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Stars, fans say goodbye to George Jones at Grand Ole Opry

By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
Country music legend George Jones died Friday, April 26, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 81. Above: Jones poses for a portrait circa 1975. Country music legend George Jones died Friday, April 26, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 81. Above: Jones poses for a portrait circa 1975.
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George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
George Jones: King of broken hearts
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Stars and fans honored George Jones on Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House
  • Randy Travis, Brad Paisley and Tanya Tucker paid homage to Jones
  • Laura Bush thanked Jones' widow, Nancy, for giving her the opportunity to speak

(CNN) -- Country music stars and fans alike honored George Jones on Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. It was a fitting site for the late country music legend, who had been a member of the show since 1956.

Stars such as Randy Travis, Brad Paisley and Tanya Tucker paid homage to Jones, who died Friday at 81, with music and heartfelt speeches.

WSMonline.com, the website for the Nashville radio station that carries the Opry, and Opry.com were both down toward the beginning of the more than two-hour service, probably because of the large number of fans hoping to watch the event online.

Grand Old Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs kicked off the memorial, introducing Tucker with the Imperials, who sang "The Old Rugged Cross."

Barbara Mandrell, who sang alongside Jones on her 1981 hit "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," took the stage to say a few words about "the greatest singer of all time in country music."

Nobody will ever be able to fill Jones' shoes, she added.

Mandrell spoke about the time she met Jones as a 13-year-old on tour, saying, "What a joy that memory is to me."

She was followed by Kid Rock, who shared the chorus of an unfinished song he was writing for Jones: "I may be a little slower, but I'm still 12 steps ahead of you."

"Unfortunately, I didn't get to play that for him. So, Plan B," he said before launching into his song "The Best of Me."

As former first lady Laura Bush took the stage, she thanked Jones' widow, Nancy, for giving her the opportunity to speak.

"When I was still in school, my friends and I must've put 1,000 quarters in the jukebox to listen to 'The Race Is On,' " she said.

She also recalled hearing Jones' "White Lightning" blaring from the White House gym as "George W. worked out on the treadmill listening to George J."

"In American music, George was truly a legend beyond compare," she said. "We see that in the wonderful musical talent that's gathered here to honor George and celebrate his life. ... Today, we're left with the gift of his songs on Earth, and we can only imagine how beautiful the heavens now sound."

Paisley, who sang "Me and Jesus," encouraged those who might be less familiar with Jones' work to buy his albums so they could see "what all this ruckus is about."

Jones' close friend and protege Alan Jackson was the last to perform, singing Jones' 1980 classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

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