Fans began lining up overnight to pay their respects to George Jones.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
On Thursday, thousands of fans gathered at the Grand Ole Opry to say goodbye to country legend George Jones.
Jones died last Friday after being hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville since mid-April. He was 81.
Jones' widow, Nancy spoke publicly on Tuesday night outside the couple's Franklin home about the loss of her husband of 30 years.
"He was my best friend. I am going to be so lost because I'm so used to every morning you know, you have to hurry because he wants to go somewhere because he was so used to performing since he was 12 and he was so used to being able to just go and go and go," Nancy said. "It's going to be lonesome, but you know what? He's celebrating right now."
Wednesday night, stars gathered for a private wake ahead of Thursday's public memorial service.
Grand Ole Opry member Barbara Mandrell remembered the late country singer.
"I knew George Jones for a very long time. He was always the most loving and fun as well as being the most gifted, talented singer that has ever existed," she said.
Well wishers spent the night outside the Grand Ole Opry to secure a spot inside for Thursday's service.
More than 1,000 people arrived at the Grand Ole Opry by 7 a.m., while thousands of others were turned away as the Opry filled completely.
The first person in line, Jesse Whelchel, drove all the way from Houston, Texas. He said he secured his spot around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
"He was my hero, a country legend, and I loved him," exclaimed Whelchel.
Wanda Pirani of Indiana told Nashville's News 2 she had been to 77 George Jones concerts.
"I had to be here because I've seen him 77 times. [I] grew up with him and he was country music, and it died today when he died, and I had to come pay the respect," said Pirani.
The Grand Ole Opry's Web site crashed about 30 minutes into the service due to the large number of fans attempting to watch live coverage. Officials then granted news organizations to stream the service online.
"It's almost like being inside," beamed Paula Carlton of West Bend, Wisconsin after learning the service was available on sites such as WKRN.com. "This made my day after I could not in."
Sally Henhawk and Ally Hill drove 12 hours Wednesday night from Toronto, Canada
to be at the service.
"Just glad to be here and listening," they said as
they stood outside the Opry House.
"I always said no matter where I was in the world, I
would come to George's service when he passed," added Ally.
Thursday's service featured music from fellow country stars and include appearances by former First Lady Laura Bush, Governor Bill Haslam and former Arkansas Governor Bill Huckabee.
The public viewing for Jones began at 10 a.m. at the Grand Ole Opry House.