Country music has lost one of its elder statesmen. Grand Ole Opry legend Little Jimmy Dickens has passed away at the age of 94.

According to a statement from his publicist, Dickens died of cardiac arrest on Friday afternoon (Jan. 2) at a Nashville area hospital.

"The Grand Ole Opry did not have a better friend than Little Jimmy Dickens,” Opry Vice President and General Manager Pete Fisher says. “He loved the audience and his Opry family, and all of us loved him back. He was a one-of-kind entertainer and a great soul whose spirit will live on for years to come."

Born James Cecil Dickens on Dec. 19, 1920 in Bolt, W. Va., Dickens was the oldest of 13 children. He started his musical career in the late '30s, when he began performing on a local radio station while attending West Virginia University. He quit school to pursue music full-time, traveling the country to perform at various radio stations.

It was at one of those stations that Roy Acuff heard Dickens perform, and he introduced him to executives from Columbia Records and officials from the Grand Ole Opry. Dickens signed with Columbia and joined the Opry in 1948, where he would become a legend over decades of frequent appearances.

Dickens carved a unique career for himself via a series of humorous novelty songs, including 'Country Boy,' 'A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,' 'I'm Little But I'm Loud' and 'Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait).' In 1964 he became the first country artist to literally circle the planet while on a world tour, and he became a fixture on the talk show circuit. In 1965 he scored his biggest career hit, 'May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose,' which topped the country charts and crossed over to reach No. 15 on the pop charts. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983.

In his later years Dickens became the oldest living member of the Opry, where he continued to perform well into his 90s. He became close friends with Brad Paisley and appeared in several of his humorous videos, and in skits during the CMA Awards after Paisley began hosting with Carrie Underwood, often making fun of his diminutive 4'11" stature.

In June of 2013 Dickens announced that he would undergo radiation for a pre-cancerous condition on his vocal cords. He returned to the Opry stage that September, and continued to perform there until the last weeks of his life, making his final appearance on the hallowed stage on Dec. 20 at a special show celebrating his 94th birthday.

The beloved entertainer entered the hospital on Christmas Day after suffering a stroke. He is survived by his wife, Mona, and daughters Pamela Detert and Lisa King. Funeral arrangements have not been announced. A public visitation and public service are being planned.

See Little Jimmy Dickens Through the Years

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