By Maureen Lee Lenker
November 19, 2017 at 12:14 PM EST
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Country music icon Mel Tillis has died at age 85.

He passed away early Sunday morning in Ocala, Florida, after a lengthy battle with intestinal issues and suspected respiratory failure, according to a statement from his publicist.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis on Aug. 8, 1932, in Tampa, Tillis went on to become a prolific artist and a Country Music Hall of Famer. Over the course of his long career, he wrote more than 1,000 songs, recorded more than 60 albums, had nearly three dozen top-10 singles, and pegged six No. 1 hits, including “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “I Ain’t Never,” and “I Believe in You.” In 1976, he was named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year.

In his later years, Tillis was known more for his songwriting than his own recording — 600 of his songs have been recorded by major artists ranging from Kenny Rogers to George Strait to Ricky Skaggs. His prowess as a songwriter led him to be named Songwriter of the Decade twice by Broadcast Media Inc.

Tillis was also a regular personality on the big and small screens, appearing on TV shows like Hee Haw and Hollywood Squares and in films such as The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit 2. 

He was awarded the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to country music by President Obama in 2012.

Tillis is survived by his longtime partner Kathy DeMonaco, six children, six grandchildren, a great grandson, a sister, a brother, and the mother of five of his children.

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