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Grateful Dead Writer And Lyricist Robert Hunter Dead At 78

Who Is Robert Hunter? Grateful Dead Writer And Lyricist Dead At 78

Though the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995 when Jerry Garcia passed away, the band was a major musical influence in the 1970s and 80s. The band now tours as Dead & Company, Phil Lesh and Friends, and others, and even John Mayer has gotten in on the Dead action.

Unfortunately, another influential collaborator has passed away, at 78 years old. Who is Robert Hunter?

Hunter is known as the lyricist and writer for most of the Grateful Dead’s songs. Said Rolling Stone, “Hunter was the literary counterpoint to the band’s musical experimentation. His lyrics — heard in everything from early Dead classics like ‘Dark Star’ and ‘China Cat Sunflower,’ and proceeding through ‘Uncle John’s Band,’ ‘Box of Rain,’ ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ and ‘Touch of Gray’ — were as much a part of the band as Jerry Garcia’s singing and guitar.


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Hunter’s family released a statement on September 23rd, announcing 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.”

David Lemieux, an audiovisual archivist and legacy manager for the Grateful Dead, released a statement of his own, saying a final farewell to a man who had such a big influence:

“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. 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. No matter what meaning, solace, lesson you find in Hunter’s lyrics, please go out and do some good with them.”

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A cause of death has not been revealed. However, in 2012, Hunter announced he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and a spinal abscess. In 2013, he went on a solo tour to pay for his medical bills. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hunter described his stay in the hospital, saying, “I couldn’t tell delusions from reality. I was calling my mom in the middle of the night saying they were going to execute me.”

His spinal abscess made it impossible for him to go hiking, which was one of his favorite things to do. “But I’m pleased to say that I don’t believe it’s old age that’s slowing me down, it’s the after-effects of the serious operation. So instead of walking now, I swim,” he added.

In 2015, Hunter was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Garcia. Although he never played on stage, he was still part of the band, according to its members, and was the only non-performing band member to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He attended the group’s concerts, but remained on the side of the stage or sat anonymously in the audience.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.