NEW YORK - Jim Ed Brown, the mild-mannered crooner who spent a half-century at one of US country music's most prestigious venues, the Grand Ole Opry, died Thursday. He was 81.
Brown died from cancer at a hospital in Franklin, Tennessee, near Nashville, according to Webster Public Relations, which represented him.
With his health declining, the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted him last week at the hospital, bringing forward a ceremony that had been scheduled for October.
The singer won crossover success in 1959, topping both the pop and country charts with the song "The Three Bells" performed with his two sisters.
The song tells of a character named Jimmy Brown, narrating his life from his birth to marriage to death.
While Brown was frequently asked if the song was autobiographical, it was based on a French song, "Les Trois Cloches," that imagined the life of an everyman by the name of Jean-Francois Nicot.
The song became popular as a folk tune among the French under German occupation in World War II and reached a wider audience when Edith Piaf sang it.
Brown heard an English version of the song when he was a truck driver in his native Arkansas. He was enchanted by the tale, but deleted much of it to keep to the US country radio format of the time that restricted songs to three minutes long.
After his sisters left music, Brown became a solo artist and in 1967 recorded what became one of his most identifiable songs, "Pop a Top," spoken in the voice of a grief-stricken bar patron asking for drink after drink.
Brown in 1963 became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, a pantheon for country music stars. He stayed active there until near his death.
Brown became a frequent host of Grand Ole Opry shows and later led his own syndicated radio show. He was also known for his duets with Helen Cornelius, including "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." Brown had retired from recording for more than four decades until this year when he released a comeback album entitled "In Style Again." In an interview to promote the album, Brown said he hoped to record further work.
"I love life. I'm not a negative person at all; God has given me a great place to live," he told the online country publication No Depression.
"I like happy songs, and I try to put a little life in them."