Levon Helm, Drummer for The Band, Dies at 71

After a long battle with throat cancer, Helm is the third of the five-member ’60s rock group to die

Last Updated: April 19, 2012 @ 1:20 PM

Levon Helm, former drummer for rock group The Band, died at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the Times Herald-Record reports. Helm, who had been battling throat cancer, was 71.

"We lost Levon at 1:30 today surrounded by friends and family and his musicians have visited him," Larry Campbell, Helm's guitarist and band leader, told the paper. "As sad as this was, it was very peaceful."

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Fans received a warning that Helm had taken a turn for the worse earlier this week. On Tuesday, Helm's family posted a notice on his website that he was "in the final stages" of his fight.

"Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey," the statement said.

Helm is the third member of the quintet to die. Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986,  and Rick Danko died in his sleep in 1999.

Also read: The Band's Levon Helm in "Final Stages" of Cancer Fight

Helm joined The Hawks, a popular bar and club act led by Ronnie Hawkins, after high school. The group moved to Toronto and signed to Roulette Records in the late '50s, and Hawkins and Helms elected to recruit an all-Canadian lineup shortly thereafter. The lineup would include guitarist Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Manuel and organist Garth Hudson.

After parting ways with Hawkins, the group landed a gig as Bob Dylan's backup group, recording a large body of material with Dylan that would eventually yield 1975's "The Basement Tapes" after being widely bootlegged for years.

Though Helm left the group during their tenure with Dylan, he rejoined two years later, returning to his bandmates — which rechristened themselves The Band — in the Woodstock area. The Band achieved stardom with its 1968 debut album, "Music From Big Pink." The song "The Weight," which featured Helm on lead vocals, became a signature song for the group. The song has been covered by a small army of musical acts, ranging from the Black Crowes to Waylon Jennings to Panic! at the Disco.

Helm also sang the group's hit "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

The Band's final concert of its touring career, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, was memorialized by Martin Scorsese in the 1978 film "The Last Waltz," which featured guest performances by a slew of musicians, including Neil Young, Ronnie Wood, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and Dylan.

Helm remained musically active until recently, when he was forced to cancel a string of dates that had been scheduled for early April. Helm won the Best Americana Album at the 2012 Grammys for his album "Ramble at the Ryman." He also won a Grammy in 2007 for his album "Dirt Farmer."

In addition to his musical endeavors, Helm had a decades-long acting career, appearing in films such as "Coal Miner's Daughter," "The Right Stuff" and "Feeling Minnesota."

Helm is survived by his wife Sandy and daughter Amy.