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Country legend Tammy Wynette Dies in Sleep

Country music quietly lost its “first lady” on Monday, April 6 when
fifty-five-year-old legend Tammy Wynette passed away in her sleep.
Wynette’s longtime physician Dr. Wallis Marsh, said the cause of
death was a blood clot to the lungs.

Wynette, who had a long history of health problems, including
chronic abdominal difficulties which led to the removal of part of
her stomach in 1986 and an infection that placed her on a
respirator in 1993, always managed to return to work with renewed
vigor. Her last release was 1995’s One, a collaboration
with her famous duet partner and one-time husband George Jones. She
was scheduled to perform alongside Melissa Etheridge and Trisha
Yearwood for a live performance on TNN May 8.

Wynette, who had sold more than thirty million records over the
course of her storied career, was born Virginia Wynette Pugh in
Itawamba County (near Tupelo), Mississippi on May 5, 1942. She
nurtured dreams of performing and writing music from a very young
age, and secured a deal with Epic in 1966. She came out of the gate
with a barrage of successful singles, beginning with Johnny
Paycheck’s “Apartment #9” in 1967 and peaking with her 1969
number-one hit, “Stand By Your Man.” Wynette co-wrote the latter
with her long-time producer, Billy Sherrill. In 1969, Wynette
joined the Grand Ole Opry. That same year saw the release of her
Greatest Hits, Volume 1, which became the first album by a
female country singer to be certified gold by the Recording
Industry Association of America.

Although her winning streak continued into the ’70s, her
greatest fame in that decade would come from her chart-topping
duets with George Jones. Their songs together, including the
number-one country hits “Near You” and “Golden Ring,” are among the
most famous duets in popular music. The couple were married in
1970, but the tumultuous relationship ended in divorce in 1975;
nevertheless, they would continue to work together sporadically.
The pair performed at country music’s Fan Fair 1995 in Nashville
and did a series of thirty concerts in the U.S., the UK, Ireland
and Switzerland.

Wynette continued to record and perform throughout the Eighties
and Nineties, complimenting her “living legend” status by staying
on top of things with collaborations with the likes of Dolly
Parton, Loretta Lynn, Randy Travis and, bizarrely, the English rave
outfit KLF. Her single with KLF, “Justified and Ancient,” struck
international gold, going to number one in eighteen countries in
1992. The same year saw the release of Tears of Fire, a
three-CD/cassette box set commemorating Wynette’s twenty-five years
with Epic Records. In 1994, Wynette collaborated with the likes of
Wynonna Judd, Lyle Lovett, Elton John and Sting for her album
Without Walls.

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Wynette found herself in
the thick of things through a widely publicized fracas with Hillary
Rodham Clinton. Clinton’s remark to an interviewer that she was not
idly sticking by her husband “like some little woman standing by my
man like Tammy Wynette,” provoked Wynette to demand an apology and
decry the statement as an insult to “every true country fan” and
every person who had “made it on their own with no one to take them
to a White House.” Clinton apologized, and Wynette put aside her
bygones to perform at a Clinton fund-raiser.

In a statement Jones remarked: “I am just very glad that we were
able to work together and tour together again. It was very
important for us to close the chapter on everything that we had
been through. I know Tammy felt the same way. Life is too short. In
the end, we were very close friends, and now I have lost that
friend. And I couldn’t be sadder.”

Wynette is survived by her fifth husband, producer/songwriter
George Richey, five daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

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