Country music star Mel Tillis dies at 85

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Mel Tillis, country music singer and songwriter, has died, the Country Music Hall of Fame confirmed in a statement.

Tillis died at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida, after battling intestinal issues since 2016, said spokesman Don Murry Grubbs.

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October 2007, just four months after joining the Grand Ole Opry. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure, according to a press release from his publicist.

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Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida in 1932, Tillis caught malaria as a child, leaving him with a speech impediment for which he was mocked in his youth but which he embraced as an adult, incorporating it into his performances for comic effect.

Country music star Mel Tillis, pictured performing in 2015, received the National Medal of Arts in 2012 from then-president Barack Obama. His stutter became a trademark that Tillis mined for laughs, although it disappeared when he sang.

"Some of my most cherished memories are the times I spent with Mel Tillis", Shelton wrote on Twitter. After leaving the Air Force in 1955 and working several odd jobs, Tillis auditioned for Wesley Rose, who encouraged him to pursue songwriting. Throughout his 60-plus year career, the Grand Ole Opry member recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, 6 number 1 hits ("I Ain't Never", "Coca-Cola Cowboy", "Southern Rains", "Good Woman Blues", "Heart Healer" and "I Believe In You") and was named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year. He also made a TV appearance in an episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard" in the late '70s.

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