Considered by many to the greatest country singer ever, George Jones spent his earliest years in the Big Thicket of East Texas. Born in a log cabin on Sept. 12, 1931, to a sometimes-violent alcoholic father and a devoutly Christian mother, he first sang in church. After being given a guiitar when he was 9, he was soon singing on the streets of Beaumont (pictured), where the family moved when he was about 11, and surprised himself by earning several dollars a day. Apart from a stint in the Marines, singing pretty much became the only job he ever had.
Jones left home at 16 and worked with a duo called Eddie and Pearl, who performed at Texas radio stations and honky tonks in the east of the state, until he enlisted in the Marines in 1951. On his return from California in 1953, he started playing the circuits again before being discovered by a Houston record producer, Harold "Pappy" Dailey, who was to guide his career for the next 20 years. Jones' first hit was "Why Baby Why," which came out around the time this picture was taken.
From his Texas roots, Jones quickly became a major artist, charting hits such as "The Window Up Above" and "She Thinks I Still Care" and being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. At the same time, he developed a reputation as a drunk and a fighter, and had to be bailed out of prison several times by Dailey. He even was reported to have flushed $1,000 down a toilet during one of his crazier moments. This picture was taken in 1969, when he had a huge hit with "I'll Share My World With You."
In 1969, Jones met an up-and-coming country star, Tammy Wynette, and they were married the same year. At the same time, Jones severed his relationship with longtime producer Dailey and signed with Wynette's producer, Billy Sherrill, who introduced him to a much lusher, violin-filled production and persuaded him to abandon the high, lonesome sound that had marked his early career. Jones also recorded several songs with his new wife, including "Golden Ring" and "The Ceremony."
Both as soloists and a duo, Jones and Wynette had many hits, leading them to be called the King and Queen of Country Music. But their marriage, which resulted in a daughter, Tamala Georgette, soon became rocky, with accusations of violence and drunkenness. In this picture, taken around 1972, the couple pose with rhythm and blues star Little Richard.
Jones and Wynette divorced in 1975, but the split didn't prevent them from continuing to sing and make records together. Here they are seen on the set of the television show "Nashville Palace" in 1981.
After his divorce from Wynette, Jones' already turbulent life went into an ever-worsening tailspin, with increasing drug use added to his drinking. His weight dropped to below 100 pounds and he missed many concerts, leading to the non-affectionate nickname "No-Show Jones." Concerned friends even took away his car keys so he couldn't obtain alcohol, but, in one famous incident, Jones drove his lawnmower to the liquor store.
Through all his troubles, though, Jones continued to produce some of his best records, including "He Stopped Loving Her Today," his biggest hit and often voted as the best country song ever. The song led him to win the top male vocalist award at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where he is seen with daughter Georgette in 1981.
Jones' wild ways exploded onto the airwaves in May 1982 when he was filmed being arrested for drunk driving, including a scene where he lashed out at the news crew. Here, he is put in a patrol car by Brentwood, Tenn., police officer Tommy Campsey after being stopped on Interstate 65. Jones spent about four hours in the Williamson County jail before being released on $500 bond.
Jones was at the depths of his addictions when, in the early '80s, he met Nancy Sepulveda, who was to become his fourth wife. She was able to rid him of the many hangers-on who kept him supplied with drugs and alcohol, and got him into a rehab hospital, where he regained some control over his life. He married Sepulveda in 1983; they are seen here in early 1984.
With his wife's guidance, Jones resumed his career and produced a new string of hits, including "I Always Get Lucky With You" and "Who's Gonna FIll Their Shoes," for which he received a Country Music Association award in 1986.
More and more, Jones was recognized as one of the greatest country singers of all time. Here he is joined on stage by Loretta Lynn as he receives the Living Legend Award during the annual Music City News Country Awards in 1987.
In this 1997 photo, Jones bends an ear toward 14-year-old newcomer LeAnn Rimes during the opening segment of the TNN-Music City News Country Awards show in Nashville. Jones, Rimes and Randy Travis co-hosted the event.
Looking spry at 75, Jones was lucky to be alive, given his history of drinking and drugging. It was also revealed that he hadn't entirely escaped the bottle when he drove into a bridge section in 1999, when he was 67. A bottle of vodka was found in the car. After the accident, Jones sobered up.
As the years passed, Jones continued to gather more accolades, including being named a 2008 Kennedy Center honoree. Here he is pictured with (back, left to right) Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who; (front, left to right) dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, actor Morgan Freeman and actress/singer Barbra Streisand. The six stars were honored in a live show hosted by President and Mrs. George W. Bush.
Jones and fellow country stars Dolly Parton, left, and Wynonna Judd pose backstage at Parton's "Live From London" DVD premiere party in Nashville in 2009.
Kris Kristofferson (left), Willie Nelson and Jones perform "Big River" during a two-hour 2010 special honoring Johnny Cash. Cash, who died in 2003 and toured often with Jones early in their careers, was quoted as saying: "People often ask me who my favorite singer is. I always answer, 'You mean, apart from George Jones?'"
Jones and his fourth wife, Nancy, cut the ribbon to open the seven-room George Jones Possum Holler Bed and Breakfast in Dothan, Ala., in 2010.
The couple enjoy a cozy moment at the George Jones Possum Holler Bed and Breakfast in Dothan, Ala.
A host of country stars attend Jones' 80th birthday party at Rippy's Bar & Grill on Sept. 13, 2011, in Nashville. The star was born on Sept. 12, 1931.
Jones joins fellow Lifetime Achievement Award winners Diana Ross and Glen Campbell at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2011.
Jones accepts a Grammy Lifetime Achievement trophy, one of many awards showered on the singer late in his career.