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R.I.P. Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead lyricist and poet, dead at 78

on September 24, 2019, 3:22pm

Poet and lyricist Robert Hunter, best known for his collaborations with the Grateful Dead, has died. He was 78 years old when he passed away on Monday evening.

Hunter co-wrote a number of the Dead’s most memorable songs, including “Dark Star”, “Touch of Grey”, “Box of Rain”, and many more.

As first reported by Rolling Stone, Hunter’s family released a statement confirming his passing:

“It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night. 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.  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.”

As of now, no cause of death has been provided.

The great-grandson of the Romantic poet Robert Burns, Robert Hunter was born in 1941 in Oceania, California. He met Jerry Garcia in 1961, and the pair performed together in a handful of bluegrass projects. Later in the decade, he attended Stanford, where he became one of the earliest volunteer test subjects to take psychedelic drugs in the controversial MK-Ultra program funded by the CIA. It was on acid that he wrote his first lyrics for the Grateful Dead, the “China Cat Sunflower”/”The Eleven” suite.

While battling drug issues, he continued writing lyrics and sending them to Garcia. In the fall of 1967, he relocated to the Bay Area and was witness to one of the Grateful Dead’s earliest shows. Hunter began writing words to accompany the band’s music, the first of which became “Dark Star” and led to him officially joining the group as a lyricist. He stayed with the Dead until Garcia’s death in 1995.

Hunter became the only non-performer ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a band when the Grateful Dead were admitted in 1994. In 2015, Hunter and Jerry Garcia were together inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Hunter also had a prolific solo career, releasing 12 live and studio albums. Additionally, he worked alongside a number of other artists, including Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. In 1988, Hunter penned two songs for Bob Dylan’s Down in the Groove, and he co-wrote almost the entirety of Dylan’s 2009 album, Together Through Life. Of Dylan, Hunter once said, “He’s the only guy I work with who I give the liberty to change things. After all, he is who he is.”

He is survived by his wife Maureen, whom he married in 1982.

Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux has also issued a statement regarding Hunter’s death via the band’s official Facebook page. “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,” Lemieux wrote in the tribute post.

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