George Jones Knew He Would Never Live to Perform at Farewell Concert
A galaxy of country music stars will gather at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena tonight (Nov. 22) to pay their final respects to the late George Jones, in a once-in-a-lifetime musical event that has been sold out for many months in advance. The show was originally slated to be his farewell concert, but in a new interview, his wife, Nancy Jones, says the country legend knew he would never live to see it.
Ironically billed as "The Final No-Show,' the concert will feature more than 100 performers paying tribute to Jones' legacy by singing his songs. It was planned as his retirement show, and Nancy tells Peter Cooper of Nashville's Tennessean newspaper that she was surprised when George -- who didn't like to do press or rehearse -- agreed early on to days of grueling rehearsals, and said yes to an avalanche of press requests.
“I said, ‘Why are you agreeing to everything?’ ” Nancy recalls. “He said, ‘’Cause I’m not going to be here. I’m going to agree to anything they ask. Promise me you’ll make a tribute show out of it, and I’ll see it from heaven.’"
The 81-year-old struggled with his health for most of the final year of his life, returning to the hospital again and again for respiratory issues. The worst part of it, his wife says, was that it forced him to cancel shows. Jones struggled with alcohol and drugs for much of his adult life, and his penchant for missing shows earned him the nickname "No Show Jones." After he finally achieved lasting sobriety, he was determined not to let his fans down anymore, even as he knew that he was coming to the end of his life.
“I begged him to come off that road, and he would not,” Nancy shares. “He lowered all the keys and tried really, really hard. I would say, ‘Just stop it,’ and he said, ‘In my mind, I think of all those old mamas that saved their money for me, and I was a no-show.’ In the last year, the fans never complained. They knew he was weak, and they knew he was leaving. He just wanted to prove he loved them."
In the end, the final show of Jones' career took place without fanfare at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum on April 6, 2013. He closed with his career hit, 'He Stopped Loving Her Today.' Nancy says he knew it was the end. “I just did my last show," he told her on the bus afterward. "And I gave ’em hell.”
Jones went into the hospital the following morning. He stayed there for 20 days and passed away on April 26. Nancy says the over-the-top send-off he'll receive tonight was deliberate on his part.
"We started planning this last year," she notes. "I said, ‘George, you’ve got too many people.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. These are my friends. If I don’t invite them, I’ll be dead and gone and they’ll be mad at me.’ ”
“I am so excited how this show has evolved and I will be forever grateful to the artists that are coming to honor George,” Nancy Jones recently said. “The evening might be long, but I don’t think people will be upset as they will witness the best musical tribute Nashville has ever seen with so many artists performing George Jones songs.”