Jerry Garcia Biography

Claim to Fame: Singer, musician (Grateful Dead)
DOB: August 1, 1942
Date of Death: August 9, 1995 (heart attack)
Diabetes Type: 2

Jerry Garcia is best known as the lead singer, songwriter, and guitar player for the Grateful Dead, a band famous for blending blues, rock, country, and folk music with a dash of the psychedelic sound that grew out of the 1960s. He was the unofficial leader of the band during its entire 30 year existence, from 1965 until his death in 1995. The Grateful Dead was one of the most popular concert bands in the world, and inspired fans called Deadheads who followed the band around the country.

Jerry Garcia was born Jerome John Garcia in San Francisco, CA. He was the second son of Jose Garcia, a former musician turned tavern owner, and Ruth Garcia, a former nurse. He was influenced by music from an early age and took piano lessons throughout most of his childhood. Jerry's life was impacted by two traumatic events at a young age. At the age of 4, he lost the top half of his right middle finger in wood-chopping accident. The following year, his father drowned in a fishing accident. After his father's death, Jerry's mother had to work full time and Jerry and his brother were sent to live with their grandparents. The boys moved back in with their mother when she remarried in 1953. They spent the next few years moving to various places throughout San Francisco and its suburbs.

Jerry first picked up a guitar when he was 15 years old. He played in bands in high school, but dropped out of school two years later. At the age of 18, he moved to Palo Alto, where he began playing in clubs and bookstores. This is where he first met many of the people he would work with throughout the rest of his career, including aspiring poet Robert Hunter, who became his songwriting partner. Garcia's partnership with Hunter led to many memorable songs, including the Grateful Dead's only top 10 hit, "Touch of Grey."

In 1964, Garcia began playing in a jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. A year later, the band started using electric instruments and became a rock and roll band named the Warlocks. By December 1965, the band had officially renamed itself the Grateful Dead. The band evolved from being blues-oriented to psychedelic/experimental to adding country and folk influences, but Garcia's distinctive guitar playing always remained front-and-center. During his 30 years with the Dead, Garcia also worked on a variety of side projects with other musicians and released several solo albums.

Garcia was always known for his love of psychedelic drugs, but by the mid-1980s he had moved on to harder drugs, including cocaine and heroin. His drug use, combined with his smoking and other unhealthy habits, lead to a physical decline that culminated in a diabetic coma in 1986 that lasted nearly 3 days. After being hospitalized for exhaustion in 1991, Garica tried to make some healthy changes in his life. He quit smoking and hired a personal trainer to lose weight. However, he wasn't able to beat his drug addiction. He was in a drug rehab center for his heroin addiction when he died of a heart attack on August 9, 1995 at the age of 53.

During his life, Jerry Garcia was known as one of the most unique and influential guitar players in rock and roll. He was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. He was also viewed as an icon of the hippie movement of the 1960s, the counterculture fueled by psychedelic drugs and rock and roll that the Grateful Dead came to embody.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

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by Brenda Bell
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