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Grateful Dead's 'Visionary' Lyricist Dead at 78

'There was nobody like Bob Hunter and there never will be'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 25, 2019 2:21 AM CDT
Updated Sep 25, 2019 5:03 AM CDT
This June 18, 2015 photo shows Robert Hunter at the 46th Annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame Induction and Awards Gala in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
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(Newser) – Robert Hunter, the man behind the poetic and mystical words for many of the Grateful Dead's finest songs, has died at age 78. Hunter died Monday at his northern California home with his wife, Maureen, at his side, former Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally tells the AP. The family did not release a cause of death. "We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably," Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart said, adding the lyricist was "a visionary wordsmith extraordinaire." Although proficient on a number of instruments including guitar, violin, cello, and trumpet, Hunter never appeared on stage with the Grateful Dead during the group's 30-year run, which ended with the 1995 death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, his principal songwriting partner. When he did attend the group's concerts, he was content to either stand to the side of the stage or, better yet, sit anonymously in the audience.

It was in the latter location, he told the AP in 2006, that he received his greatest songwriting compliment, from a man who had no idea who he was. "He turned to me during 'Cumberland Blues' and said, 'I wonder what the guy who wrote that song a hundred years ago would think if he knew the Grateful Dead was doing it,'" he recalled, referencing the colorful tale of hardscrabble American miners. Although the man who spoke to him couldn't know it, he had perfectly captured Hunter's songwriting brilliance: the ability to craft lyrics that sounded so timeless that listeners were certain they had heard them before. "There was nobody like Bob Hunter and there never will be," Hart says. "He explained the unexplainable and the words struck deep." Hunter and Garcia were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.

(Read more Grateful Dead stories.)

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