Levon Helm, Drummer and Singer for The Band, Dies at 71

Levon Helm  Polaris

Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band, died Thursday in New York of throat cancer. He was 71 years old.

"He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates," Helm's guitarist Larry Campbell tells Rolling Stone. "All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity."

Campbell, 57, adds: "It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him."

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On Tuesday the Arkansas-born musician's wife and daughter announced that he was "in the final stages of his battle with cancer."

Helm — famous for songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" — was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, but continued to sing and perform until recently. Helm and the Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 (though he was not present for the ceremony).

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Prior to embarking on a solo career, Helm and his bandmates Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson backed Bob Dylan in the 1960s. Later known simply as The Band, they released 10 studio albums from 1968 to 1998.

Helm also dabbled in the world of film. His most notable credits include Coal Miner's Daughter, Smooth Talk, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Dollmaker and Shooter.

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In a statement released two days before his death, Helm's wife Sandy and daughter Amy thanked his fans for making "his life so filled with joy and celebration. 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."

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