Robert Hunter, the inventive lyricist who helped shape so many Grateful Dead songs, died Monday night at age 78. No immediate cause of death was given.

"It is with great sadness we confirm our beloved Robert passed away yesterday night," Hunter's family says in an official statement. "He died peacefully at home in his bed, surrounded by love. His wife Maureen was by his side holding his hand."

Hunter, who was born Robert Burns on June 23, 1941, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., met the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia in 1961 – but declined to join his jug band. Instead, Hunter pursued writing at Stanford University before leaving school. The songs kept piling up.

"I moved to New Mexico and it occurred to me to send the lyrics to those songs to Jerry because the Dead had formed," Hunter told Alan Paul in 2015. "And he wrote back and said, 'Why don't you come back to California and be our lyricist?' So, I hitchhiked back to San Francisco and met up with them in Rio Nido. They were working on 'Dark Star,' and I wrote the lyrics to it right then. It just started working immediately."

"Dark Star" went on to become a landmark concert staple, as Hunter settled in as the group's in-house lyricist. He collaborated on a series of Grateful Dead songs, the most notable of which were "Black Muddy River," "Box of Rain," "Brokedown Palace," "Casey Jones," "Friend of the Devil," "Playing in the Band," "Ripple," "St. Stephen," "Sugar Magnolia," "Terrapin Station," "Touch of Grey," "Truckin'" and "Uncle John's Band."

Hunter's work beyond the Dead included songs written with Elvis Costello, Bruce Hornsby and – perhaps most famously – Bob Dylan. Their co-writes included "Silvio," "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" and "Duquesne Whistle," among others. "He's the only guy I work with who I give the liberty to change things," Hunter later noted. "After all, he is who he is."

Despite those successes, Hunter shied away from the spotlight. He often denied requests to use his songs for commercial purposes and rarely granted interviews. "There are things I have to do – like get a good picture, and I don't take a good picture," he told Rolling Stone in 2013. "I don't know if it's because I'm ugly, or the camera doesn't like me."

Hunter had battled earlier health issues, including a spinal abscess and bladder cancer. He mounted his most recent solo tour in 2013 to cover medical bills.

"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," the Hunter family statement added. "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."

 

 

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