Rick Danko, bassist for pioneering roots-rockers The Band, was found dead
Friday morning (Dec. 10) in his Woodstock, N.Y., home, his publicist said.
No cause of death has been announced, but friends said Danko, whose band
backed Bob Dylan in the 1960s and entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
in 1994, had struggled with a severe weight problem in recent years. They
said he and those around him feared for his health.
Danko was 56.
"I'm not surprised it didn't shock me," producer Jim Tullio said
of the news. Tullio, who has produced records for folk singers Richie
Havens and John Prine, worked with Danko on an aborted solo project in
Tullio, who saw Danko last week, when the latter played two solo concerts
in Chicago, said the singer may have weighed as much as 350 pounds.
Singer/songwriter Nicholas Tremulis, whose band backed Danko for the
Chicago shows, said the performer's weight problem emerged as he tried
to beat a long-standing addiction to heroin. Danko was found guilty of
smuggling the drug into Japan in 1997, according to the Associated
Press. He received a suspended sentence.
"If anything, his weight gain was due to the [fact] that he was trying
to get healthier in that respect," Tremulis said.
Tremulis recruited Danko to play a benefit concert for Chicago's Neon
Street homeless shelter in March. The event was loosely organized as a
tribute to the Band's star-filled 1976 farewell concert and film, "The
Last Waltz." Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan also performed at
Danko's publicist, Carol Caffin, acknowledged that Danko had gained a
great deal of weight in recent years but cautioned against speculating
on the cause of his death.
"It's very hard," she said. "He [was] a beautiful guy ... I don't like
to hear negativity."
Caffin said Danko was enjoying his life and was excited about his new
solo record, Live on Breeze Hill, which was released in September.
Danko sang lead on such Band songs as "Stage Fright" (RealAudio
excerpt) and "Ophelia" (RealAudio
excerpt) and also can be heard on The Band's signature song, "The
Danko joined rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing band, the Hawks,
when he was 17. He and his bandmates left Hawkins in 1966 to tour with
Dylan; they later adopted the name The Band.
The group released its debut album, Music From Big Pink, in 1968.
The album, which included "The Weight" and a cover of Dylan's "I Shall
Be Released," won critical acclaim and helped make The Band one of the
most influential acts of the late '60s. Having also played at the original
Woodstock in 1969, the group is credited with helping move rock's sound
away from the psychedelic excesses of the period.
The Band broke up in 1976, after filming and recording their "Last Waltz"
concert, which featured appearances from Dylan, Neil Young and other stars.
They eventually regrouped, without songwriter Robbie Robertson, most
recently releasing Jubilation in 1998.
"We had a lot of fun making this record," Danko said that year. "We made
this record more or less for ourselves, as opposed to making it for some
company with some kind of deadline. We were able to take our time and
just produce it at our own speed. It's just a nice way to work."
Band keyboardist Richard Manuel hanged himself in 1986.
(This story was updated at 6:45 PM EST on Friday, Dec. 10, 1999.)