Country singer Tammy Wynette, best known for her 1968 song "Stand By Your Man," died unexpectedly Monday night. She was 55.
Wynette, whose life was filled with episodes as dramatic as any country song and who was plagued by ill health for years, died while sleeping in her Nashville, Tenn., home from what is believed to have been a blood clot.
"In the end we were very close friends," said veteran country singer George Jones, to whom Wynette was married for several years in the 1970s, in a statement released Tuesday. "Now I've lost that friend. I couldn't be sadder."
"It breaks my heart," singer Kenny Rogers told Reuters after hearing of Wynette's death. "It really is a tragic thing. She was a great lady."
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh in 1942, Wynette moved from her native Mississippi to Alabama in the 1960s, where she worked in cotton fields and then a beauty shop while making trips to Nashville, hoping to be discovered by the country music industry.
Her early hits included "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," but it was "Stand By Your Man" that propelled her to stardom as the first woman in country music history to sell more than a million copies of a single. Wynette was honored with the Country Music Association's female vocalist of the year award in 1968, '69 and '70.
From 1969-75, Wynette was wed to Jones, in the third of her five marriages. The pair recorded several songs together, including 1972's "We're Gonna Hold On."
In recent years, the two had reconciled and performed together. "I am just very glad that we were able to work together and tour together again," Jones said. "It was very important for us to close the chapter on everything that we had been through. I know Tammy felt the same way."
In one of the more dramatic events of her career, Wynette was kidnapped in 1978, driven outside of Nashville and beaten. No one was ever arrested for the crime.
Wynette continued to be active over the past decade. In 1993, she released the Honky Tonk Angels album with fellow country vets Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Her 1992 single, "Justified and Ancient," recorded with the U.K. dance group KLF, became an international hit.
That same year, Wynette was at the center of controversy when soon-to-be First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton defended her own vigorous support of her husband by saying, "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." The singer took Clinton to task for the remark, and she and the First Couple later made amends.
Wynette is survived by her husband, George Richey; five daughters; a son; and several grandchildren.