The Band star Levon Helm dead at 71

April 19, 2012 at 4:02 PM
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WOODSTOCK, N.Y., April 19 (UPI) -- Arkansas-born rock musician and actor Levon Helm died in New York Thursday after a long battle with cancer, his family said on his Web site. He was 71.

The online message said Helm "passed peacefully."

"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," the message said.

Helm is famous for being a drummer and singer with The Band -- which recorded the hits "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Ophelia" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The Band was perhaps best known for its 1978 album and Martin Scorsese-directed concert film "The Last Waltz."

Helm also acted in the movies "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "Shooter," "Smooth Talk," "The Right Stuff," "The Dollmaker," "Feeling Minnesota," "End of the Line," "In the Electric Mist," "Fire Down Below," "Staying Together" and "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998 and underwent radiation treatments. The treatments damaged his vocal cords, reducing his deeply soulful country-accented voice to a quiet rasp. He continued recording albums and performing Saturday night Midnight Ramble concerts at his home and studio, known as the Barn, in Woodstock, N.Y., and was still making music up until a few weeks ago.

His family said Tuesday the entertainer was in his final stages of his cancer battle and they asked his fans to pray for him.

He is survived by his daughter Amy and wife Sandy.

Helm, born in Marvell, Ark., performed with Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson in The Band.

He had a solo career after The Band broke up in 1976, reunited with a new version of The Band in 1983 and toured with British musician Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band in 1989.

His 2007 comeback album "Dirt Farmer" earned a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 91 in a list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in November of that year.

Helm's 2009 "Electric Dirt" album won the first Grammy Award for Best Americana Album in 2010.

The hero of Elton John's 1971 song "Levon" was named after Helm. John also named his son, born Dec. 25, 2010, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

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