Feb 24, 2018 Last Updated 3:20 PM, Feb 22, 2018

Country Star Don Williams Dies at 78

 ROYAL ALBERT HALL Photo of Don WILLIAMS, Event: Royal Albert Hall - 31st May 2004 ROYAL ALBERT HALL Photo of Don WILLIAMS, Event: Royal Albert Hall - 31st May 2004 Image sourced at time.com
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Don Williams, an award-winning country singer with love ballads like "I Believe in You," has died. He was 78.

A statement from his publicist Kirt Webster said he died Friday after a short illness.

Williams had 17 No. 1 hits before retiring in 2016. His mellow sound influenced a later generation of singers including Joe Nichols and Josh Turner and Keith Urban has said Williams drew him to country music.

Williams, nicknamed "the Gentle Giant," had a rich voice, gentle delivery and storytelling style. He toured sparingly, did few media interviews and spent much of his time on his farm west of Nashville.

"It's one of those blessings and curses kind of things," Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1994."If you have the talent, it's a blessing. But there's times that ... a lot of the prices that you have to pay to be a part of it is a curse. But as far as ... the way people have responded to what I've done, there's very few things in my life that I've done that come anywhere close to making you feel exhilarated and humbled and fulfilled and challenged and all that, all at the same time."

His hits included "I Believe in You," ''Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good," ''You're My Best Friend," ''Some Broken Hearts Never Mend," ''Till the Rivers All Run Dry" and "Back in My Younger Days." At least one duet with Emmylou Harris made the charts, "If I Needed You" in 1981.

He was also popular overseas, touring in Europe and Africa and charting on British charts. Eric Clapton recorded his "We're More Than Friends" and Pete Townshend redid his "Til the Rivers All Run Dry."

"Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days," said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, in a statement Friday. "His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times. Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant."

He won the Country Music Association's awards for best male vocalist and best single for "Tulsa Time" in 1978.

During his performances, he often walked onstage carrying a cup of coffee, sat on a barstool, sang and chatted amiably with the audience.

Williams also appeared in the movies "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" and "Smokey and the Bandit II."

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