His publicists Webster Associates said he died at a hospital after being admitted there on April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.
Mr. Jones s singing was universally respected and just as widely imitated. With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel guitar string he found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky tonk and brought suspense to every syllable merging bluesy slides with the tight quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.
In his most memorable songs all the pleasures of a down home Saturday night couldn t free him from private pain. His up tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation. When you re onstage or recording you put yourself in those stories he once said.
Fans heard in those songs the strains of a life in which success and excess battled for decades. Mr. Jones nicknamed Possum for his close set eyes and pointed nose and later No Show Jones for the concerts he missed during drinking and drug binges bought sold and traded dozens of houses and hundreds of cars he earned millions of dollars and lost much of it to drug use mismanagement and divorce settlements. Through it all he kept touring and recording singing mournful songs that continued to ring true.
Mr. Jones was a presence on the country charts from the 1950s into the 21st century and as early as the 1960s he was praised by listeners and fellow musicians as the greatest living country singer. He was never a crossover act while country fans revered him pop and rock radio stations ignored him. But by the 1980s Mr. Jones had come to stand for country tradition. Country singers through the decades from Garth Brooks and Randy Travis to Toby Keith and Tim McGraw learned licks from Mr. Jones who never bothered to wear a cowboy hat.
Not everybody needs to sound like a George Jones record Alan Jackson the country singer and songwriter once told an interviewer. But that s what I ve always done and I m going to keep it that way or try to.
George Glenn Jones was born with a broken arm in Saratoga Tex. an oil field town on Sept. 12 1931 to Clare and George Washington Jones. His father a truck driver and pipe fitter bought George his first guitar when he was 9 and with help from a Sunday school teacher he taught himself to play melodies and chords. As a teenager he sang on the streets in Pentecostal revival services and in the honky tonks in the Gulf Coast port of Beaumont. Bus drivers let him ride free if he sang. Soon he was appearing on radio shows forging a style modeled on Lefty Frizzell Roy Acuff and Hank Williams.
Mr. Jones married Dorothy Bonvillion when he was 17 but divorced her before the birth of their daughter. He served in the Marines from 1950 to 1953 then signed to Starday Records whose co owner Pappy Daily became Mr. Jones s producer and manager. Mr. Jones s first single No Money in This Deal was released in 1954 the year he married his second wife Shirley Corley. They had two sons before they divorced in 1968.
Why Baby Why released in 1955 became Mr. Jones s first hit. During the 1950s he wrote or collaborated on many of his songs including hits like Just One More What Am I Worth and Color of the Blues though he later gave up songwriting. In the mid 50s he had a brief fling with rockabilly recording as Thumper Jones and as Hank Smith. But under his own name he was a country hit maker. He began singing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.
He had already become a drinker. White Lightning a No. 1 country hit in 1959 required 83 takes because Mr. Jones was drinking through the session. On the road playing one night stands he tore up hotel rooms and got into brawls. He also began missing shows because he was too drunk to perform.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction
Correction April 26 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Mr. Jones s wife. Her name is Nancy Sepulvedo not Sepulveda. It also in one instance referred to Mr. Jones as Mr. George.