RIP Robert Hunter — Grateful Dead Lyricist Dead At 78

He was behind the lyrics for "Uncle John's Band" and "Touch of Gray."

How Did Robert Hunter Die? New Details On Death Of Grateful Dead Lyricist At 78 Instagram

One of the most prolific lyricists of all time has passed away. Robert Hunter, who wrote many of the lyrics for the Grateful Dead's most famous songs died this week surrounded by his family. The musical icon was 78. Hunter was known for writing the dreamy, poetic lyrics for longs like "Uncle John's Band" and "Ripple" as well as collaborating with musicians such as Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. He also had a career as a solo performer. 


How did Robert Hunter die? Read on for all the details. 

1. Family announces his passing

On Tuesday morning, Hunter's family released a statement announcing that he had passed away the night before. “It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night,” the statement said. “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.”


The family did not announce a cause of death but in 2013, he told fans that he was touring again to pay medical bills. A year before he had had a spinal abscess and the costs mounted up. The tour helped pay his bills. 

2. Early days with Jerry

Rolling Stone notes that Hunter met Jerry Garcia when the two were still teenagers. They played in a couple of small bands together before Hunter moved on to focus on writing. He went to Stanford but eventually left the Bay Area to deal with addiction struggles. He continued to write and stayed in touch with Garcia, sending him songs from where he was living in Arizona. Eventually, Garcia asked him to come back to the Bay Area and be the official lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Hunter took him up on the offer and they began working on the song "Dark Star," which would be a turning point for Hunter and the band. He recalls sitting in a park when a guy came up and offered him a hit of something. "I don’t remember if I took it or not, but I said, ‘I’m writing the second verse for the song called ‘Dark Star’ for the Grateful Dead — remember that,'” Hunter recalled. “I had a prescience about the whole thing at that point. Once I started believing in that band, I thought, we’re going to go the distance.”



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Hunter and Garcia


3. Creating iconic lyrics

Over the years Hunter would work with the band on some of the greatest songs of all time. His works include "Casey Jones," "Friend of the Devil" and "Scarlett Begonia." He told the New York Times that he sometimes based lyrics off the instrumentals the band was working on and sometimes just sent Garcia pages of lyrics. “I would give him a stack of songs and he’d say, ‘Oh, God, Hunter! Not again!’” he said. “He’d throw away what he didn’t like. I’d like to have some of the stuff he tossed out.”

When asked what his favorite lyric was, he told Rolling Stone, that it was a line from "Ripple:" “Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.” His words were central to the power of the Dead's music. "As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the Grateful Dead," Dead bassist Phil Lesh told Billboard.

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4. The death of Jerry Garcia

Hunter and Garcia were collaborators and friends until Garcia's death in 1995. In a 2013 interview with Reuters, he recalled his last conversation with Mr. Garcia, who died in 1995. “He said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that your songs never stuck in my throat,’” Hunter remembered.



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Robert Hunter died this week at 78.

5. Solo performing career

In addition to writing, Hunter performed as a solo act and had a couple of successful albums. He continued to perform in recent years, according to the New York Times, sometimes playing Dead songs for the crowd. “There’s nothing to compare to that, being up on stage and doing ‘Ripple’ in front of people who’ve grown up with that song,” he said. “They love it, and I’m able to give it to them as close to the source as you’re going to get.”


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6. Co-writing with Dylan

After the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, Hunter worked with other musicians. Rolling Stone reports that he wrote many of the lyrics for Bob Dylan's 2009 album Together Through Life. “He’s got a way with words and I do too,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “We both write a different type of song than what passes today for songwriting.” Hunter said of that partnership,  “He’s the only guy I work with who I give the liberty to change things. After all, he is who he is.”

Robert Hunter is survived by his family and many fans.


Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.