Clifford Garcia learned of the death of his younger brother, Grateful Dead godfather and guitarist Jerry Garcia, while having breakfast at a Denny’s restaurant in Santa Cruz, Calif. He was sitting next to a tableful of those beyond-avid fans who, in the course of the band’s three decades on the road, have become known as Deadheads. Over endless cups of coffee, they were crying, trying to console each other. Jerry was gone, they were saying. Jerry was so great. Clifford went to the pay phone and tried calling the Dead’s office. When all the lines were tied up, “I realized it was probably true,” he said. Then, “I went back to the table and just listened to these kids, these Deadheads, for 45 minutes.”
It’s no surprise that the death of Garcia—of a heart attack, at 53—provoked elaborate displays of grief from hordes of his tie-dyed fans. But millions who wouldn’t ordinarily be counted among the Grateful faithful were touched too. Stockbrokers. Politicians (Sen. Patrick Leahy recalled taking Garcia to the Senate Dining Room as his guest). Lithuanian athletes. Teenagers who think of psychedelia as a style, and not a path to heightened consciousness. In ways obvious or tangential—as a musician, bemused ’60s’ icon, guerrilla entrepreneur or shambling philosopher—Jerry Garcia made people happier.
He was, as his concerned family and friends had been aware for years, all too human. With a guitar in hand, playing the music he loved, Garcia seemed like a wise, grinning Buddha. Privately, he struggled for much of his adult life with drug problems. In the end, his weakened heart gave out.
Wherever Jerry Garcia is now, he’s probably dumbfounded by all the hoopla. Despite recognition from his peers, he was modest about his talent and amazed by the Grateful Dead’s 30-year ride. “I feel like we’ve been getting away with something,” he once said, “ever since there were more people in the audience than there were onstage.”