Levon Helm of “The Band” Dead at 71

He had been battling throat cancer since 1998

Levon Helm, singer and drummer for the Band, lost his battle with throat cancer Thursday at the age of 71.

He passed away "peacefully ... surrounded by family, friends and bandmates," a message on his website said.

Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, but continued to record albums and perform despite undergoing nearly 30 radiation treatments, Rolling Stone reported. He was slated to perform a number of upcoming shows, but cancelled them as his health deteriorated.

His family posted a message on his website Tuesday indicating that he was "in the final stages of his battle with cancer."

Larry Campbell, Helm's longtime bandmate, told Rolling Stone that he held on until all his friends and family members were by his side. "It seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away ... 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."

Helm's music career began in 1960 when he joined the backup band of Ronnie Hawkins. He later joined Bob Dylan before branching off to create The Band in the late '60s. The five-man American roots-rock group would record a number of chart-topping albums and singles, including "The Weight," before temporarily breaking up in 1976.

They reunited in the '80s, a decade marred by the suicide of band member Richard Manuel. The Band continued to tour, however, and were welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

A longtime smoker, Helm lost the ability to speak above a whisper after having a tumor removed from his vocal chords in the late '90s, The New York Times reported.

His voice did return, however, and Helm continued to sing, most recently at a March show in Ann Arbor, Mich., which received a roaring ovation.

Selected Reading: Levon Helm, Rolling Stone, The New York Times

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