CNN Showbiz

Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia dead at 53

From CNN Correspondent Mark Scheerer
August 9,1995

(CNN) -- Jerry Garcia, the 53-year-old guitarist and co-founder of the Grateful Dead, died today at a Northern California residential drug treatment center. The cause, according to authorities, was a heart attack.

The Grateful Dead blended blues, rock, country and folk music with a dash of the psychedelic sound of the sixties counter-culture that grew out of their home base of San Francisco. Over three decades, the dead became one of the most popular concert draws in the world.

Songs like "Truckin'," "Casey Jones," and "Friend of the Devil" were staples of album rock radio, yet the Grateful Dead only had one top ten hit, "Touch of Gray," in 1987.

Nonetheless, they became a cultural phenomenon and almost a way of life for their fans, known as "Deadheads." Some followed them around the country, and many can boast of seeing hundreds of concerts. As one fan remembered, "You wanted to go to every show because you didn't know what would happen next. The records didn't necessarily convey that, but the live shows did."

A veteran of the psychedelic sixties, Garcia battled drug addiction and later poor health, including diabetes, which culminated in a diabetic coma in 1986. After exhaustion sent him to the hospital in 1991, he stopped smoking and shed some weight with a personal trainer.

The Dead used their global influence to advance environmental concerns like saving the rainforest as well as other charitable causes. As the band's patriarch, Garcia became a larger-than-life figure to his fans. Those close to him knew him as a sensitive man with a spiritual side. As Garcia put it, "I love great art, poetry, all the things that enrich human life are things that I like. Also, there's tons of music that I love. I mean I don't really think I'm gonna be able to get around to everything that I potentially like in this lifetime."

Away from the Grateful Dead, Garcia turned out solo albums and paintings, some of which were re-created in a line of neckties. Onstage, where the Grateful Dead launched extended jams, Garcia's guitar solos sent Deadheads into ecstatic dances and trances. But Garcia remained humble. "I'd like to learn how to play the guitar before I die, yeah, that'd be good."

On July 9 in Chicago, Jerry Garcia played his last concert fronting the Grateful Dead. Will his passing mean the end of the band, as well? The answer remains to be seen, but Garcia's music will live forever in the hearts and souls of his fans.

Notable Quotes

Garcia on the "enrichment of human life" -- 165k AIFF sound file

Carlos Santana remembering Jerry -- 413k AIFF sound file.

Warren Zevon's comments on Jerry's talents -- 446k AIFF sound file.

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