Vickie Salas, described in a press release as the "longtime companion" of country singer-songwriter "Whisperin' Bill" Anderson, has died. Salas passed away early Wednesday morning (Jan. 16), after battling cancer; she was 66 years old.

Anderson and Salas first met, he says in a Facebook post, when she was 19 and married to his guitar player. When the couple divorced, Anderson says, Salas moved back to Michigan, her home state, and then got married again and spent 17 years in Washington, DC.

"We didn't stay in touch, but when that marriage collapsed, she moved back to Tennessee to be near her two sons. The day she got to town, my picture was on the front page of our local morning newspaper," Anderson recalls. "She saw it, and it prompted her to call me and ask how my former wife, Becky, and I were doing. She did not know that we, too, had gone our separate ways 10 years earlier."

After a long talk, Anderson and Salas planned to get together for dinner -- "and that was almost 12 very short and very wonderful years ago," he says. "We never married, we never lived together, but she became my everything from that moment forward."

Salas, who worked as the head tailor at a Nashville-area men's clothing store, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but tumors appeared in her lungs and on her liver. Despite continuing treatments, she and Anderson were told on New Year's Eve that she was too weak to handle the drugs' side effects, and that surgery was not an option. In early January, he says, she began receiving hospice care.

"It wasn't supposed to be this way. She was 15 years younger than me. The roles were supposed to have been reversed. She was supposed to be sitting at the side of MY bed feeding ME soup and ice cream, not the other way around," Anderson reflects. "I have a lot of faith and I believe God's hand is in everything that happens in this old world, BUT ... The first thing I'm going to do when I get to Heaven is ask Him to explain this one to me. Because right now, I just don't understand."

A September 2018 post on Anderson's official website shows Salas backstage with Anderson at the Ryman Auditorium on the night the Nashville Songwriters Association International presented him with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting. In the post, Anderson describes Salas as "my friend," but a representative for the singer -- who has been married and divorced twice -- confirms that Salas was his long-term girlfriend. The Boot has reached out to Anderson's team for more information about her.

"She was the kindest, gentlest, classiest, most compassionate, giving and loving person I have every known," Anderson writes on Facebook. "Rest In Peace my sweet, wonderful, beautiful, and oh so special lady. I will miss you forever."

Salas' funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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