Over the course of many decades, the one and only George Jones made a name for himself as the gatekeeper of the traditional country style—and also as one of its most unique singers. But even though Jones’ musical career was a great success story, he also lived a troubled and difficult life. To illustrate this point, here are 50 heartbreaking facts about the legendary George Jones.
1. He Was Injured During His Own Birth
George Glenn Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas in late 1931—and right from the beginning, his life wasn’t easy. As he entered this world, his mom’s doctor made a horrible mistake. The doctor dropped poor baby George onto the ground during the delivery process. The newborn slammed into the ground and broke his arm. It was a rough start, and things would get worse before they got better…
2. Music Was Important to His Family
It’s no surprise that music ran in the family of someone who would grow up to dedicate his life to it. Jones’ mother played piano in a local church, while Jones’ father played guitar and harmonica around the house in his spare time. We wish that this positive detail was the only factor that defined his early family life, but sadly, that’s not the case…
3. His Family Lost a Child
Shortly before his birth, a major tragedy hit Jones’ family. It would go on to play a role both in the way he was raised and in the person he ultimately became. Although Jones was one of eight children, his older sister, Ethel, tragically passed before he ever had the chance to meet her. This devastating loss took a severe toll on the family.
4. His Father Had Serious Issues
As sad as the passing of Jones’ sister was in and of itself, the effect that it had on his family and childhood made matters much, much worse. Jones’ father reacted to the loss by turning to heavy drinking. This drinking soon became a major problem, and even led to the elder Jones abusing his wife and children both physically and emotionally.
5. Singing Wasn’t Always a Choice
At times, the intoxicated behavior of young Jones’ father took some very bizarre turns. For example, he would often come home late at night in a stupor and bring his friends up to young George’s room while he was asleep. They would then wake the future star up and force him to sing for them. If he wasn’t in the mood for singing, the adults would threaten him with a beating until he changed his mind. It stuck with the young boy for the rest of his life.
6. He Held a Grudge
Even though the horrible behavior of Jones’ father took place long ago, the future star never forgot or forgave his dad for what he put him through as a child. He maintained a lifelong grudge against him, but the experience also influenced his career path. The threat of having to sing or face consequences made Jones feel compelled to always be singing throughout his life.
7. He Started Young
It didn’t take Jones too long to try and get away from his childhood home and start his musical career. He left home at age 16 and started off singing as a busker on the streets. He soon relocated to a different part of Texas where he managed to find work with some local radio stations, including as a singer some of the time.
8. His First Marriage Was Short-Lived
In 1950, at the age of 19, Jones married a woman named Dorothy Bonvillion—but tragically, their union was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Their marriage only lasted about one year due to the singer’s temper, and the couple was already divorced by the time 1951 came to its close. It wouldn’t be the last time that Jones’ anger got the best of him.
9. He Was a Marine
I guess after his rough childhood, failed first marriage, and hectic lifestyle as an aspiring young artist, Jones needed a change of pace for a bit. In the early 1950s, he put his future dreams on hold for a few years and served in the United States Marine Corps. He served for two years, all of which time he was stationed in San Jose.
10. His Music Initially Flopped
When Jones returned from his service, he decided to go full speed ahead and truly devote himself to his musical dreams. His career as a recording artist began when he signed a record deal with Starday Records—but the path to success was not so easy. None of the initial singles that he came out with during this era managed to chart.
11. He Recorded in Someone’s Living Room
Perhaps part of the reason that Jones’ early recordings didn’t go too far was that the studio he was recording them for was not exactly high-tech. In fact, calling it a studio might even be a bit of a stretch—some of the songs got recorded in the living room of the producer’s house! As you can imagine, the sound quality did not come out too greatly. Jones himself later called the quality “terrible”—and he had plenty of other obstacles in his way.
12. Living Room Recording Had Its Challenges
As if recording professional tracks in a living room wasn’t bad enough, there was another factor that made the quality of these early recordings even worse—the house where they recorded them was right beside a major highway. This meant that trucks could often be heard going by in the background of Jones’ singing, probably making the editing process long and painful.
