Troy Gentry, of the country duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed in a New Jersey helicopter crash Friday just before the group was set to perform. He was 50.
The band confirmed his death in the crash in Medford, N.J. at about 1 p.m. ET.
The band's tweet said Gentry's family thanked fans for "kind thoughts and prayers" and asked for privacy.
Police got a call of a helicopter that was in distress, said Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County prosecutor's office. The helicopter crashed as emergency crews arrived at the scene.
Crews removed Gentry, who was a passenger, from the wreckage, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital, Medford police Chief Richard Meder told the Associated Press.
The crews worked for hours to remove the body of pilot James Evan Robinson from the mangled wreckage. Robinson had been living in Medford but was originally from Meigs, Ga.
Members of the group's band, including the other half of the duo, Eddie Montgomery, were at the airport when the helicopter crashed, Meder said. They were taken to the hospital to see Gentry, he said.
The helicopter had taken off from the Flying W Airport but went into distress and was approaching the airport to land when it crashed, Meder said. The purpose of the helicopter trip wasn't known.
The National Transportation Safety Board was headed to the crash scene.
TV stations tweeted pictures of the crash scene.
Montgomery Gentry had been a duo for more than two decades, starting out on a bar stage in Lexington, Ky., and eventually becoming members of the Grand Ole Opry. They broke into the country scene in 1999 with hit Hillbilly Shoes and won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 2000. The duo went on to have hits including My Town, Something to Be Proud Of, Where I Come From and Gone. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.
Gentry was born in Lexington, but called Nashville home, according to The Tennessean.
Gentry was a fan of Kentucky basketball and was dedicated to his wife, Angie, and their daughter, Kaylee. But the duo’s longtime publicist, Craig Campbell, told The Tennessean what defined Gentry professionally is his admiration for country music fans.
“One of the greatest things about those guys is he and (Montgomery) loved their fans,” Campbell explained. “Everybody says that, but everything they did was for their fans.”
Over the course of the duo’s career, Montgomery Gentry released 11 albums, including a greatest-hits package and an album exclusively released at Cracker Barrel. They charted at least five No. 1 songs, including Roll with Me and Lucky Man.
Montgomery Gentry’s music was far-reaching, with acclaimed poet Maya Angelou inviting the duo to open for her when she played the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in 2007. Their song Some People Change was among her favorites, and she commented that, although the duo was much different from her musically, they were still her "sons."
On the duo's website, Gentry said their popularity was due to the "chemistry" between Gentry and Montgomery.
"It's a chemistry that's worked for years," Gentry said. "We have two separate singing styles that when they come together, they're very identifiable. It doesn't get old or get sterile. The back and forth between our vocals definitely keeps you listening and keeps you interested in the song."
Gentry’s recent years were marked with loss and struggle. In 2014, he grieved the death of his brother, Keith. Their father, Lloyd Gentry, just died Aug. 13.
Two years ago, the 19-year-old son of Montgomery died suddenly in an unspecified accident.
Gentry was also by Montgomery’s side as he battled prostate cancer in 2010. That experience gave him insight and courage a few years later when his wife, Angie McClure Gentry, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was eventually declared cancer-free in 2015.
"Angie and I are pretty deeply faithful people,” he told The Tennessean that year.
There were career setbacks, as well. Gentry’s image never fully recovered after a 2004 hunting incident, in which he used a bow and arrow to kill a captive bear in a 3-acre private enclosure. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. In 2010, he faced a new round of criticism after an animal-rights group posted video of the incident. In a public statement, Gentry apologized for “the unethical way the bear was taken.”
“I have learned my lesson, and have paid a huge price, both personally and professionally. Since this happened, I know in my heart that I am a different and better person.”
That same year, Montgomery Gentry was recognized for their charitable work by the Academy of Country Music. They earned the organization’s humanitarian award for their work with the U.S. military, the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee and St. Jude's Research Hospital, among others.
The duo’s most recent album, Folks Like Us, was released in 2015.
In 2013, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, the singers said that after 20 years together, they were still having fun.
"I reckon we're like a married couple, sort of," Montgomery said. "You hear horror stories all the time about duos, but we've always just been friends having fun and making music."
Contributing: The Associated Press