Robert Hunter, the lyricist, poet and mystical seeker who wrote some of the most beloved songs by the Grateful Dead, has died at age 78. Hunter's family announced his death in a statement, 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, Calif., Hunter was one of the key figures in the burgeoning West Coast psychedelic rock 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 Dead, Garcia invited him to contribute lyrics to the band's mind-expanding albums beginning with 1969's Aoxomoxoa. His lyrics were so key to the band's musical identity that Hunter was inducted with the performing members -- past and present -- when the group was ushered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.