Jerry Garcia died 25 years ago: ‘There will never be anyone like him again’

FILE - In this Nov. 1, 1992, file photo, Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia performs in Oakland, Calif.
In this Nov. 1, 1992, file photo, Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia performs in Oakland, Calif. He died on Aug. 9, 1995, at a Bay Area drug treatment center.
(Associated Press)

The Grateful Dead’s iconic guitarist, singer and songwriter soared and plunged; his music still resonates


It was 25 years ago Sunday — Aug. 9, 1995 — that Jerry Garcia passed away in a Marin County drug treatment center.

The iconic guitarist, singer and songwriter in the hugely influential Grateful Dead was only 53, but had outlived such fellow rock legends as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison by more than two decades.

Garcia’s legacy lives on with the constant release of archival recordings and an array of non-musical products, including — most recently — new Grateful Dead deodorant and Nike sneaker lines.

Those wishing to take a deeper dive can visit the Grateful Dead archives, which are housed at UC Santa Cruz. Or they can delve into the trove of books that have been written about Garcia and the band over the years.

Today, we revisit the Union-Tribune’s 1995 Garcia obituary. It includes quotes from several musicians who collaborated with him over the years, including saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Rob Wasserman, as well as then-top San Diego concert promoter Bill Silva and San Diego Grateful Dead author Sandy Troy.

Grateful Dead rock-band leader dies at 53 — Others fell by the wayside, but he had staying power

BY GEORGE VARGA, Pop Music Critic

The San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 10, 1995

Jerry Garcia, leader of the legendary San Francisco rock band the Grateful Dead and a counterculture hero to two generations of music fans, died early yesterday, apparently of a heart attack, at a drug treatment center in Marin County. He was 53.

The band, which came out of the psychedelic era of the 1960s, transcended stylistic, sociological and generational barriers.

One of the biggest and most consistent concert attractions in rock, the Grateful Dead survived and thrived long after Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and other fabled Bay Area bands of the ‘60s crashed or burned out.

With Garcia’s fluid guitar improvisations at the fore, the Dead drew from blues, rock, country, soul, jazz and more to create a uniquely American sound that at its best surpassed the sum of its parts. His death leaves the band’s future in doubt. It also robs scores of fans of a beloved leader who represented cultural freedom and a way of life that was a throwback to the peace-and-love era out of which the Dead rose to prominence.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Sandy Troy, the San Diego author of last year’s “Captain Trips — A Biography of Jerry Garcia.” “Just as you can’t have The Beatles without John Lennon, you can’t have the Dead without Jerry.”

“He was one of the original American icons,” said pioneering jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who sat in with the band periodically and whose 1988 album, “Virgin Beauty,” featured Garcia. “He played very naturally and very beautifully.”

A salute to the Grateful Dead guitarist will be held tomorrow at dusk in Balboa Park.

Garcia, who in the mid-1960s earned the nickname “Captain Trips,” had a history of drug abuse — including cocaine and heroin — and also suffered from diabetes. The grandfatherly-looking musician with the gray beard and roly-poly frame was found dead yesterday at Serenity Knolls, a residential treatment center for drug addiction in San Rafael. A nurse and members of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department unsuccessfully attempted to revive him.

“It looks like natural causes, which can include a heart attack,” a spokeswoman for the Marin County Coroner’s Office said late yesterday afternoon. The results of an autopsy will be known today. The results of a subsequent toxicology examination will be known in approximately two weeks.

Garcia’s death was mourned by the band’s fans, who referred to themselves as Deadheads and as Jerry’s Kids, and by members of the music industry.

“Jerry brought people in San Diego and throughout the world a lot of happy moments,” said San Diego concert promoter Bill Silva, who last year put on two sold-out Starlight Bowl shows by Garcia’s part-time group, The Jerry Garcia Band. “He touched people in a special way and that will be missed.”

Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, a regular guest musician at Grateful Dead concerts, said yesterday through his New York publicist: “There’s not a sentence in the world that can respectfully justify the life and music of Jerry Garcia. Therefore, I respectfully decline.”

“It’s a huge loss,” said Indian guitarist Sanjay Mishra, whose forthcoming album, “Blue Incantation,” features Garcia on three tracks. “He was a great musician and just the warmest, most wonderful person I’d ever met.”

San Franciso Mayor Frank Jordan yesterday ordered flags in the city flown at half-staff as Bay Area mourners gathered at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, just blocks from the house in which the band lived in the mid-'60s. Meanwhile, the internet posted notices of vigils planned in two dozen cities across the nation, including San Diego. And so many people logged onto the Sausalito-based WELL that the computer service experienced a system slowdown.

Distraught Garcia fans also jammed the switchboard yesterday at the national headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont ice-cream maker that named one of its most popular brands, “Cherry Garcia,” after him and sold Cherry Garcia T-shirts.

Some fans, however, were too distraught to discuss the death of Garcia, who co-founded the Grateful Dead in 1965 with fellow singer-guitarist Bob Weir, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh and keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (who died in 1973).

One of the country’s most prominent Dead fans was San Diego’s Bill Walton, the former basketball star who is now a network sportscaster. Walton was not taking calls yesterday.

Neither was Bay Area music stalwart Dan Hicks, whose band, the Hot Licks, regularly shared concert bills with the Grateful Dead in the ‘60s. But he did leave a terse message on his office answering machine yesterday. “Dan has gone home,” a tearful Hicks said in the message.

The Dead inspired many fans to share in a unique communal experience that was re-created at concerts by the band each year across the United States. Their last area appearances were at the San Diego Sports Arena in December 1993, and their final performance was July 9 in Chicago.

Garcia, who is survived by a wife, two former wives and four daughters, was in poor health as recently as 1992, when he collapsed not long after performing a concert at Chula Vista’s Devore Stadium with the Jerry Garcia Band. But his health seemed to improve after a subsequent hospitalization, when he cut back on his smoking, adopted a healthier diet and took up scuba diving.

“There were documented problems in the past, and apparently Jerry saw a problem again,” Greg Lambert, a Grateful Dead spokesman, said yesterday of Garcia’s rehabilitation.

“The most significant thing is that this was done totally by Jerry. There was no intervention; he checked himself in and he was determined to get himself back to health. He had a great determination and will to live.”

Lambert said the band “will find an appropriate way to honor Jerry,” but that no official memorial is planned at this time. Funeral services, which have not yet been finalized, will be private, and the band has not yet decided whether it can or will continue without Garcia.

Lambert also said he did not know if an ongoing tour by a band led by Grateful Dead singer-guitarist Weir would continue. However, Rob Wasserman, the bassist in Weir’s band and a periodic collaborator of Garcia’s, said the tour would go on.

“The reason Bobby and I are doing this gig and continuing this tour is that Jerry would want us to,” Wasserman said last night from a concert stop in New Hampshire. “He was such a great guy, and it was an honor for me to play and record with him. There has never been anyone like him before, and there will never be anyone like him again.”