Robert Hunter, the poet / writer who penned a great number of the most beloved Grateful Dead compositions, has passed away at the age of 78. No official cause of death was given in the statement provided to Rolling Stone.
“It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night,” Hunter’s family announced 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.”
Phil Lesh shared a statement about his friend’s passing you can read below.
I am heartbroken. Last night we lost Robert Hunter. As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the Grateful Dead. His lyrics, ranging from old border ballads to urban legend, western narratives and beyond, brought into sharp focus what was implicit in our music. A case in point is “Box of Rain” – he heard so deeply what my feelings were when I composed the music, feelings I didn’t know I had until I read his lyrics. The lyrics he wrote for Jerry likewise tapped into the very essence of Jerry’s heart and soul – drawing forth the music living there. Significantly, the very first lyric Robert wrote for us was “Dark Star”, which became the definitive GD exploratory vehicle.
So fare thee well, rh, when my time comes I’ll be looking for you and Jer out there in the transitive nightfall of diamonds.
On a message via the official Grateful Dead channels, David Lemieux wrote the following note…
Fare you well, Mr. Hunter. We love you more than words can tell…
For a man who provided us with so many meaningful words, the soundtrack to our lives, he’s left us a bit speechless with his passing. For more than 50 years, since his first lyrical contributions to the Grateful Dead in 1967, Robert Hunter has been just as integral a part of the legacy of the Grateful Dead as those who recorded the music to accompany his words, those who walked out on stage to bring his words to life. More than 2,000 times 1967-1995, these six (or five or seven) proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow, plus countless thousands of times since then by other performers, the Grateful Dead have brought Hunter’s words to life in front of all of us as their witness. Not a single day has gone by since 1984 that Hunter’s words haven’t been a part of my world; I’ve heard Jerry, Bob and others sing his words literally every day for the past 35 years.
When the final Fare Thee Well show ended in Chicago in 2015, Mickey Hart famously sent us on our way by asking us to “please, be kind,” and that lesson along with its lyrical brethren written by Hunter, “ain’t no time to hate,” and “are you kind?” are some of the truest words to live by. No matter what meaning, solace, lesson you find in Hunter’s lyrics, please go out and do some good with them.
Bill Kreutzmann shared a long message on his social network that’s definitely worth a full read.
Robert Hunter wrote the soundtrack to my life; his words are with me always. They’ve become part of my daily thought process, world view, philosophy…they are the closest thing I have to prayers. Many of you can say this too and it is something we all share.
He was the Grateful Dead’s lyricist but he also was the lyricist for my band 7 Walkers. He loved the music and he told me that when he played the record for the first time, he turned it up all the way and then laid down in bed to listen. Halfway through, his speakers came crashing down, almost hitting his head. He liked that. In fact, telling me about it was his form of a compliment.
When I first formed 7 Walkers, I had called him up asking for a dozen songs and I told him they had to somehow reflect New Orleans or have cajun, creole, voodoo influences. He took that direction to heart and when he returned with words, I asked how he got so many of the details right — stuff you would’ve only known about if you lived in New Orleans. But Bob never lived in New Orleans. He just said, “Oh, well, I read a lot.” This just goes to show that his sorcery skills were no joke.
I’m bringing up his collaboration with 7 Walkers because it gave me one more time to work with Bob, this time one-on-one. We had one major argument over changing one word, from “Seattle” to “New Orleans.” He was very protective over every single word; he’d fight you over syllables.
The other time I worked with him outside the Dead was on Jerry’s solo album, Garcia. Hunter was inside the control room, writing lyrics as we played music. “The Wheel” came out of that. “Sugaree,” too. “Bird Song.” “Deal!!” Songs I still play today and that many of us can recite by heart — I know I sure can.
But there’s always one thing I think of first, and that I keep coming back to, when looking back on our friendship: Bob was by my side for a particular day, seemingly lifetimes ago, that would forever alter my adventure on this planet — my first acid trip. You never forget your first, and Bob was there with me on that journey, complete with us watching the garbage trucks go by in the morning, after being up all night, convinced they were actually aliens or other fantastical things.
I will always cherish my many wonderful memories of Robert Hunter and I am sad that there won’t be any new ones. I cried when I heard the news and I’ve spent all day reflecting. And all my thoughts lead me to this: Robert Hunter is gone, but his words will live on forever. How many people can we say that about? Not many. He was a rare bird and a gift to us all.
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone, may the four winds blow him safely home.
Mickey Hart also shared a message.
We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably
This is such a tragic and horribly sad day for Bob’s family, and for all of us who were lucky to enough to hear and play his words
There was nobody like Bob Hunter, and there never will be
A visionary wordsmith extraordinaire
He explained the unexplainable and the words struck deep
The characters that inhabited his world explained so much and revealed multi-layers of emotions
He spun the stories, and he now rides a carpet headed straight to Jerry
The Grateful Dead was his canvas and together we made magic
Spin two of his best loved lyrical compositions below…
RIP Robert Hunter. One of the all-time great lyricists. He had the rare ability to write folk-style lyrics in a way that actually sounded like they were already 100 years old. These lyrics (from "Brokedown Palace") come immediately to mind as some of his most gorgeous. pic.twitter.com/9QZ9MKlMGG
— Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) September 24, 2019
I don't think there have been many lyricists that have meant more to me than Robert Hunter. His elliptical storytelling, his trickster wit, his allusive brilliance, all conspired to make his one of the singular voices in pop music. RIP.
— Stuart Henderson (@henderstu) September 24, 2019