Country Music Singer, Legend Earl Thomas Conley Dead at 77

Country music singer Earl Thomas Conley has died. Conley was 77 years old when he passed away. Blake Shelton was among the first to report Conley's death.

"My heart is absolutely destroyed today...," Shelton wrote. "I'm sad to report that Earl Thomas Conley passed away very early this morning. 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..."

An Ohio native, Conley was given a scholarship to study art, but instead decided to join the Army. While in the Army, Conley discovered his love of singing and performing, when he joined a Christian trio. But it didn't take long for Conley to be pulled to the sounds of country artists like George Jones, Merle Haggard and more.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Conley moved to Nashville, and worked a regular job during the day, to support himself while he performed at night. But when Conley felt like he wasn't making any strides in Music City, Conley moved to Alabama to work in a steel mill – a fortuitous decision since it was there that he met a record producer, who signed Conley to his first independent record label.

From there, it didn't take long for Conley's career to take off. He returned to Nashville and signed with Warner Bros. Records, where he released his first album, Fire and Smoke.

Over the next several years, Conley released more over a dozen records and had numerous No. 1 singles, including "Holding Her and Loving You," "Angel in Disguise," "Once in a Blue Moon" and more.

Conley's last studio album, Perpetual Emotion, was released in 1998. Although Conley did take a break from recording, he continued to write songs, penning "All Over Me," which became a hit for Blake Shelton in 2002, from Shelton's eponymous freshman debut.

Although Conley's loss will be felt throughout the country music community, perhaps no one will feel the loss as strongly as Shelton.

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"I always loved Earl Thomas Conley, but it wasn't until I was about 18 that I really started to appreciate what a great singer he was," Shelton told PEOPLE. "He has a song called 'What I'd Say' that really takes me back. I'd listen to that thing a million times, just by myself in my studio apartment in Nashville, just trying to sing that. I wanted to sing like him, because I knew if I could, I maybe could make it one day."

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Rick Diamond