"Earl was my all-time favorite singer, hero and my friend."
Blake Shelton has lost a friend and a hero.
On Wednesday, the 42-year-old country crooner paid tribute to singer Earl Thomas Conley, who died in Nashville, Tennessee, after being placed in hospice care. He was 77.
"My heart is absolutely destroyed today... I’m sad to report that Earl Thomas Conley passed away very early this morning," Shelton tweeted along with a photo of him and Conley performing. "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..."
Shelton's girlfriend, Gwen Stefani, also honored the late country music singer by sharing the same photo on Instagram, along with her own heartfelt message. "Blake Shelton, thank u for introducing me to this beautiful artist #iloveusomuch #learningsomuchfromyou - RIP Earl."
Conley -- who was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1941 -- was a major influence on country music, with 18 No. 1 hits including '80s songs "Holding Her and Loving You," "What I'd Say" and "Right From the Start."
"We are heartbroken," Carol Scates, Conley's partner of 20 years, told CNN. "The light has dimmed but his light will shine on in his music."
Scates added, "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."