13. He Had a Mentor
Early on in his career, Jones met a man who would change the course of his life. Music producer Harold “Pappy” Daily took a liking to the young singer and helped him secure most of his early opportunities. As a result, Jones developed a trusting relationship with him—viewing him as a father figure and accepting him as his primary mentor and advisor for many years.
14. He Played with Elvis Before They Were Both Famous
In 1955, a still largely unknown Jones got a gig with a traveling country music show. During this time, he got to share the stage with another then-unknown artist—the soon-to-be King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis Presley. As cool as this was, though, Jones and Presley didn’t get to know each other too well, as Presley apparently kept to himself most of the time.
15. He Got His Nickname Early On
It was back in the early days of his career that Jones first picked up his lifelong nickname, “The Possum.” A deejay at one of the radio stations where he worked in his early days first gave him the moniker, because his thin nose, short hair, and “stupid eyes” were thought to have resembled the face of the namesake animal. How flattering!
16. He Was Pressured to Try New Styles
The entire music industry changed overnight in the late 1950s with the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll. As a result, Jones’ bosses insisted that he record some songs in the new genre’s style. Jones had no interest in doing so, as he always felt strongly about sticking to the traditional country style. Nevertheless, he eventually gave in and reluctantly recorded the requested tracks.
17. He Briefly Used a Pseudonym
Jones agreed to record a few rock ‘n’ roll tracks on one condition—that he could use a pseudonym instead of his own name. Jones was not at all a believer in the new musical craze, and was unwilling to be directly associated with it. As a result, he adopted the new stage name of “Thumper Jones” for this short-lived chapter of his career.
18. He Tried to Destroy the Evidence of His Rock Phase
Jones later regretted agreeing to this rock ‘n’ roll experiment—and went to extreme lengths to hide his dark secret. He did his best to ensure that no one out there would remember it and even tried to buy up all of the original master tapes so that the recordings would never surface again. While this effort did not succeed, he did start using the old records as frisbees.
19. He Did Some Wild Stuff for Publicity
After some mild success on a few songs throughout the 1950s, Jones still wasn’t satisfied with where his music career was going. His music hadn’t yet truly caught on, and he was still stuck with touring and performing in rural bars rather than the big-time stages. Desperate for some attention, Jones actually started driving around in an old truck with his name and phone number plastered all over it, hoping someone important might see it and call.
20. He Had an Unexpected Breakthrough
Jones’ big break came in 1959 when he recorded the song “White Lightning,” which unexpectedly shot up to number one on the charts and turned him into an overnight success. Ironically, despite Jones’ strong attitude against mixing country music with other styles, his breakthrough song was one of the few he ever did that was a crossover with another genre—in this case, rockabilly.
21. The Recording of His Hit Song Was a Trainwreck
There were many reasons why Jones might have been surprised at the success of “White Lightning.” Not only was it different from his typical singing style, but he had also been heavily intoxicated during the recording session that produced the song. Jones’ portion of the record was completed in just a little over an hour.
22. His Hit Song Came from an Unlikely Source
Although Jones was a prolific songwriter, his first big hit came from a very unlikely source. “White Lightning” was written by the Big Bopper, one of the three rock ‘n’ roll stars who passed in the tragic plane crash known as the “Day the Music Died.” By the time the song hit number one, its author had already been deceased for two months.
23. He Discovered Another Legend
On top of the popularity of “White Lightning” and the other big hits that Jones came out with, country music fans also have something else to thank the Possum for—Jones is the one who discovered future country star Johnny Paycheck back in the early 1960s. Paycheck rose to fame after starting out his career as Jones’ bass player.
24. He Had a Serious Problem
As Jones’ career began to take off in the 1960s, another much darker saga began that would play just as big a role in his life. It was the development of his severe addiction to alcohol. Over the course of the decade, his drinking habits became worse and worse—and they kept getting him into more and more trouble. Pretty soon, Jones was as well-known for his frequent intoxication as he was for his music.
