George Jones

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

George Jones, the country music great whose earnest baritone-voice and signature songs like "He Stopped Loving Her Today" influenced generations of artists, died today in Nashville, Tenn.

He was 81.

Jones' publicist tells E! News that the legendary singer passed away at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since last Thursday after coming down with a slight fever and irregular blood pressure. The immediate cause of death is unknown.

"Really REALLY bad news. We've lost a country music legend. And I've lost a hero and a friend. Goodbye George Jones," fellow country star Blake Shelton tweeted.

Added Keith Urban: "If I'm blessed enough to make it there, I look forward to you giving me the grand tour. Rest in peace George Jones!!!!!"

Jones' career stretched back to the 1950s when he cowrote his first hit, the twangy "Why Baby Why." During that time, the singer recorded more than 150 albums and scored a slew of No. 1 hits, among them "White Lightning," "Tender Years," "Walk Through This World With Me" and "Still Doin' Time."

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Jones' sound was no-nonsense, no-frills and, above all, influential. Admirers included Garth Brooks, George Straight and Dolly Parton.

Off the stage, Jones was a legend, too—a hard-living legend. He drank, he partied, he married, he divorced, he crashed cars, he drove a lawn mower to a liquor store and, occasionally, he wound up in jail.

One of Jones' stormiest periods was the six-year stretch when he was married to Tammy Wynette, the country queen of "Stand By Your Man" fame. The couple had a child together, fought together and made music together before splitting in 1975. Wynette died in 1998.

Jones sobered up with the help of his fourth and final wife, the former Nancy Sepulveda. He even recorded a song that poked fun at his once-notorious habit of missing concerts. Its title was the same as his nickname, "No-Show Jones." 

"With age and time and learning the hard way, we've finally grown up," Jones said in 1984.

In 1999, however, Jones nearly died in an alcohol-related accident involving his SUV and the bridge he drove his SUV into.

"Truthfully, the struggle never ends," Jones said at the time.

Born Sept. 12, 1931, in Texas, Jones was a survivor, who continued to perform into his 80s and who lived long enough to reap the rewards of his run, including tributes from the Kennedy Center Honors and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 2012, Jones was hospitalized with an upper-respiratory infection and forced to cancel concert dates.

"I've had a lot of luck, and I can't complain," Jones said in a 2009 interview. "I've had a really great career."

Country music would not disagree.

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