Country Legend Mel Tillis Has Passed Away
The Country Music Hall of Famer known for a signature speech impediment and a perfect singing voice has passed away.
Mel Tillis, beloved for #1 country hits such as “Southern Rains,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” and more died Sunday morning (11-19) at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. Tillis had been battling intestinal issues since early 2016 which resulted in his hospitalization, and he never fully recovered. Respiratory failure is what is suspected in his death according to the singer’s publicist. Mel Tillis was 85-years-old.
Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida on August 8, 1932, Mel first learned to play drums and guitar at the age of 16. After a brief stint at the University of Florida, he dropped out to join the United States Air Force, where he formed his first major band called The Westerners who would play local clubs in Okinawa where Mel was stationed. After leaving the Air Force in 1955, Tillis worked for the railroad, and would regularly visit Nashville via his travel privileges to try his hand at songwriting, eventually signing a songwriting deal with Acuff-Rose.
Throughout his 60+ year career, he recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, and produced six #1 hits (“I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Southern Rains,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” and “I Believe In You”). This resulted in him being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, along with the Grand Ole Opry that same year by daughter Pam Tillis, also a storied country performer in her own right. In February of 2012, President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.
Along with a performer, Mel Tillis was a well-respected songwriter, penning over 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major country artists. In fact to many within the country music business, they knew Mel as a songwriter first. Mel wrote his first hit, “I’m Tired” recorded by Webb Pierce in 1957—a good 8 years before Mel would chart a song her performed himself. Waylon Jennings’ “Mental Revenge,” Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love To Town”, George Strait’s “Thoughts Of A Fool”, and Ricky Skaggs’ “Honey, Open That Door” are just some of Mel’s songwriting accolades. BMI named Mel Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades, speaking to the incredible depth and longevity of his songwriting catalog.
Along with his music accomplishments, Mel Tillis was well-known for his appearances in movies in the late 70’s into the early 80’s such as The Villain, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Cannonball Run. During the time, movies and TV shows would often exploit Mel’s speech impediment for humor. During the period, he also purchased numerous radio stations. Amarillo, TX station KYTX changed its call letters to KMML to play off the Tillis stutter. Another station WMML in Mobile, Alabama did the same thing. But eventually this opened up a national debate about people with stuttering issues. Mel Tillis also appeared in commercials for the Texas burger chain Whataburger, first with his signature stutter, but later speaking clearly to help inspire people with the issue to attempt to overcome it.
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, his longtime partner Kathy DeMonaco.
The Tillis family asks for your prayers and will be releasing more information regarding funeral services in Florida and Nashville soon.
November 19, 2017 @ 9:31 am
Another great one gone.Prayers are with Pam and the family.
November 19, 2017 @ 9:41 am
Hava a good trip , fellow 😉
Sir Adam the Great
November 19, 2017 @ 10:16 am
Dagnabbit. Another Old Dog gone. Rest easy, Hoss.
November 19, 2017 @ 10:36 am
As a Wisco boy “Milwaukee Here I Come” always had a special place in my heart. Resquiat in pace, Mel.
November 19, 2017 @ 10:59 am
Another terrible loss for the music world in general, but country music in particular. Mel was one of the genre’s great representatives, and so prayers go out to him and his family.
It’s interesting to point out that Mel made a lot off of “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town)” because Kenny Rogers’ cover of it was not an especially big country hit (only #39), but a massive pop hit (#6) in the summer of 1969. And as another bit of trivia, “Mental Revenge” was a staple of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ set list in 1969 and ’70, and was covered by Linda Ronstadt (a favorite of Mel’s daughter Pam) on her 1970 album SILK PURSE.
November 19, 2017 @ 11:00 am
R.I.P. MMMell one of favorite singers as a child and one hell of a songwriter.
November 19, 2017 @ 11:24 am
I had the pleasure of seeing him at a now closed country music venue, “Concerts in the Country” in North Georgia. He and his band were of course just great. To this day, the one thing I recall is how professional the entire band was. They were all dressed the same and in suits that were quite nice. In other words, they were “dressed up”. It seemed every detail was well thought out. Mel Tillis was truly a pro at his profession.
November 19, 2017 @ 11:32 am
Aw, man. Loved that guy.
November 19, 2017 @ 11:43 am
RIP Mel. 🙁
November 19, 2017 @ 12:01 pm
Prayers for Pam and all the family.
November 19, 2017 @ 12:45 pm
He was the man!
