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Robert Hunter, the lyricist, poet and mystical seeker who wrote some of the most beloved songs by The Grateful Dead, has died. He was 78.
Hunter’s family announced his death in a statement Tuesday, writing, “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.” No cause of death was available at press time.
“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,” the statement continued, ending with one of the most iconic lines to flow from Hunter’s verdant mind from the Dead ballad “Ripple”: “Let there be songs to fill the air.”
Born Robert Burns on June 23, 1941, in Arroyo Grande, California, Hunter was one of the key figures in the burgeoning West Coast hippie movement, befriending future Dead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia via their mutual love of bluegrass and jug band music and volunteering to be one of the subjects at Stanford University’s legendary psychedelic testing lab. Though Hunter did not perform with The Grateful Dead, Garcia invited him to contribute lyrics to the band’s mind-expanding albums, beginning with 1969’s Aoxomoxoa.
If you’ve ever seen or uttered the phrase “what a long strange trip it’s been” (from “Truckin'”), you have Hunter to thank for it. And while he performed and recorded on his own over the years, the press-shy poet was best known for writing the lyrics to such classic Dead tracks as “Uncle John’s Band,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Casey Jones,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Box of Rain,” “Wharf Rat” and The Grateful Dead’s late-period hit, 1987’s “Touch of Grey,” most of them sung by musical soulmate Garcia.
Hunter’s lyrics often read like mystical poetry, telling ambitious tales of mythical American figures searching for an elusive truth behind the mystery of life. But sometimes they also just told a story of opening your eyes to the wonder of the universe all around us. “Look out of any window/ Any morning, any evening, any day/ Maybe the sun is shining/ Birds are winging or/ Rain is falling from a heavy sky/ What do you want me to do/ To do for you to see you through?” he wrote in “Box of Rain.”
“For this is all a dream we dreamed/ One afternoon long ago.”
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.
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