FILE - In this July 6, 2013, file photo, Mel Tillis performs at the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. Tillis, the longtime country star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. He was 85. (Photo by Alonzo Adams/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - In this July 6, 2013, file photo, Mel Tillis performs at the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. Tillis, the longtime country star who wrote hits for Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs and many others, and overcame a stutter to sing on dozens of his own singles, has died. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, said Tillis died early Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. He was 85. (Photo by Alonzo Adams/Invision/AP, File)

Alonzo Adams/Invision

Mel Tillis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died early Sunday morning in Ocala, Fla. 

The suspected cause of death was respiratory failure. A spokesman for Tillis, Don Murry Grubbs, told The Associated Press that Tillis battled intestinal issues since 2016 and never fully recovered.

Tillis, 85, was a singer/songwriter, writing more than 1,000 songs, but he was mostly known for his down-home humor. 

In a career that spanned six decades, he recorded more than 60 albums and produced 36 top-10 singles with nine of them rising to No. 1, according to his online bio

He also wrote hits for many of his country music pals, including Detroit City for Bobby Bare; Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town, by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition; and Thoughts of a Fool for George Strait.

Tillis, the father of country singer Pam Tillis, started performing in the early 1950s with a group called The Westerners while stationed in Okinawa and serving as a baker in the Air Force.

Before his breakout, he held a variety of jobs, including truck driver, strawberry picker, a firefighter on the railroad and milkman.

Tillis was most successful in the 1970s with chart-toppers than included Coca Cola Cowboy. In 1972, his I Ain't Never became his first No. 1 hit. In 1976, he received the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. 

Mel Tillis holds up his 2011 National Medal of the Arts after it was presented to him by President Barack Obama, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. 

Mel Tillis holds up his 2011 National Medal of the Arts after it was presented to him by President Barack Obama, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

He also appeared regularly on Hee Haw and Hollywood Squares

In the mid-1980s, Tillis was a pitchman for Texas-based Whataburger turning the catchphrase "It's not just a hamburger. It's a ... Whataburger" while parlaying his stammer into comedic effect. 

Tillis developed a speech impediment after a childhood bout of malaria. Tillis said he was mocked for his stammer when he was young. 

"After a lot of years and more hurting than I like to remember, I can talk about it lightly -- which eases things a bit," he wrote in his 1984 autobiography, Stutterin' Boy. "It's a way of showing people that it hasn't licked me, so it doesn't have to lick others." 

In 1998, he was spokesman and honorary chairman for the Stuttering Foundation of America. 

Grubbs told AP that the Tillis family will release information about funeral services in Florida and Nashville.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. with additional details and reactions.

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