The country music world paused to celebrate the life of country legend George Jones on Thursday. He passed away last Friday at the age of 81. Stars packed Nashville's Grand Ole Opry on Thursday for Jones' funeral.
George Jones spent part of his life in Lakeland, and actually formed a colorful friendship with current Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
At the time, Judd was a young paramedic. It was the early 1970s, and Judd was sent out to the sprawling South Lakeland home of the country music megastar.
"When we arrived, I noticed everyone standing outside. I thought that was strange. I said, 'We're here to pick up Mr. Jones.' They pointed and said, 'He's in there," Judd remembers.
Judd says Jones had just finished up another of his infamous fights with then-wife Tammy Wynette.
"It was torn to pieces. He had trashed the entire place. And there he laid, asleep on the couch," Judd recalled.
Judd collected the country music star and headed to the hospital.
"He looked at me on the way to the hospital, we had some conversation, and he said, 'You wanna fight?' I said, 'No sir, Mr. Jones, I really don't want to fight.' Alright then," Judd laughed.
Months later, another rowdy night reunited Jones and Judd...once again, in an ambulance.
"We were going to the hospital and he said, 'Do you want me to sing to ya?' I said, 'No sir, I don't want you to sing to me. He said, 'Well you little SOB!' He said, 'People pay a lot of money to hear me sing!" Judd laughed.
He later handed Judd a $100 bill after sliding off the stretcher.
Four decades later, that paramedic is now the Polk County Sheriff. As Jones was laid to rest on Thursday, Judd couldn't help but think some of those rowdy nights influenced half a century of country music hits.
"He lived a long life. He had a successful career, and I think it's because I took him to the hospital!" Judd laughed.
George Jones lived in Lakeland until 1975, when he and Tammy Wynette went their separate ways. Their massive mansion is still standing in South Lakeland.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
Didn't find what you were looking for?