Through the late '50s and '60s, Tillis balanced his career as a then-minor hitmaker in his own right with bigger songwriting successes for other artists, including Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and Bobby Bare's "Detroit City".
His No. 1 songs were I Ain't Never, Good Woman Blues, Heart Healer, I Believe in You, Coca-Cola Cowboy and Southern Rains. He was also inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tillis' publicist, Don Murry Grubbs, told Tennessean that the "Coca Cola Cowboy" singer never fully recovered from diverticulitis surgery in January 2016 and spent a month in the intensive care unit battling sepsis. The suspected cause of death was respiratory failure, he said.
Tillis also had something of an acting career, with small roles in a number of films such as "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit II".
Lonnie Melvin Tillis was born on August 8, 1932, near Tampa, Fla.
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Mel had written over 60 albums and had more than 10 top 10 singles during his 1970s hey day. In 1976, he was named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year. He starred in several television movies and briefly had a network TV show, "Mel and Susan Together", with Susan Anton.
Tillis was raised in Pahokee, Florida, and developed his stutter as a child while being treated for malaria.
Tillis got his musical start in the 1950s performing with an Air Force band while stationed in Okinawa.
"I'm just so thankful, for everything", he said when he was inducted.
In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts.
"Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience", said Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.