November 19, 2017 @ 12:47 pm
He was one of a kind.
November 19, 2017 @ 12:57 pm
Mel Tillis was incredible. The man put on a show that was professional. Youtube has some great videos of those old shows. My late father loved Mel. My heart goes out to the Tillis family.
November 19, 2017 @ 1:18 pm
So glad I got to see Mel Tillis and Ray Price together in concert back in 2008. Lots of memories come flooding in every time I listen to his songs. I have to say my favorite was “I Got the Hoss.” A You Tube video of that song with quite a few pictures of Mel can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPg67jiq7As
Thank you, Mel, for sharing your talents with the rest of us. My condolences go to all who knew and loved you.
November 19, 2017 @ 1:46 pm
‘I Got The Hoss’ is a great example of how a great vocal stylist can absolutely make a song. What’s really just a silly double entendre song is made by Mel’s phrasing like the little pause around ‘saddle’. Great stuff and so sad that we are losing these greats and there really are not many to fill their shoes.
November 19, 2017 @ 2:05 pm
Agreed. The delivery really does make the song. If more of those up and coming would truly study the masters, instead of just paying lip service to their names, country music would be in a much better place …
November 19, 2017 @ 1:48 pm
The thing for me and Mel Tillis is as a kid in the late 70s early 80s I knew him more for the Cannonball Run movies than for his music. Only later did I come to appreciate his music. What a long and diverse career. A true entertainer if there ever was one.
Strait Country 81
November 19, 2017 @ 2:46 pm
Send me Down To Tuscon is my favorite from him.
November 19, 2017 @ 2:58 pm
yeah, Good old Mel, another one of the GREATS !! Rest in peace and fly with all the Freebirds good buddy!
November 19, 2017 @ 4:07 pm
Oh, this is so heartbreaking. My memaw loves him. Another great one gone. 🙁
October 23, 2021 @ 8:12 am
I really enjoyed listening to Mel Tillis talk & sing ! He was one of the greatest Real Country music entertainers of all times . God Bless and Comfort the entire Family is my prayer 🙏
November 19, 2017 @ 8:29 pm
Mel spread so much joy. This old world needs more people like that. Prayers for his loved ones.
November 20, 2017 @ 12:04 am
Mel was from Pahokee, Florida about 5 miles from my hometown of Belle Glade. He loved his little town on Lake Okeechobee and stayed in touch with all of his friends that he grew up with. Everytime I saw him in town he was always so humble and kind. Fame never changed Mel and he never forgot where he came from. This is a devastating loss for communities in the Muck! For those of you who don’t know what that means, it is our rich organic soils that we make our living on growing Green Beans, Sweet Corn, Sugarcane and leaf crops like Romaine lettuce. He will truly be missed by us but never forgotten!
November 20, 2017 @ 1:48 am
Sad news. He was a really nice guy! And don’t forget he spent some time in the 1960s recording with the great Bob Will: their version of “I Needed You” is excellent!
November 20, 2017 @ 4:36 am
What a nice man, as well as a great talent. He will be SO missed. So long Mel.
November 20, 2017 @ 6:07 am
A great singer and a great actor. There will not be another one like Mel Tillis
November 20, 2017 @ 12:12 pm
Johnny Carson really seemed to like Mel Tillis, saw him on the show quite a few times.
November 20, 2017 @ 12:23 pm
There are accomplished songwriters who’s talent I recognize but I don’t necessarily connect with their songs that much. Not the case with Mel. Some of my favorite country songs were written by him. RIP Mel.
January 18, 2018 @ 7:48 am
I didn’t realize he was such a great writer until recently. Turns out some of my favorite songs were written by him. It was a very nice surprise to find out a guy I liked was even better than I thought.
November 20, 2017 @ 10:28 pm
Bobby Bare remembers his friend Mel Tillis.
November 21, 2017 @ 5:37 am
He was one of my all time favorites. It’s unfortunate that he’s regarded as a 2nd tier, or even 3rd tier legend, by the mainstream.
Similar to when Don Williams died, the yankee news outlets have barely, if at all, reported his death.
November 22, 2017 @ 11:23 am
He shouldn’t be hes a cma entertainer of the year
November 22, 2017 @ 4:15 pm
Wow, just listening to some of his live Opry performances (even when he’s old,) I’m impressed by how clear and strong and talented the voices in music used to be. Much different than these Auto-Tuned celebrity performers are now.