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    The Band's Levon Helm Dead at 71 After Cancer Battle

    Levon Helm carried "The Weight" for The Band, and for the Woodstock generation.

    The musician died Thursday, two days after his family announced he was losing a fight to cancer.

    He was 71.

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    "Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon," his family said in a statement. "He was surrounded by family, friends and bandmates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul."

    Among Helm's bedside visitors was Band cohort, and frequent sparring partner, Robbie Robertson.

    By his own account, Helm was a drummer who sang. According to his peers, he was a wonder. "A rare breed," an admiring Max Weinberg once wrote, who can "set not only the beat, but the scene of a song's story as well."  

    It's Helm's flat drawl that takes listeners on the journey in The Band's "The Weight," a generational touchstone enshrined on The Big Chill soundtrack.

    He's also front and center, if in the back, on the drums, on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." 

    As a member of The Band, Helm was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, received the Grammys' lifetime achievement award in 2008, appeared in the legendary Martin Scorsese concert documentary, The Last Waltz, and, above all, helped embody the 1960s.

    During the decade, the group worked as Bob Dylan's backing band, and starred on the Woodstock stage.

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    The Band's original lineup split after the 1976 all-star show featured in The Last Waltz. With Helm's death, Robertson, who wrote the group's biggest hits, and keyboardist Garth Hudson are the only two surviving members.

    Last weekend at the Rock Hall's ceremony for the Class of 2012, Robertson, on hand to pay tribute to Van Morrison, wished the ailing Helm "love and prayers." Later, as he recounted on his Facebook page, he visited his bandmate in the hospital.  

    "I sat with Levon for a good while..., and thought of the incredible and beautiful times we had together," Roberston wrote.

    "Levon is one of the most extraordinary talented people I've ever known and very much like an older brother to me. I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever."

    After The Band, Helm branched out into acting, starting with the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter. He played the singer's father despite not being much older than Lynn portrayer Sissy Spacek.   

    As a solo artist, Helm won two Grammys for a pair of recent roots/folk albums, both recorded after a bout with throat cancer in the late 1990s silenced him for a time.

    In 2007, Helm told CBS News he was never worried about what his health scare had meant for his vocals. "My joy is to play the drums," he said. "The singing part is just something I glommed my way into." 

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    Sources disagree on Helm's birthday. His official site cites his birthdate as May 26, 1940, though the Rock Hall lists it as May 26, 1942. It's obvious to anyone who ever heard Helm talk or sing that he hailed from the South—Arkansas, to be exact.

    For no apparent reason other than lyricist Bernie Taupin's reputed admiration for The Band, Helm is said to have inspired the Elton John hit, "Levon."

    In the open letter that announced Helm's deteriorating condition, his family, including daughter Amy Helm of the roots band Ollabelle, thanked fans for making his life a celebration. 

    Said the letter: "He has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance!"

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