Robert Hunter, Longtime Grateful Dead Lyricist, Dies at 78 as Bandmates Pay Tribute
Robert Hunter, a longtime collaborator and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, has died. He was 78.
The singer-songwriter died on Monday, according to Rolling Stone. His cause of death was not provided.
“It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night,” Hunter’s family shared in a statement with the outlet on Tuesday. “He died peacefully at home in his bed, surrounded by love. His wife Maureen was by his side holding his hand.”
“For his fans that have loved and supported him all these years, take comfort in knowing that his words are all around us, and in that way his is never truly gone,” the statement continued. “In this time of grief please celebrate him the way you all know how, by being together and listening to the music. Let there be songs to fill the air.”
Hunter is best known for crafting the lyrics to Grateful Dead classics like “Dark Star,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Box of Rain,” “Ripple,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “Touch of Grey.” He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994 along with Grateful Dead band members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Tom Constanten, Donna Jean Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan, Brent Mydland and Vince Welnick.
David Lemieux, the Grateful Dead’s longtime audiovisual archivist, shared a statement on the band’s official website and Facebook page on Tuesday, writing, “Fare you well, Mr. Hunter. We love you more than words can tell…”
“For a man who provided us with so many meaningful words, the soundtrack to our lives, he’s left us a bit speechless with his passing,” he continued. “For more than 50 years, since his first lyrical contributions to the Grateful Dead in 1967, Robert Hunter has been just as integral a part of the legacy of the Grateful Dead as those who recorded the music to accompany his words, those who walked out on stage to bring his words to life. More than 2,000 times 1967-1995, these six (or five or seven) proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow, plus countless thousands of times since then by other performers, the Grateful Dead have brought Hunter’s words to life in front of all of us as their witness. Not a single day has gone by since 1984 that Hunter’s words haven’t been a part of my world; I’ve heard Jerry, Bob and others sing his words literally every day for the past 35 years.”
“When the final Fare Thee Well show ended in Chicago in 2015, Mickey Hart famously sent us on our way by asking us to ‘please, be kind,’ and that lesson along with its lyrical brethren written by Hunter, ‘ain’t no time to hate,’ and ‘are you kind?’ are some of the truest words to live by,” he concluded. “No matter what meaning, solace, lesson you find in Hunter’s lyrics, please go out and do some good with them.”
Hunter’s bandmates were quick to pay tribute to their fallen brother, as Mickey Hart described the seminal role the lyricist played in the Grateful Dead.
“We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably. This is such a tragic and horribly sad day for Bob’s family, and for all of us who were lucky to enough to hear and play his words,” Hart wrote. “There was nobody like Bob Hunter, and there never will be. A visionary wordsmith extraordinaire. He explained the unexplainable and the words struck deep. The characters that inhabited his world explained so much and revealed multi-layers of emotions. He spun the stories, and he now rides a carpet headed straight to Jerry. The Grateful Dead was his canvas and together we made magic.”
“If I’m gonna count my blessings, Robert Hunter and his imagination are gonna be up at the top of that list,” Bob Weir captioned a photo of Hunter with Jerry Garcia. “I think I can speak for a lot of people In saying that. And then there’s the added blessing that he left us with plenty to go forward with…”
Hunter was born Robert Burns in 1941 in California. He met Garcia in 1961 after the late guitarist asked him to play in a jug band, an offer which Hunter passed on. According to Rolling Stone, Hunter took part in early LSD experiments while at Stanford and dabbled in Scientology before leaving for the Southwest, where he battled drug issues. While there, he sent several lyrics to the Grateful Dead, who formed in 1965 and were in San Francisco at the time, before moving to the Bay Area to reunite with Garcia.
In 1967, Hunter officially joined the Grateful Dead as a non-performing member.
After the dissolution of the Grateful Dead in 1995, Hunter successfully continued collaborating with artists, most notably with Bob Dylan on all but one song on his 2009 album, Together Through Life.
Hunter is survived by his wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1982.