Remembering The Legendary George Jones On The 11th Anniversary Of His Death

George Jones country music
2911 Media

How has it already been 11 years since we lost the Possum?

Undeniably one of the greatest to ever do it, George Jones passed away on April 26, 2013 after a career that spanned nearly 60 years and produced some of the most iconic songs in country music.

Jones recorded and released his debut single, “No Money In This Deal,” in 1954, while working at KTRM in Beaumont, Texas. Working with prolific country music producer and founder of Starday Records “Pappy” Daily, Jones would get his first real hit the following year with “Why Baby Why,” while also touring as a member of the Louisiana Hayride alongside names like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

His first #1 would come in 1959 with the release of “White Lightnin’,” and by then Jones had found his country sound that would propel him to decades of chart-topping success.

But along with a string of #1 hits in the 1960s, Jones began having problems with his use of alcohol and amphetamines, which led to his first hospitalization for substance abuse treatment in 1967.

And it was also around this time that the famous lawnmower incident took place: In an attempt to keep George from going to the liquor store, his wife hid the keys to all of their vehicles – except for the riding lawnmower, which Jones decided to drive down the road to fulfill his addiction.

Jones described the incident in his autobiography:

“There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”

While touring, Jones also met his second wife, Tammy Wynette, and though Tammy was 11 years his junior and married to songwriter Don Chapel, the two quickly found themselves together – after an eventful dinner at Wynette’s home:

“I went inside and sat down with Don while Tammy was fixin’ supper. The next thing I knew, she and Don were in an argument and I was just sitting there quietly drinking.

I found out later that Don was jealous of me and knew I was sweet on his wife. Their voices raised and Don called Tammy a ‘son of a bitch.’”

BIG mistake…

“I felt rage fly all over me. I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don’s and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.

A man should never get between a husband and his wife, especially if the man had been drinking and if the husband had been too.

‘Don’t talk to her that way!’ I told Don. ‘She’s not a son of a bitch!’ 

‘What the hell are you interfering for?’ Don said. ‘She’s my wife. What the hell business is it of yours?’”

And then George just went for it… full send.

“I still can’t believe what I said next…

‘Because I’m in love with her!’ I blurted out. ‘And I’ll tell you something else, she’s in love with me, aren’t you Tammy?’”

The couple were soon married, and quickly became one of country music’s most enduring power couples. The pair not only toured together, but also recorded and released iconic duets like “Golden Ring,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” and “Let’s Build A World Together.”

But soon after the birth of the couple’s only child, Georgette, he would once again be hospitalized for his substance abuse issues. And though George would manage stretches of sobriety during his marriage with Tammy, his addiction eventually became too much and the couple divorced in 1976.

Despite the fact that they were no longer husband and wife, George and Tammy continued to tour and record music together, with Jones openly hoping that they would one day be able to reconcile.

It was also during the 1970s that George earned his nickname “No-Show Jones,” after his addictions caused him to frequently miss shows. He also began experiencing financial issues, and at one point relied on Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash for help. Jones would eventually file for bankruptcy in 1978, claiming to be over a million dollars in debt, and at one point was said to be living in his car before entering inpatient treatment again in 1980.

But Jones had a career resurgence in 1980 on the back of one of the most iconic country songs of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Despite originally hating the song, and telling producer Billy Sherrill that nobody would buy “that morbid son of a bitch,” it became Jones’ biggest hit, shooting to the top of the charts and reviving his career at a time when he hadn’t had a #1 song in nearly a decade.

The success of the song led to a new deal with his record label, a TV special, and awards at the Grammys, the CMAs and the ACM Awards. But Jones’ struggle with alcohol, cocaine and pills continued, leading to a number of arrests in the early ’80s (including one high-profile run-in with police after drunkenly flipping his car that was caught on video).

But in 1981, Jones would meet his future wife Nancy, who he credited for turning his life around for good. In March of 1984, Jones performed what he said was the first sober show of his life, and continued recording hits like “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” and “One Woman Man.”

He would have his last largely successful album in 1992 with Walls Can Fall, which featured hits like “Finally Friday” and “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.” But Jones remained a frequent recipient of praise from modern-day artists, and even collaborated with a new generation of superstars like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson while taking new artists like Tracy Lawrence on tour with him – something that, according to Tracy, was rare for legends at the end of their career.

Jones had his last run-in with the law in 1999, when he crashed his SUV and would later plead guilty to drunk driving charges. But after the accident, Jones reportedly remained sober for the rest of his life.

He continued to tour in his later years, and received accolades including the 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. But after being hospitalized several times in early 2012, Jones announced his 60-stop farewell tour, appropriately named The Grand Tour, with his final concert set for November 22, 2013 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

But on April 18, 2013, Jones was hospitalized once again – and just a few days later, the country music world would lose one of its legends when Jones passed away on April 26, 2013 at the age of 81.

Throughout his career, George Jones landed over 140 singles on the top-40 charts, and an incredible 21 that were #1 hits.

Ask anyone in country music and George Jones rightfully earned his place on the genre’s Mount Rushmore. He’s a legend that will almost certainly never be matched.

So here’s to the Possum: Because nobody’s going to be able to fill his shoes.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock