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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Country music great Ferlin Husky, a pioneer in both the hard-twang Bakersfield and lushly produced Nashville sounds who scored his biggest hit with the ballad "Gone," died on Thursday at age 85.
"Gone," which spent 10 weeks at the top of the country charts in 1957 and reached No. 4 as a pop hit, was easily the most requested song of Husky's half-century-plus career as a performer.
The Flat River, Missouri, native died at his daughter's home in Westmoreland, Tennessee, about an hour north of Nashville. He had a history of heart problems and most recently had been hospitalized for congestive heart failure.
It had been a long decline, and Husky surprised many when he attended the ceremony for his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame last May.
He showed up connected to an oxygen tank -- he jokingly referred to it as his "own airline" at the ceremonies -- and was helped to his feet so his old friend Charley Pride could hang his Hall of Fame Medallion around his neck.
"I want to thank everybody who had anything to do with bringing me into this group, the people I've admired since I was a little child," he said during the ceremony.
But at the time, the country singer reckoned he would never make it into the Hall because voters might have forgotten him.
"Some of the people that vote are so young...I figured they thought Ferlin Husky was some kind of a disease," he told the Tennessean country music writer Peter Cooper.
At the height of his career, in the 1950s and '60s, Husky was considered unmatched as a country music showman.
"There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky," fellow star Merle Haggard once said of him. "He was the big live act of the day. A great entertainer."
Other hits besides "Gone" included his version of the gospel song "Wings of a Dove," which spent 10 weeks at the top of the country charts in 1960. His last No. 1, "Wings," spent nine months on the country charts and also was a pop hit.
Husky was best known for being in the vocal vanguard of the Nashville sound, a smooth, richly textured form of country music developed by producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley in an attempt to expand the music's appeal.
Husky's 1957 version of "Gone" was one of the recordings "considered to be the birth of the Nashville sound," said country historian Eddie Stubbs, host of the Grand Ole Opry radio program.
An earlier version of "Gone" had been cut by Husky in 1952 in California, where he settled for a time after World War Two and recorded under the name of Terry Preston, becoming a pioneering force in the raw-edged Bakersfield sound.
"The birth of the bright, treble, twang-sound guitar that so many people associate with the Bakersfield sound and with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard can be traced back to Ferlin Husky," said Stubbs, noting that Husky played lead guitar on Tommy Collins' "You Gotta Have a License" in the early 1950s.
In addition to his hits as Preston and Husky, the musician also performed under comic alter-ego, Simon Crum, who had his own contract and hits.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Bob Tourtellotte