused."

Survivors include a husband, George Richey (they wed in 1978), five daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

(UPDATED at 3:15 p.m. on 4/7/98)

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