The Tragic Death Of The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia

In the summer of 1995, 53-year-old Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist and vocalist for The Grateful Dead, announced he was going to Hawaii. He'd played a concert July 9 in Chicago that was described as "decidedly ragged," as Ultimate Classic Rock reports. He'd suffered numerous health problems for many years, including substance abuse — he was reportedly addicted to heroin and cocaine, smoked tobacco, and was well overweight, leading to a battle with diabetes on top of everything else.

Music ran in the family, as it tends to do. His father was a jazz clarinetist and Dixieland band leader, according to Garcia's obituary in Rolling Stone. Young Jerry must have been traumatized when he saw his father swept away and drown in a California river.

Jerry Garcia and The Dead arose out of San Francisco's music scene in the mid-1960s. Drugs were plentiful; music was powerful; a youth culture was flexing its muscles and making itself heard throughout the country. It wasn't until 1987 that the band had its one-and-only Top 10 single ("Touch of Grey"), but they toured successfully and constantly for years, with a fervent and passionate fan base. It was apparent that Garcia felt like he was shouldering the load for the entire Deadhead community — so many people were depending on him and the band, not just the fans, but the bandmates themselves and the support network a major touring act requires.

He was overweight, diabetic, and an addict

As Psychology Today asks, was he addicted to drugs, or to responsibility? The fact is he was busted with numerous packets of both heroin and cocaine in 1985 in Golden Gate Park. He entered a drug diversion program. Perhaps it wasn't enough, soon enough, because in the summer of 1986 Garcia slipped into a diabetic coma in his home. "His body had simply been overwhelmed by all the years of road life and drug usage," writes Rolling Stone.

He collapsed again in 1992, and in his attempt at recovery lost 60 of his 300 pounds. In 1995 he entered the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, for treatment for his heroin use. He checked himself out to celebrate his 53rd birthday, then entered another clinic, Serenity Knolls in Marin County, California. Some think he was already clean; he just wanted to be in better shape. Whatever the reason, Garcia died there. A counselor found him unconscious. He apparently died of a massive heart attack in his sleep. His wife said he died with a smile on his face.

Besides living on through his music, Garcia's name continues for astronomers: Mental Floss says that three months after his death, two Arizona astronomers named an asteroid after him.