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Grateful Dead's 'visionary wordsmith' Robert Hunter dies aged 78

Robert Hunter at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 46th Annual Induction & Awards in 2015 © Getty

Lyricist Robert Hunter, who wrote the words for many of the Grateful Dead’s signature songs, has died aged 78.

Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally confirmed that Hunter passed away on Monday (23rd September) at his home in North California with his wife, Maureen, at his side. A cause of death hasn’t been revealed by the family.

Hunter wrote the lyrics for many defining Grateful Dead anthems including ‘Dark Star’, ‘Ripple’, ‘Truckin'’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’, and ‘Terrapin Station’.

Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Mickey Hart have both paid poignant tribute to Hunter since the news of his death emerged.  

Phil Lesh wrote on Facebook:

“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.”

I am heartbroken. Last night we lost Robert Hunter. As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the...

Posted by Phil Lesh on Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Also writing on Facebook, Mickey Hart said:

“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.”

We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably This is such a tragic and horribly sad day for Bob’s family, and...

Posted by Mickey Hart on Tuesday, September 24, 2019


The family of late Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995, also paid homage to Hunter.

They said: “Robert Hunter is the man who always had the words to say for Jerry, so it is incredibly difficult to find the words to express the grief that our family and the entire Grateful Dead community are feeling at this moment. He has filled our lives with the words we share in song, in friendship, in love and now in grief. Our deepest condolences to the Hunter family and to our entire community.”

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