Dead heads mourn passing of rock legend

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Los Angeles

Jerry Garcia, lead singer of the Grateful Dead, was found dead yesterday in his room at a drug treatment centre in Marin County, California. He was 53.

He was found at 4am by a counsellor at Serenity Knowles, a residential facility, said police. The leader of the perennial touring band was rumoured to have been struggling with a heroin addiction for the past few years, but the sheriff's department said he died of natural causes.

Garcia was lead guitarist, composer and vocalist and had recently completed a summer touring schedule marked by controversy. For three decades the Grateful Dead symbolised the counter-culture that sprang up in the Haight- Ashbury area of San Francisco in the late Sixties. The band combined rock, bluegrass and folk influences into a unique genre. "You need music," Garcia once said. "We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it."

The band's ethos was to play improvised rock and roll, with a wilful refusal to preach from the stage. The Grateful Dead consistently topped the touring circuit in America both in attendance and revenue and had a devoted following of fans.

For some, Garcia's death was not unexpected. "Dead heads have been preparing themselves for this for a long time," said Dan Levy, a fan and friend of the band.

It had been a bad summer for the band. There was a riot at one concert and a stand collapsed at another. "Over the last 25 years there have been waves of new fans who do not seem to share the same values that old timers think the scene is really about," said Mr Levy.

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