Country music star Mel Tillis dies at 85

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 25: Recording Artist Mel TIllis performs at "The Legend's at Legends' during CRS 2015 on February 25, 2015 at the in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Country music legend Mel Tillis died early Sunday morning, according to a statement from his publicist. He was 85.

Tillis died at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, after battling intestinal issues since 2016, said spokesman Don Murry Grubbs. The suspected cause of death was respiratory failure.

Tillis was a prolific singer-songwriter who penned more than 1,000 songs and recorded more than 60 albums in a career that spanned six decades. Many of those songs were recorded by other country music stars such as Kenny Rogers, George Strait and Ricky Skaggs.

His commercial peak came in the 1970s when he had a string of top 10 hits, including “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer” and “Coca Cola Cowboy.” In 2007, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

On Sunday morning Tillis’ fellow country music stars and fans praised his contributions to the genre and offered condolences on Twitter.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida, he suffered a spell of malaria as a boy that left him with a chronic stutter, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame. His stutter became a trademark that Tillis mined for laughs, although it disappeared when he sang.

In February 2012 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts — the highest honor given to artists by the US government — by President Barack Obama.