The Grateful Dead guitarist died 20 years ago, on Aug 9, 1995
It was exactly 20 years ago this weekend, on Aug. 9, 1995, that Jerry Garcia died at 53, abruptly ending the Grateful Dead’s 30 year run as the world’s foremost jam band.
Considering Garcia’s legacy for TIME, Richard Corliss meditated on Garcia’s fans, the impact the band had on American culture and the long trail of the 1960s. As Corliss noted, that strange stew meant that news of Garcia’s death hit the world in way few others could have commanded:
Once, Dead was God; now God is dead. With rock stars, such news is a shock but not a surprise. Garcia, whose private funeral service was held Friday (the guest of honor attired in black T shirt and sweats), was the fourth Dead member to die. Three keyboard players preceded him: Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, in 1973 of cirrhosis of the liver; Keith Godchaux, in 1980 after a car crash; and Brent Mydland, in 1990 after shooting a speedball–cocaine and morphine.
Garcia too was a suicidal adventurer. He did coke the way some people drink the stuff, and romanced heroin to the end. He was in and out of hospitals and rehab centers; in 1986 he fell into a coma. Last year he collapsed at his home and promised to reform. But that was not in his nature. “You’re out there on the edge,” [Ken] Kesey says, “where it’s beyond dangerous to your life–it’s dangerous to your soul. And Garcia was on that edge for 30 years. It’s like when the King asked Mozart why he drank so much, and Wolfgang said, ‘Rock ‘n’ roll is hot, dry work.’ Who are we to argue with such an artist? It’s like arguing with Picasso because he was horny.”
It is the mundane task of the living to bury and praise the dead, and to keep on living. Weir, the Dead’s pro tem leader, has not said whether the band will tour as scheduled this fall. Their fans hope they do, if only as the best of all possible wakes.
That wake finally took place this year, as the Dead played what was billed as their final show ever—before announcing this week that some members of the band will perform again as Dead & Company starting in October.
Read the full obituary, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: The Trip Ends