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Jim Ed Brown, Grand Ole Opry country star, dies at 81

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David Redfern/Redferns

Jim Ed Brown, a mainstay at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for since 1963 and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, died Thursday at Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, Tenn., after a battle with cancer. He was 81 years old.

“He was one consummate entertainer and one great friend,” Brown’s bookings rep Gladys Van Dyke told EW.

Born on April 1, 1934, Brown began listening to the Grand Ole Opry at a young age on his family’s farm in Sparkman, Ark. The Browns, formed with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, broke out in 1959 with “The Three Bells,” a hit that led the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. The trio joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963 off the success of their smash single. When his sisters retired in 1967, Jim stayed on with the company and recorded a version of Nat Stuckey’s “Pop a Top.” It hit No. 3 on the country charts and became Brown’s signature tune.

Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer last September. On June 3, Brown’s daughter, Kim, took to the singer’s Facebook page to announce that his cancer had returned.

Brown and the Browns were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in March.

“I’ve always loved to sing,” he said earlier this year in an interview with Peter Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “My grandmother nicknamed me ‘Jaybird,’ because I’d go around singing all the time. I’ve gone through some hard times, but some good times, too. If push comes to shove, I’ll do it again.”

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Becky, his daughter, and his son.