Songwriter and performer Bob Neuwirth died at the age of 82.
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The folk artist from the 1960s New York City scene was an influence on Bob Dylan and co-wrote the Janis Joplin hit single “Mercedes Benz.”
Along with Dylan and Joplin, Neuwirth was also a collaborator with John Cale, Peter Case, and many more.
Neuwirth passed away in Santa Monica on Wednesday night (May 18). The cause of death was heart failure, Variety reports.
“On Wednesday evening in Santa Monica, Bob Neuwirth’s big heart gave out. He was 82 years old and would have been 83 in June,” Neuwirth’s longtime partner and entertainment executive, Paula Batson, said in a statement. “Bob was an artist throughout every cell of his body and he loved to encourage others to make art themselves. He was a painter, songwriter, producer, and recording artist whose body of work is loved and respected.
“For over 60 years, Bob was at the epicenter of cultural moments from Woodstock, to Paris, ‘Don’t Look Back’ to Monterey Pop, ‘Rolling Thunder’ to Nashville and Havana. He was a generous instigator who often produced and made things happen anonymously. The art is what mattered to him, not the credit. He was an artist, a mentor and a supporter to many. He will be missed by all who love him.”
From 1974 through 1999, Neuwirth released five solo albums and also worked on other artists’ records, including Cale’s 1994 LP, Last Day on Earth.
Neuwirth can also be seen in the Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, standing next to Allen Ginsberg in the background of the famed music video for the single “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
He helped assemble the band for Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Tour in the 1970s. He also toured with his friend Kris Kristofferson.
“Mercedes Benz” became a posthumous hit for Joplin. “It’s a campfire song, isn’t it? You don’t need any particular musical skill to sing it, and because it’s a cappella, everybody can tackle it in their own way,” Neuwirth said of the song. “But I’m sure Janis would be shocked at the attention that that song has gotten over the years. She’d just be shaking her head in disbelief at it.”
After the 2000 movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? earned notoriety in 2000, Neuwirth linked up with filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, the director of Don’t Look Back, to produce a new documentary, Down From the Mountain. It was filmed at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville with the artists who made the music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. In addition, Neuwirth was the musical director for the concert tour that followed.
He is survived by Batson, his niece Cassie Dubicki and her family.
Photo by John Byrne Cooke Estate/Getty Images