25. He Ruined a Legend’s Show
Jones’ behavior was extremely erratic while under the influence of his favorite beverages. On one occasion, he disrupted a Merle Haggard concert in the middle of a song by kicking the doors open, barging in, and loudly demanding to know the name of the singer who was on stage. He spared no profanities in asking this question…
26. He Ran Away from Home on a Lawn Mower
Jones’ second wife, Shirley Corley, would never leave the house without hiding the car keys. That way, Jones would have no way of getting to the liquor store—or so she thought. Jones was so desperate for a drink one day that he ended up riding a lawnmower for an entire eight miles until he could get his hands on a beverage. Now that’s dedication!
27. He Had a Celebrity Marriage
On top of his music and his drinking, Jones also became known as half of a country music celebrity couple when he married his third wife, country superstar Tammy Wynette. The pair were married from 1969 until 1975, and became a popular singing duo as well as a leading subject for celebrity gossip fans to talk about—and for good reason.
28. He Started a Fight
Jones and Tammy Wynette first met when they were both working with the same booking agency. He soon befriended both Tammy and her then-husband, songwriter Don Chapel. That friendship came quickly crashing down when Jones was at their house for dinner one night and made a disturbing discovery.
29. He Lost It
When Jones witnessed Chapel berating Wynette and calling her names, his reaction was bloodcurdling. He went blind with rage and a fight broke out between him and his male host. To the couple’s shock, Jones flipped the dinner table over and started hurling plates and cutlery all over the room in protest to the way the songwriter was treating his wife. This was definitely a dinner party no one would soon forget…
30. He Let His Feelings Out
After the dinner party incident, Jones realized that he was in love with Wynette and could not bear to see her mistreated by her then-husband. Because of this, Jones openly declared his love for Wynette while the couple was still married. Wynette was blown away by this announcement, having been a fan of Jones since her youth.
31. He Broke a Personal Vow to Marry Tammy
When Jones’ second marriage ended, he had made a vow to himself that he would never remarry again until he was at least 69 years old. However, he broke that promise less than a year after making it, when his love for Wynette became too much to handle. He proposed to her, they married at last, and the next chapter in his life officially began—but it wasn’t exactly a dream come true.
32. He Never Stopped Caring About Tammy
Much to the shock of country fans everywhere, Jones and Wynette ended up divorcing in 1975 after only six years together. Although they parted ways, their singing partnership never ended—and neither did their close friendship. Jones remained deeply concerned about Wynette’s health and well-being for the rest of her life.
33. His Greatest Hit Came in His Darkest Moment
As hard a time as this was in Jones’ life, it was also the era that would see him release the biggest hit of his entire career. Jones released the haunting “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in 1980, which became his’ first number one hit in six years. Jones later credited the song with saving his entire career.
34. His Signature Song Was a Massive Hit
The huge popularity of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” not only revived Jones’ career but also made country music history. Surveys of country music fans and experts alike have frequently selected the song as the greatest country song of all time. Jones won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for the song, and the song was also named Country Song of the Year for two years in a row.
35. The Song Took Forever to Create
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” may be a classic song now, but it was a real pain in the neck when it was being created. It took over a year of constant rewrites until the song was considered ready and good enough to record. Endless reevaluations of where in the lyrics the main character should pass led to the producer having “a notebook about an inch thick” filled with various scrapped drafts of the song.
36. He Hated His Most Famous Song
When Jones was first asked to record “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” he absolutely hated the song. He thought it was depressing and that the melody was awful. In fact, when he was first recording it, he continuously tried to sing it with a Kris Kristoferson melody instead of the tune that we all remember and love today.
37. He Had His Own Dog Food
In the 1990s, Jones ventured out into other endeavors outside the world of country music. At one point, he had his own line of dog food called “George Jones Country Gold Dog Food.” He appeared in several TV commercials for the product. Unfortunately, though, the product didn’t last too long and was discontinued after a few years.
38. He Was a Sausage Connoisseur
Jones was a breakfast lover and created his own brand of commercially available sausages based on a personal family recipe. He also invented the “sausage ball”—a dish available in some parts of Tennessee consisting of pancake mix, cheese, and milk blended together and formed into a ball shape. He had a lot more success in the sausage world than the dog food world!
