Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis dies at age 85

Mel Tillis arrived at the 2013 Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville. (AP File Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis was laid to rest in Clarksville on Monday, with hundreds of longtime friends and fans showing up for a public visitation and funeral service to pay respects.

Tillis died on Nov. 19 at a Florida hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

“I’m just so speechless. I really don’t know what to say. I can’t believe he’s gone but I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore,” said family friend Helen Burke.

“He didn’t care about the money. It was about the fans and the music. That’s what I loved about Mel, and I’ll always remember that,” said country music radio host Howie Garoutte.

Tillis recorded popular hits like “I Ain’t Never” and “Coca-Cola Cowboy.” In 1976, he was named Entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association.

Friends said Tillis never forgot his roots, including his first band The Westerners, which formed while they were stationed in Okinawa in the 1940s. Tillis stayed in touch with those band members and their families until his death.

Tillis is survived by his brother and sister, six children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

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