7:44 AM PT -- A family member tells TMZ ... He has been on oxygen for a long while now and his lungs finally just couldn’t do it anymore and they collapsed and he passed away. He couldn’t breathe anymore on his own."
George Jones ... the country music megastar whose heartfelt vocals and close-to-home lyrics defined the genre for generations ... died today. He was 81.
Jones was hospitalized in Nashville on April 18 for a fever and irregular blood pressure, though the cause of death was not immediately released.
Jones was in the middle of a tour -- which he announced would be his last -- when he fell ill. Several dates had already been canceled.
Jones' towering influence on country music was equaled only by his public persona ... which often imitated the melodrama in his songs ... and was well-chronicled in the tabloids. He was married four times -- once to Tammy Wynette -- and made countless headlines for drinking, stormy romances and violent rages.
But his star-power in country music cannot be overstated. Jones has charted more country hits than any other artist ... "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is perhaps his biggest, but the list of charted hits is around 150.
Read more: http://www.tmz.com#ixzz2Ra5VqJNx