Grateful Dead, John Fogerty, and More Music Stars Pay Tribute to Late Basketball Legend Bill Walton: “The Biggest Deadhead Ever”

The sports world is mourning the passing of basketball legend Bill Walton, who died of cancer on Friday, May 27, at age 71, and so is the music world, particularly the Grateful Dead’s surviving members. Walton was a celebrated Deadhead, who attended more than 1,000 shows by the band and became close friends with the group.

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During his basketball career, Walton won two national collegiate championships with UCLA, and NBA championships with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics. The 6-foot-11 athlete was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He later had a successful career as a sports commentator, and often discussed his Dead fandom during broadcasts.

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Following Walton’s death, the Grateful Dead spinoff group Dead & Company posted a message paying homage to the big man on its social media pages. In addition, band members and Dead alums Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann all shared personal heartfelt tributes on their own socials.

“Fare you well, fare you well, we love you more than words can tell,” the Dead & Co. tribute begins, paraphrasing a line from the Grateful Dead song “Brokedown Palace.” “Bill was an irreplaceable force and spirit in our family. Father Time, Rhythm Devil, biggest deadhead ever. Over 1000 shows and couldn’t get enough. He loved this band and we loved him. We will miss our beloved friend, [Bill Walton], deeply. Rest in peace and may the four winds blow you safely home.”

The homage also included a series of photos of Walton attending several Dead & Company concerts, and wearing a number of costumes he donned onstage with the band.

Bob Weir’s Tribute

Weir wrote in his homage, “Yo Bill, thanks for the ride. Thanks for the wonderful friendship, the years of color commentary – and the Hall of Fame existence that you wore like headlights. Bon voyage ol’ buddy. We’re sure gonna miss you – but don’t let that slow you down…”

Mickey Hart’s Homage

Hart posted a longer tribute on his social media pages, noting his close bond with Walton.

“Bill was my best friend, the best friend I ever had,” the drummer wrote. “He was an amazing person, singular, irreplaceable, giving, loving. His love for our music was beyond description. He called himself the luckiest man in the world but it was us who were lucky—to know him, to share the adventure with him.”

He continued, “[Bill] was the biggest Deadhead in the world and used our music as the soundtrack to his life. After our shows, he would regularly send messages that said, ‘thank you for my life.’ Over 1000 shows, he just couldn’t get enough.”

Hart also noted that Walton “had an incredible passion for drums,” revealing, “After any meal at his house, we would play.”

He concluded his homage, “There are things you can replace. And others you cannot. Bon voyage, old friend, I love you.”

Bill Kreutzmann’s Tribute to Walton

Kreutzmann wrote the longest homage to Walton, beginning his message by sharing that he had “incredible stories” about Walton that he promised he wouldn’t tell until after Bill had died.

“[I]t’s not nearly that time yet because before we laugh, first we must allow ourselves to cry,” the founding Dead drummer said. “This is a mournful day. This is a period of mourning.”

Kreutzmann then discussed Walton’s positive attitude as a fan of the band.

“Sure, Bill Walton was an NBA legend. But in the Grateful Dead orbit, he was just a fan – and that made him a legend here, too,” he wrote. “In many ways, he was our number one fan… but Bill would’ve taken issue with that ranking because, while he won many awards in his storied basketball career — including MVP — Bill insisted that the Grateful Dead was not a competition — and that all Deadheads were equal.”

Kreutzmann continued, “Bill was a genuine fan that became a genuine friend and someone I always looked up to. But his towering presence was more than just literal. Whenever I play, there will now always be a hole where a seat should be, about ten rows back, center, where Bill used to stand, eyes closed, arms raised, while he felt the music running through him.”

He also fondly recalled Walton’s laugh, “that broadcasted joy,” and “his easygoing smile that beamed sunshine across any space he ever entered.”

Kreutzmann added that Walton was “irreplaceable,” and that he was “heartbroken” over his death. He concluded his tribute by saying, “When somebody means that much to you, when their friendship is that important – that’s called love. I loved Bill Walton.”

Other Music Stars Also Paid Tribute to Walton

John Fogerty and Public Enemy’s Chuck D also shared tributes to Walton on their socials.

The ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman posted a photo of him and Walton together, along with a message from him and his wife, Julie.

“So sad that our friend Bill Walton has passed away,” the note reads. “He was truly a very special and joyful person and his megawatt smile made everyone smile! His enthusiasm for life and all things rock and roll was unstoppable and we miss you Bill! Our love and prayers to Lori and family.”

Chuck D shared that Walton was one of his “favorite sportscaster color analysts.”

“His vernacular crept into my friends and our daily lexicon when we peeped something foul,” the rapper explained. “Like… ‘[it’s] a shame [no one] in his vicinity read him the ruuuuuule of getting along, it’s deppppppressingly deplorrrrrrrable in fact it’s simply unacceptabbbbble’ Lol RIP Bill Walton.”

(Photo by M. Tran/FilmMagic)

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