Mel Tillis Dead at 85


He didn't make fun of it, but fought through it. Tillis was a classic country comedian, a Las Vegas headliner and a movie star.

Mel first played publicly while in the U.S. Air Force where he formed a band called the Westerners but he didn't take it any further until well after his public service while working for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad.

Tillis had undergone colon surgery in January 2016 and canceled a scheduled trip on the Country Music Cruise.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis on August 8, 1932, "Mel" gained fame in the 1970s with a string of successful hits.

His other No. 1 hits were "I Ain't Never" in 1972, "Good Woman Blues" in 1976, "Heart Healer" in 1976, "I Believe in You" in 1978.

Tillis was born on August 8, 1932 in Tampa, FL and developed his trademark stutter after a childhood bout with malaria.

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His career was launched in 1956 after Webb Pierce recorded I'm exhausted, which was written by Tillis.

"Tillis" mainstream success lasted about a decade.

Tillis also appeared in movies Every Which Way But Loose with Clint Eastwood and W.W. & The Dixie Dancekings, Cannonball Run I and II, and Smokey and the Bandit II with Burt Reynolds. In the late Eighties, Tillis made regular appearances at a theater in Branson, Missouri, owned by Roy Clark. He also continued on with a successful songwriting career.

He was awarded the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to country music by President Obama in 2012.

The Country Music Association named Tillis Entertainer of the Year in 1976, the Tennessean reported, and he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame that same year.

Tillis was the father of six children, including country hitmaker - and fellow Grand Ole Opry member - Pam Tillis, Mel "Sonny" Tillis, Jr., who co-wrote the Number One Jamie O'Neal single, "When I Think About Angels", and daughters Carrie April Tillis, Cindy Shorey, Connie Tillis and Hannah Puryear.