The Band's Danko Struggled To Improve Health, Friends Say

Roots-rock bassist/singer, who died Friday, apparently never lost passion for music.

The Band bassist/singer Rick Danko struggled with a severe weight problem in recent years, and he and those around him feared for his health, friends said Friday (Dec.10).

Danko died in his sleep Friday morning in his Woodstock, N.Y., home, and no official cause of death has been announced. But friends said it was no secret that he was not well.

(Click here for an obituary of Danko.)

"I'm not surprised — it didn't shock me," producer Jim Tullio said of the news of Danko's death. Tullio, who has produced records for folk singers Richie Havens and John Prine, worked with Danko on an aborted solo project in the mid-'90s.

Tullio, who last saw Danko last week, when he traveled to Chicago to play two solo concerts, said the singer may have weighed as much as 350 pounds.

Singer/songwriter Nicholas Tremulis, whose band backed Danko for the Chicago shows, said Danko's weight problem emerged as he tried to beat a long-standing addiction to heroin.

"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."

Danko sang lead on such Band songs as "Stage Fright" (RealAudio excerpt) and also can be heard on The Band's signature song "The Weight" (RealAudio excerpt).

Danko's publicist, Carol Caffin, acknowledged that Danko had gained a

great deal of weight in recent years but cautioned against speculation

on the cause of his death.

"It's very hard. He [was] a beautiful guy ... I don't like to hear negativity,"

Caffin said. Danko was enjoying life and was excited about his new solo

record, Live on Breeze Hill, which was released in September, she said.

When Danko spoke with SonicNet Music News from a New York hotel

room in September 1998, he was more eager to talk about The Band's future

than its past glories.

"We're as healthy as we've ever been," he said.

But Danko's passing most likely marks the end of The Band as well, Tullio

said. "Without Rick, I'd say it's over," he said.

Drummer Levon Helm, keyboardist Garth Hudson and guitarist Robbie Robertson are the only surviving original members of The Band, and Robertson hasn't played with the group since 1976, when they first broke up.

"I don't think they've thought of it ... I don't know what they're planning to do," Caffin said, noting that she doesn't represent Hudson or Helm.

Those who knew Danko described him as a generous, fun-loving man whose passion for music never diminished over the years.

"Most people in the music industry are ... cynical and jaded. I never met a man who was less cynical," Tremulis said.

"He always had too many people on the guest list — that's the kind of guy that Rick was," Caffin, his publicist for eight years, said.

Just this week, Danko completed a U.S. tour in support of his new album, playing his final show Tuesday at the Ark in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Performing with keyboardist Aaron Hurwitz, who produced The Band's most recent album, Danko played two sets instead of the one that had been expected, David Siglin, the club's director, said.

"He was really into the show," Siglin said. "If he was in really bad health, he was ignoring it completely."

Danko planned to donate the proceeds from his album to the environmental charity Greenpeace, and he often supported many other charities in the past, his publicist said.

"Music has been really kind to us over the years. It's nice to be able to put something back, instead of just take, take, take," Danko said last year. "It's good that we can give something back, whether it be [for] mental health or child-abuse programs or Parkinson's disease or Down syndrome."

Several of Danko's friends couldn't bring themselves to refer to him in the past tense Friday. "There's no one like him," Tremulis said.

(Staff Writer Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)