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Levon Helm, soul of The Band, in final stages of cancer

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Tue April 17, 2012
In 2010, The Band's Levon Helm turns his home into an intimate concert.
In 2010, The Band's Levon Helm turns his home into an intimate concert.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • His family asks for prayers as Helm, 71, "makes his way through this part of his journey"
  • He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998
  • The Band drummer rose to fame in the late 1960s and 1970s; fell on hard times in 1990s

(CNN) -- Levon Helm, drummer and backbone of The Band, is in the final stages of cancer, his family said Tuesday.

"Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey," his wife, Sandy, and daughter Amy wrote in a message posted to the artist's website.

"Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration ... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage," they said.

During an induction speech Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Helm's former bandmate Robbie Robertson offered his "prayers and love" for the drummer.

Born in Elaine, Arkansas, in 1940, the son of a cotton farmer, Helm rose to fame in the late 1960s and 1970s as a member of The Band, a folk rock group.

His soulful, drawling vocals highlighted many of the group's hit recordings, such as "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and "Up on Cripple Creek."

Helm, 71, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. He fell on hard times as cancer took his voice and medical bills threatened his house.

"You got to pick one -- pay your medical bills or pay the mortgage. Most people can't do both, and I'm not different," he told CNN in 2010.

So The Barn, as the residence is known around Helm's adopted hometown of Woodstock, New York, became the setting for what he called a "last celebration."

Not quite. Instead, The Barn became the center of an unlikely and unrivaled rock 'n' roll revival.

It was there that Helm regularly hosted the Midnight Ramble, weekly concerts that attracted sell-out crowds and all-star support from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen.

The result not only paid the bills but also led to a creative resurgence for Helm, with his collaborations producing back-to-back Grammy-winning albums: 2007's "Dirt Farmer" and 2009's "Electric Dirt."

"If I had my way about it, we'd probably do it every night," Helm said. "I never get tired of it."

CNN's John Branch and Todd Leopold contributed to this report.

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