Mel Tillis Dead - Country Star Passes Away at 85

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After earning his first charting country single with "The Violet and a Rose", Tillis established himself as a songwriter with hits like "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)", "Mental Revenge" and Peggy Lee's "Emotions". He overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, such as "Good Woman Blues", "Coca Cola Cowboy" and "Southern Rain".

The Country Music Hall of Famer leaves behind six children (Pam Tillis, Connie Tillis, Cindy Shorey, Sonny Tillis, Carrie April Tillis, and Hannah Puryear), six grandchildren, a great grandson, a sister (Linda Crosby) and brother (Richard Tillis), the mother of five of his children (Doris Tillis), and his longtime partner (Kathy DeMonaco).

Tillis, 85, died at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla.

He is said to have died from respiratory failure. Besides being a successful recording artist, Tillis performed at the Grand Ole Opry and made frequent television appearances, as well as playing small roles in movies such as Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida in 1932, Tillis caught malaria as a child, leaving him with a speech impediment for which he was mocked in his youth but which he embraced as an adult, incorporating it into his performances for comic effect.

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On Sunday morning Tillis' fellow country music stars and fans praised his contributions to the genre and offered condolences on Twitter. He started performing in the early 50s with a group called The Westerners. Mel Tillis always put on a show....

His career took off in 1956 after Webb Pierce recorded "I'm exhausted", which Tillis wrote. "The more I go onstage", he said, "and feel my independence and that power over audiences, the less I stutter".

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.

Grubbs says the Tillis family will release information about funeral services in Florida and Nashville.