Robert Hunter, who wrote lyrics for many of the most indelible songs by the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia, died Monday night at age 78.
“It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night,” Hunter’s family wrote in a statement. “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.”
In 1941, Hunter was born Robert Burns in California, and he met Garcia in the early ’60s; around the same time, Hunter underwent paid tests of substances including LSD and psilocybin at Stanford University, which he later credited with expanding his mind creatively.
Hunter frequently provided lyrics for Garcia’s compositions, and penned in a wide range of styles over his lifetime, from the cryptic psychedelia of “Dark Star” to the hard-scrabble gambling tales of “Loser” to the anthem of perseverance “Touch of Grey,” the 1987 tune that became the Dead’s most successful single, more than two decades into its career.
Given the Dead’s enduring live legacy, Hunter’s lyrics are among the most performed in rock history, constituting the bulk of performances not only by Grateful Dead, but also by modern offshoots, such as Dead & Company and Phil Lesh & Friends, and tribute acts, such as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
In fact, Hunter’s lyrics were so critical to the Dead that, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the band in 1994, it made the rare choice to induct Hunter as a non-performing member.
In 2015, Garcia and Hunter were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
In addition to his work with the Dead, Hunter wrote lyrics artists including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. He also recorded performed and recorded several studio albums of his own.