With iconic hits like “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “The Race is On” and “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” George Jones’ impact on country music has continued to be felt more than a decade after his passing. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, George Jones sold over 20 million albums and scored 143 top 40 hits during his career, including 14 No. 1s.
He was a National Medal of the Arts recipient, Kennedy Center honoree and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Now, fans are learning more about his life in Playin’ Possum: My Memories of George Jones, a new book (available now) by his wife, Nancy Jones. Nicknamed “The Possum,” for the shape of his nose and face, George and Nancy were married 30 years before he died of respiratory failure on April 26, 2013 at age 81.
Written with Ken Abraham, Nancy Jones chronicles the ups and downs of their tumultuous marriage, as well as her near fatal bout with Covid in the new memoir. George’s battles with drugs and alcohol have been documented in the media over the years, but Nancy admits she was still reluctant to share the intimate details of their life. “The hardest part was to tell what George put me through,” Nancy admits to Woman’s World. “I didn’t want anybody to know that, not until I got all of those demons out of him because he was such a wonderful, sweet man,” she says. “He was very caring and lovable, but when he would get on that stupid drinking and drugs, he turned into a person that I didn’t even know.”
Nancy and George Jones’ tumultuous love story
In the book, Nancy Jones chronicles George’s verbal and physical abuse, including the times he’d get angry and kick her off the tour bus, leaving her on the side of the road. “I’ve worked with a lot of sensitive projects, but going back through those years and replaying those stories where George was just mean to Nancy, that was difficult,” Abraham says of collaborating with Nancy Jones on the book.
“Her eyes would fill with tears, and I didn’t want to drag her through that again, but yet that was an important part of the story because she endured that. Tammy Wynette [who had been previously married to Jones] sang about standing by your man, but Nancy really did it,” says Abraham. “So going back through those difficult times with Nancy, sometimes it felt like taking a knife over a wound that hasn’t had a chance to heal yet, but Nancy was willing to do that. I appreciate her willingness to lay her heart out there on the table.”
Nancy says that George became a totally different person when he was under the influence. “I thought it was interesting when Nancy noticed that the sound of his voice would even change,” Abraham continues. “It would take on a gravelly kind of tone that really wasn’t George whenever he would get into that cocaine and alcohol fit. There was something more going on there than just drugs and alcohol that’s for sure.”
Turning to her faith
Nancy credits God with helping her survive the hard times during the years George battled addiction. “There’s no way I could have done this without the Lord Jesus Christ,” Nancy says. “I will always believe that and I know that in my heart. I look back and remember things when I was a child. My mom was very mean, and I used to think, ‘Why was my mom this way? I don’t understand this,’ but now that I am older, I think God was preparing me for George. He was making me a strong person. That was the job God gave me to do, and I wasn’t backing down. I wanted to do what God had sent me on this earth to do and that was to get this man to heaven. George was a very spiritual man and I just had to get those demons away from him.”
Nancy knew the real George was a good man and felt called to stay with him. “Nothing about it was easy, but the good days in my life were outweighing the bad days and that’s why I was fighting so hard because I knew there was a good man in there. I had to get those demons out and I know that those demons would have loved to have killed me, but with the help of God, I never let those demons get to me. I knew that I had to fight for this man, and I feel like God put me on this earth to do this. That was why for 32 years I stayed with a man that I knew was really a good man,” Nancy says of the two years they dated and the 30 years they were married.
The moment that changed it all
On March 6, 1999, Jones was driving drunk when he had a near fatal car accident. Afterwards, he finally got sober and stayed sober. In the book, Nancy recalls hearing George pray to God, and although he had tried to quit many times before, this time she knew he was finished drinking for good. “From 1999 until 2013 I got a perfect husband,” she says with a smile.
Nancy Jones book also reveals their happiest years
In addition to their struggles, Nancy Jones also shares in the book a lot of light-hearted and funny moments from their time together, including the time he was in the garage, honking the car horn and trying to rush her out so they could go dinner. Nancy came out and got in the car nearly naked. George didn’t even notice at first. He started driving to the restaurant, and had gotten a little way from the house, before he looked at her and realized she wasn’t dressed.
“We feel our book is a positive, uplifting book,” Abraham says. “We [share] the happy parts of George that people didn’t even know, some of those humorous things. We also talk about his faith and what God did in Nancy and George’s life, and the happy marriage they had those years after he got off of drugs and alcohol. There’s a lot of positive that we want to put out there about George Jones.”
Nancy’s near-death experience gave her courage
When asked why she felt like right now was the time to publish Playin’ Possum: My Memories of George Jones, she admits her near-death experience fueled her desire to share her story. “I had Covid, and I died,” she says. “I had no pulse for 10 to 15 minutes. I even saw the light. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my whole life.”
Nancy continued, “I was laying in that hospital bed for months and months and months. I lost all my hair. I lost 70% of my right lung. I was down to 92 lbs. I had to learn how to walk again, and I was just lying there thinking, ‘If I would have died, who was ever going to find out the real truth about George?’ There’s so many lies out there. I’m not going to say that he was an angel, but there were so many lies that were not true. I was with him for 32 years, married 30 years. Who in the world would have known him any better than me? I wanted to put the truth out there about George Jones, and I didn’t sugar coat anything.”
“It’s not your book, it’s God’s book”
Nancy admits though it was hard to walk those roads again and tell the truth, there was a greater purpose. “I didn’t want fans to know what he did to me. I didn’t know want fans to know what I went through because I never ever let a person know what I went through. I always had this smiling face like nothing was wrong,” Nancy Jones says, “but then when I didn’t want to do the book, my business manager kept telling me, ‘It’s not your book, it’s God’s book.’ That made sense and that’s why I wrote it.”
Nancy continued, “I also want to draw people to Jesus. I want people to know that you can do bad. You can be on drugs. You can do anything and if you pray to the good Lord, you’re going to be healed. If you can believe in the good Lord, if you can believe there is a God, God will put His hand out. He will save you. You’ve just got to go to Him.”
Celebrating George Jones’ legacy: Still Playin’ Possum
To celebrate the book’s release and the man himself, superstars including Brad Paisley, Jelly Roll, Wynonna, Joe Nichols, Trace Adkins and other country hitmakers on Still Playin’ Possum: Music and Memories of George Jones, a tribute concert hitting theaters for one night only on October 17.
“We have 32 artists on there,” Nancy says of the sold out tribute to her late husband, filmed at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL last April. The film is being presented one night only in theaters through Fathom Events. Tracy Byrd, Joe Nichols, Tracy Lawrence, Justin Moore, Dierks Bentley, Jamey Johnson, Michael Ray, Dillon Carmichael, Tim Watson and many others sang George’s legendary hits during the evening, including Brad Paisley’s performance of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Travis Tritt’s spirited cover of “The Race is On” (Read about the new Travis Tritt gospel album here!) and Tanya Tucker’s rendition of “The Grand Tour.”
“It was just an honor. I called all of those people and not a one said, ‘No,’” Nancy smiles. “They all came to sing a George Jones song. It was just something else! Everyone needs to see this show. You need to feel the love and how much they all were singing their hearts out for George.”
Even though he no longer performs since suffering a stroke a decade ago, Randy Travis made a special appearance to honor his friend. The moment moved Nancy to tears. “I was crying so hard I thought I was going to pass out because my mind went to the happy days when Randy and George would joke around,” Nancy says of their close friendship. “George would try to out sing him, and he’d try to out sing George!”
For a list of theaters nationwide, visit fathomevents.com.
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