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April 26, 2013

Country superstar George Jones dead at 81

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When it comes to country music, George Jones was The Voice.

Other great singers have come and gone, but this fact remained inviolate until Jones passed away Friday at 81 in a Nashville hospital after a year of ill health.

"Today someone else has become the greatest living singer of traditional country music, but there will never be another George Jones," said Bobby Braddock, the Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter who provided Jones with 29 songs over the decades. "No one in country music has influenced so many other artists."

He did it with that voice. Rich and deep, strong enough to crack like a whip, but supple enough to bring tears. It was so powerful, it made Jones the first thoroughly modern country superstar, complete with the substance abuse problems and rich-and-famous celebrity lifestyle that included mansions, multiple divorces and — to hear one fellow performer tell it — fistfuls of cocaine.

He was a beloved and at times a notorious figure in Nashville and his problems were just as legendary as his songs. But when you dropped the needle on one of his records, all that stuff went away. And you were left with The Voice.

"He just knows how to pull every drop of emotion out of it of the songs if it's an emotional song or if it's a fun song he knows how to make that work," Alan Jackson said in a 2011 interview. "It's rare. He was a big fan of Hank Williams Sr. like me. He tried to sing like Hank in the early days. I've heard early cuts. And the difference is Hank was a singer and he was a great writer, but he didn't have that natural voice like George. Not many people do. That just sets him apart from everybody."

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