Country legend Lonnie Melvin (“Mel”) Tillis died Sunday morning in Ocala, Florida. According to a statement made by his publicist, Tillis battled intestinal issues and reportedly suffered respiratory failure.
Known for iconic songs like “Coca-Cola Cowboy” and “I Ain’t Never,” Tillis is a Country Music Hall of Famer who was awarded “Entertainer of the Year” at the 1976 CMA Awards. He was also recognized by President Barack Obama in 2012, receiving the National Medal of Arts for his country music contributions.
Tillis was 85 years old and is survived by his partner Kathy DeMonaco and six kids.
Musicians React to Mel Tillis' Death
Blake Shelton wrote: “Some of my most cherished memories are the times I spent with Mel Tillis. Many many great memories. From fishing, to just having a beer, to him crashing my concert!”
Tim McGraw: “Man, one of the coolest guys in country music ever and an extraordinary songwriter! So glad I got a chance to hang out with him a bit early in my career. Thinking about his family.”
Billy Ray Cyrus: “Kindest man I've ever known. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Gonna be some great country music in heaven…”
John Rich: “Mel Tillis and I became laughin buddies many years ago! He was truly one of a kind, and it was a real privilege to call him my friend. This is my favorite pic of him hosting "Dirty Joke Night" at my house a few years back... “
Charlie Daniels: Mel Tillis, you will be missed by so many of us you touched over the years. Rest in peace my friend.”
Tanya Tucker: “My heart is just broken over the passing of the great Mel Tillis. I have so many wonderful memories with him. I’ll never forget working with him on ‘Love Boat’ with Dottie West. We just go way back – from the time I was 8 years old when he brought me on stage with him. When I got older, sometimes I had to use other bands because I didn’t have a band. Mel always let me use his band and I’ll never forget that. We remained friends right up until the end. Love you, Mel.”
Randy Travis: “Mel was a special friend, great artist, and constant inspiration to me—Heaven’s choir just got sweeter.”
Randy Owen of ALABAMA: “Hall of Fame entertainer and songwriter — he was all in one, a great combination. He is one of our biggest heroes.”
Jeannie Seely: “All I could think of when I heard the news of Mel’s passing was ‘one of the brightest lights in country music went out last night.’ He left an amazing legacy with his songs, but I will always remember his humor more than anything else. It’s sad to think there will be no more ‘Mel Tillis stories.’
Lorrie Morgan: “It’s a sad day in country music but even sadder for the family and those of us who loved the late, great Mel Tillis. His life was the stage and making people laugh for years. He was truly one of the kindest men in the business to me. He was great friends with my dad and my uncle Bill and he’s treated me like a daughter. My heart breaks for the future of the Tillis family while they heal. It’s a hole that will never be filled for them. God bless Mel Tillis and the Tillis family.”
Naomi Judd: “There are stand-up comedians and then there’s Mel Tillis. His hilarious misadventures out on the road are legendary. Just ask Mac Davis or Ray Stevens. I also know Mel as my friend. Upbeat guy who admirably turned his stuttering into an asset and educated everyone on how to overcome stereotypes. There will never be anyone else like Mel Tillis.”