(CNN) — Country singer Earl Thomas Conley, who had 18 number one hits and influenced dozens of artists, has died.
Conley, 77, died Wednesday in Nashville where he had been in hospice care, his brother, Fred, told CNN.
“We are heartbroken,” Carol Scates, Conley’s life partner of 20 years, said. “The light has dimmed but his light will shine on in his music.”
Conley topped the charts in the 1980s with hit songs including “Holding Her and Loving You,” “What I’d Say” and “Right From the Start.”
Scates told CNN that Conley’s creative talents transcended music.
“A lot of people don’t realize he was not just an artist who performed music, but he was a very talented artist who painted and sculpted,” she said.
Conley was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1941 and was the third of eight children.
“He could create anything with his hands,” Scates told CNN. “When he was a little boy, they didn’t have toys. He carved the toys they played when he was little.”
He was rejected from art school so decided to join the Army instead, according to his biography on allmusic.com. In 1968, he was honorably discharged and started pursuing his music career by playing at night clubs in Nashville.
Throughout his career, he released 10 albums and had more than 30 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Fellow country artists shared tributes of Conley on social media.
“My heart is absolutely destroyed today… I’m sad to report that Earl Thomas Conley passed away very early this morning,” Blake Shelton tweeted. “Earl was my all time favorite singer, hero and my friend. Prayers to his family. We will all miss you deeply my brother. Now go rest…”
“He was a huge influence on my style and songwriting,” Big & Rich’s John Rich tweeted.”I studied his records like text books and could play every note of every song. Truly one of the all time greats in country music.”
Chad Cooke Band from Texas posted a video paying tribute to Conley by singing his song “Fire and Smoke.”
“We are deeply saddened by Earl Thomas Conley’s passing,” the Country Music Association tweeted. “Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”
He is survived by three children. His body is being donated to Vanderbilt Medical School, his brother said.
There is not a memorial scheduled at this time.