TMZ has reported that country music legend George Jones has passed away at the age of 81.

Updated: April 26 at 10:40 (central time)

George Jones was one of the defining artists in country music history, taking the influence of the genre's early pioneers Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and others into another generation as his popularity rose in the mid-1950s.

Born in Saratoga, Texas on September 12, 1931, George started singing on the streets as a child after the family moved to Beaumont, Texas.  Following a stint in the Marines, Jones recorded his first top-five hit, 'Why Baby Way,' on the Texas-based label, Starday in 1955.  He signed with Mercury Records in 1959, and picked up his first #1 country music hit with 'White Lightning'.  Jones' hits continued through the 1960s with chart-topping singles like 'Tender Years', 'She Thinks I Still Care', 'Walk Through This World With Me' and 'The Race Is On'.

He was given his unorthodox nickname 'The Possum' from legendary country music disc jockeys T. Tommy Cutrer and Ralph Emery. In a 2009 interview with The Boot, he tells the story:

"When you're called 'The Possum' stays with me. There's no way I can ever live it down. T. Tommy Cutrer was a disc jockey. Everybody loved him. He was one of the old-timers on the all-night shows along with Ralph Emery, and those two got started calling me 'The Possum.' I had an album out with a side view of me with a crew cut. I was very young, and my nose looked more turned up, and I've got little beady eyes so I guess I did look like a possum! So they both laid into me and called me 'Possum,' and it got everywhere. There was no way I could stop that, so (I thought) I'll just have to live with that!"

While the 70's and 80's saw Jones continue success on the country charts, his personal life began to unravel, as alcohol and cocaine addiction led to multiple arrests and hospital stays. He also missed dozens of concerts, earning another, less fun nickname "No-Show Jones."

Jones was married four times, most notably to 'The First Lady of Country Music', Tammy Wynette from 1969-1975. The two had a tumultuous relationship, but are widely considered the most successful duet team in the history of country music, having recorded several hit songs together. Wynette died in 1998 at age 55.

Jones married his most recent wife, Nancy Sepulvado in 1983.

Jones became victim of a long list of celebrity death hoaxes over the past two years, propagated by the internet. Jones' official representatives quickly silenced the hoax and confirmed he is alive and well, saying, "stop believing what you see on the internet". Sadly, news of his passing is no hoax this time.

Updated: April 26 at 9:50am (central time)

Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member, and Kennedy Center Honoree George Jones died Friday, April 26, 2013 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was hospitalized April 18.

The legendary singer, nicknamed 'The Possum', had been in and out of the hospital with various health issues over the past two years. According to his publicist, Jones' most recent hospitalization came when the 'White Lightning' singer was admitted after a routine checkup showed that he had a 'slight fever and irregular blood pressure'.

Jones had announced last August that he would be embarking on his farewell tour, aptly titled 'The Grand Tour', a celebration of his incredible career which was to wrap up on November 22nd in Nashville. He was also working on a new studio album with Dolly Parton.

Jones is widely considered among the most important and influential singers in the history of American popular music, much less the country genre. His career spans more than five decades, filled with dozens of enduring classics such as 'Why Baby Why', ‘The Grand Tour,’ ‘Walk Through This World With Me,’ ‘Tender Years’ and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ which is is widely regarded as one of the greatest country songs of all time.

George Jones - 'He Stopped Loving Her Today'

The Possum also saw great success recording collaborations with his wife, Tammy Wynette. Together, they recorded several songs including the #1 hits 'Golden Ring', 'We're Gonna Hold On', and 'Near You'.

Original Story: April 26th 9am (central time)

Jones was hospitalized in Nashville on April 18 for a fever and irregular blood pressure, though the cause of death was not immediately released.

Jones was in the middle of a tour -- which he announced would be his last -- when he fell ill. Several dates had already been canceled.

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via TMZ

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R.I.P. George Jones