39. He Found His Own Shortcomings Funny
While many celebrities have extreme egos, Jones had a legendary self-deprecating sense of humor. He frequently poked fun at his own financial and emotional struggles in public. When country star Trace Adkins made a joke about Jones’ failed dog food line, Jones laughed so hard he spit up the cake he was chewing on.
40. A Car Crash Turned His Life Around
Jones was experiencing financial success, but his personal problems were still lurking behind the scenes. In 1999, law enforcement charged Jones with driving under the influence after he got into a car crash. However, there was a silver lining. This crash was the moment when Jones finally lost all interest in drinking. After a lifelong battle against the habit, this incident instantly eliminated his desire to continue it and he had no further struggles in his efforts to quit.
41. He Never Compromised with Music
The Country Music Association invited Jones to perform his hit song “Choices” at their awards show, but controversy erupted when they asked him to cut the song down to a shorter length for the performance. Jones refused and boycotted the show. In solidarity, country singer Alan Jackson played a snippet of the song during his own performance.
42. He Hated New Country Music
Jones was not at all a fan of the type of country music that started to come out in the 1990s and 2000s. He made it very clear that he could not stand the “country pop” phenomenon and that he was still as committed as ever to remaining a purist when it came to his musical style. This refusal to adapt had a heartbreaking side effect, as it resulted in diminished airplay for Jones during his later years.
43. He Had a High Profile Fan
Jones had many big fans in all kinds of places—including the White House. Former US President George W. Bush is a huge fan of Jones’ music. Not only did he frequently listen to an iPod full of the singer’s classic hits during his time in the Oval Office, but he also used to do his presidential workouts with “White Lightning” playing in the background.
44. He Tried to Shoot His Wife
Jones had risked it all to marry Wynette—but their union was far from a “happily ever after” situation. Although the two were considered the dream couple in the eyes of most country music fans, their marriage was incredibly rocky. Things got particularly bad between them one night when Jones, obviously under the influence, grabbed a loaded gun and chased Wynette around the house with it, even firing it at one point.
45. He Got Into Bad Substances
As if Jones didn’t have enough problems already from his drinking habits, he developed another destructive habit in the years following his split with Wynette. He started using illicit substances after a manager introduced them to him when he needed an energy boost before a show one evening. This just further complicated the singer’s already difficult life.
46. He Was in Bad Shape Financially
Soon after, Jones’ life spiraled out of control. He had gotten himself into serious financial trouble and faced a million dollars’ worth of debt. Jones was also involved in multiple lawsuits after he failed to appear at concerts, earning him the nickname “No Show Jones.” He often needed the help of his fellow country stars such as Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in order to pay his bills. Eventually, he filed for bankruptcy—but money wasn’t the only problem.
47. His Health Took Some Major Hits
Jones’ physical and mental health declined pretty severely during this period as well. He lost a lot of weight, ate only junk food, and began living out of his car. He also began to speak in an incoherent voice at times, which he claimed was the result of a character called “the Old Man” living inside of him. Sadly, it would soon get worse.
48. He Spent Time Committed in Mental Institutions
Jones’ instability got so out of control that he was hospitalized and even placed in a straightjacket on more than one occasion. During one such incident, hospital officials determined that he was suffering from malnutrition and delusions. At this point, it was clear that his problems were truly more serious than anyone had realized. He eventually recovered, but the health problems he faced would plague him or the rest of his life.
49. He Never Got His Farewell
Jones’s health troubles finally caught up to him in 2013. He made arrangements to play a farewell concert before finally stepping down from performing for good—but then, tragedy struck. The singer fell ill about seven months before the planned event and he never recovered. Jones passed in April 2013 and never got the chance to play that final concert. Fans mourned his loss all over the world.
50. He Was Even Popular After His Passing
When Jones passed in 2013, most of us reasonably assumed that his music career had come to an end. However, it turned out the late singer still had one more trick up his sleeve. Following his passing, the song “He Stopped Loving Her Today” made a huge comeback—entering the country charts once again more than 30 years after its release.
An appropriate sendoff for a true country music legend!