George Jones, hard-living country music star, dies at 81

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LOS ANGELES — George Jones, whose anguished vocals on the 1980 single “He Stopped Loving Her Today” lifted it to the top of polls of the greatest country music songs of all time, died today. He was 81.

Jones died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, publicist Kirt Webster told the Associated Press. He had been suffering from a fever and irregular blood pressure.

The baritone from east Texas astonished and delighted fans who had seen him struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, multiple marriages and divorces, lawsuits over his erratic behavior and brushes with death in motor vehicle accidents. His life became the stuff of country legend: Following a drinking binge during which his wife took his car keys so he couldn’t drive, Jones famously commandeered a motorized lawn mower and drove himself to the nearest liquor store.

“Hopefully (history) will remember me for my music and forgive me of the things I did that let ‘em down,” Jones told an interviewer in 2006. He also said he understood there might be some things fans wouldn’t absolve him of: “There are some things you just can’t make up to people,” he said of the many performances he missed over the years because of his struggles with alcohol and drugs, which led to the nickname “No Show Jones” that followed him for many years in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet along the way he continued to deliver hit after hit, starting in 1955 — when he first scored with “Why Baby Why” — through his final appearance on the pop chart 50 years later as a guest of Waylon Jennings’ son Shooter Jennings on “4th of July.”

He put 167 records on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart during that time, more than any other artist. He also placed more inside the Top 40 — 143 — than anyone in the history of country music. He won two Grammy Awards, was a five-time Academy of Country Music Awards winner and a multiple honoree from the Country Music Association. In 2008, he was given a lifetime achievement award as part of the annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C.

Glenn Close’s sister writing about mental illness

NEW YORK — The youngest sister of actress Glenn Close is working on a memoir about her struggles with mental illness.

Grand Central Publishing announced today that Jessie Close’s “Resilience” is scheduled for release in January 2015. The book will be co-written by Pete Earley, author of the 2006 book “Crazy,” about his son’s struggles.

Glenn Close will contribute three “vignettes” about her sister and an epilogue. She also will narrate the audio edition. Jessie and Glenn Close are two of four siblings.

Jessie Close has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has made public appearances with her sister to discuss mental illness. Glenn Close is the co-founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “eradicate the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.”

Hill says she signed with Sony to pay taxes

NEW YORK — Lauryn Hill says she has signed with Sony to pay her overdue taxes.

Hill pleaded guilty last year to not paying federal taxes on $1.8 million earned from 2005 to 2007. The 37-year-old posted on her Tumblr blog late Thursday that she “signed a new record deal, and that I did this to pay taxes.”

The total Hill owes is in dispute, but it is around $1 million. Her next sentencing date in New Jersey is May 6.

Hill also says she’s working on new music. She hasn’t released much music since her 1998 solo debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” It has sold more than 10 million albums and won five Grammy Awards. Hill writes that she’s not only signing with Sony because of her legal woes, but also because she needs to express her creativity.

Matthew McConaughey says he’s listened to critics

NEW YORK — Matthew McConaughey, who’s getting praise from critics for his role in the new movie “Mud,” says he’s found a way to make negative reviews a positive learning experience.

McConaughey won best supporting male actor at the Independent Spirit Awards for 2012’s “Magic Mike.” He also received the best supporting actor honor for “Magic Mike” and “Bernie” at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

But there have been some misses for the 43-year-old actor, who cemented his romantic leading man status in 2003’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” opposite Kate Hudson. Critics panned “Failure to Launch,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Fools Gold.”

“A few years ago, I did a really interesting kind of experiment,” McConaughey said.

“My assistants gathered every negative review I’ve ever had and it was a good, thick pile. I sat down and said, ‘We’re gonna read every one of these.’ There was some really good constructive criticism. I’m like, ‘That’s what I would’ve said about that performance. You’re right.’”

He said it’s most rewarding to read a review where he and the critic agree about what he was trying to convey in a performance.

“What’s nice is when you read a review and ... it’s almost exactly what I wrote down before I ever did the picture of what I was tryin’, who I thought the guy was. So I go, ‘Ah, it translated.’”

The word was never spoken but they got that out of the performance.”

In “Mud,” McConaughey plays a fugitive who befriends two teen boys in Arkansas who help him try to reunite with his long-lost love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), while also hiding out from the authorities.

McConaughey, who married longtime girlfriend Camila Alves last June (the couple have three children), said he was drawn to the way Mud loves Juniper.

“The love he has for this woman is a very simple thing,” he said. “I just hung my hat on (it). Didn’t matter if she loved him back or not. He didn’t love her any less ever. ... This man has a passionate love for somebody as passionate as it was the first three hours and that just doesn’t really happen in real life real often. You can say it does, but it’s pretty tough to keep that light burnin’ like that.”

“Mud,” directed by Jeff Nichols, opens in theaters today.

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