Photo Credit: Douglas Mason/Getty Images
The Band drummer Levon Helm, who was revealed on Tuesday to be in the "final stages of his battle with cancer," has died at age 71.
"Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon," his rep said in a statement on Thursday. "He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul."
One of the few drummers who was also a lead singer, Helm was an original member of The Band, who first toured with Bob Dylan in 1965. The Arkansas-born musician's distinctive country-style vocals were featured on several of The Band's biggest hits, including "The Weight"and "Up on Cripple Creek." (See videos below.) Following the breakup of The Band in 1976, Helm joined Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band and released several solo albums.
After being diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 1990s, Helm made one of music's most remarkable comebacks, refusing to let his ailing vocal chords stop him from singing. He formed the Levon Helm Band and invited famous musician friends to his Woodstock home to perform at a legendary concert series he called "The Midnight Ramble" (later released on CD). His final two studio albums, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, were released in 2007 and 2009; both won Grammys, as did his 2010 live album Ramble at the Ryman.
A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Helm was called "the coolest singing drummer of all time" by New York magazine and came in at No. 91 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers" list (beating Aerosmith's Steven Tyler).
"Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration," Helm's wife and daughter wrote in a message to his many fans. "He has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage... We appreciate all the love and support and concern."