10 Years Ago Today: George Jones Plays His Final Concert

It’s something that most of us mere mortals can’t comprehend. But for our country legends, they would have it no other way. Willie Nelson has regularly said that he wants to die on stage. And as morbid as a prognosis as that might be, it speaks to how important music and performance is to these legends. Playing music for fans is embedded into the very fabric of their being. And even if it means a shorter life, they’d rather go out doing what they love to do.

George Jones felt a very similar way to Willie. In 2012, George Jones was suffering from serious health issues. On March 29, 2012, he was hospitalized for an upper respiratory infection. On May 21st, he was hospitalized again for the same condition. This wasn’t something George was ultimately going to get over. He had serious chronic breathing issues. It looked like the world had seen the last George Jones performance.

But almost because of this prognosis as opposed to in spite of it, George Jones announced his final tour, a.k.a. “The Grand Tour,” on August 14th, 2012. The tour would consist of 60 dates starting in 2012 and going into late 2013 where the tour would culminate in Nashville on November 22nd, 2013 at the Bridgestone Arena in a massive celebration called “Playin’ Possum, The Final No Show!” All kinds of special guests and performances were lined up.

That final “Playin’ Possum” concert happened, but George Jones wouldn’t make it. Throughout the farewell tour, attendees were open about how they cherished the opportunity to see No Show one last time. But his voice was weak, his energy was low, and he spent most of the performances sitting in a chair, often gasping for air. Moreover, fans were worried about what touring across the country and getting up and off the stage was doing for his health. Jones was clearly in his final days, and to spend them trying to fulfill a silly tour schedule seemed almost inhumane.

But according to George’s wife Nancy, this is what he wanted. She and others insisted George Jones take his rest, but he refused.

“I begged him to come off that road, and he would not,” Nancy Jones said later to The Tenneassean. “He lowered all the keys [to the songs] and tried really, really hard. I would say, ‘Just stop it,’ and he said, ‘In my mind, I think of all those old mamas that saved their money for me, and I was a no-show.’ In the last year, the fans never complained. They knew he was weak, and they knew he was leaving. He just wanted to prove he loved them.”

On April 6th, George Jones & Co. pulled up to the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, TN to play the 50th show of George’s 60-date farewell tour. Wheezing, breathing hard, and slumped down in a chair, George Jones still gave it his all. Early in the set, he sang a rousing rendition of “White Lightning,” and gave folks glimmers of the younger George Jones.

“It’s good before you get too far gone to enjoy what life is all about,” Jones said while recalling how he’d quit White Lightning and any other alcohol for good 17 years prior.

To finish up the show, George Jones finally stood up from his chair to sing what many consider to be the greatest country song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” But about two minutes into the song, he had to sit back down. Clearly winded, Jones was able to make it through the song, but struggled. According to Nancy Jones, George said after the concert, “I just did my last show. And I gave ’em hell.”

Afterwards, Jones was clinging to life. On April 18, 2013 he was taken to VUMC for a fever and irregular blood pressure. George Jones spent the next six days in intensive care before passing away on April 26th, 2013 at the age of 81. He allegedly told Nancy when being admitted to the hospital about his final show, “I’m not going to be here. I’m going to agree to anything they ask. Promise me you’ll make a tribute show out of it, and I’ll see it from heaven.”

70 separate performers and dignitaries appeared at the “Playin’ Possum, The Final No Show!” concert at the Bridgestone Arena, including former First Lady Laura Bush, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and news personality Bob Schieffer. Alan Jackson closed out the concert singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

It sounds cliche to say, “He died doing what he loved to do,” but that’s exactly what George Jones did.

April 6th isn’t just the date of the last concert of George Jones. It is also the day his long-time duet partner and once wife Tammy Wynette died. George’s final Knoxville concert came 15 years to the day of Tammy Wynette’s death. April 6th is also both the birth date, and the death date of Merle Haggard. In country music history, there are few if any dates that hold as much weight as April 6th, as country music fans from around the world remember the country music greats who said a final farewell on this date.

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