Pink Floyd has lost its "crazy diamond."
Syd Barrett, the brilliant, erratic catalyst for Floyd's early success, "died peacefully at home" last Friday at 60, according to his brother. The musician had been in ill health for years, battling type 2 diabetes, as well as stomach ulcers.
A singer and guitarist, and originally the band's principal songwriter, Barrett masterminded Pink Floyd's breakthrough album, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, before being sidelined in the late 1960s by LSD-induced behavioral problems.
In a statement, the surviving members of the seminal band, said they "are naturally very upset and sad" at the news of Barrett's passing. "Syd was the guiding light of the early band lineup and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire."
Barrett teamed with bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright to launch Floyd in 1965, deriving the name from two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Barrett fronted the band during its initial rise to fame, culminating with the 1967 classic The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which mixed jazz, rock and R&B with psychedelia--a template for the prog-rock sound the band refined in its 1970s heyday--and propelled Floyd to stardom.
But Barrett couldn't enjoy the band's triumphs. He began to suffer from increasingly severe mental problems brought on by his heavy use of LSD and mood-altering drugs, frequently faltering during concerts.
In January 1968, his Floyd mates invited friend and fellow guitarist-vocalist David Gilmour to take over playing Barrett's parts during live shows, but with the understanding that Barrett would continue writing and recording songs.
Ultimately though, as Barrett grew increasingly unpredictable and his musical output dwindled, he was booted from the band. Only one track he wrote, "Jugband Blues," made it onto Floyd's second album, 1968's A Saucerful of Secrets.
With Waters assuming band leadership, Floyd cemented its legendary status with a string of masterpieces, including 1973's Dark Side of the Moon, the 1975 tribute to Barrett, Wish You Were Here, which featured the epic track "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," and 1979's The Wall.
The post-Barrett Pink Floyd sold over 200 million albums and became one of the most mesmerizing live acts in music history. The band, Barrett included, was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
On his Website Tuesdsay, David Bowie recounted how he was influenced by Barrett. "The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the '60s will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. Also...he was the first guy I'd heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent," said Bowie, who recorded a cover of the Barrett-penned Floyd song "See Emily Play" for his 1973 album, Pin Ups.
"I can't tell you how sad I feel...His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."
He was born Roger Keith Barrett, on Jan. 6, 1946 in Cambridge, England, the youngest of five children of a pathologist and his wife. Barrett studied music when he was a boy at the behest of his parents and acquired the nicknam, "Syd" as a nod to a local Cambridge musician named Sid Barrett.
After joining together, Barrett, Waters, Mason and Wright began by playing mainly R&B covers as did their contemporaries in the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who.
Eventually, Barrett and company began to improvise more and incorporate feedback and echoes into their live shows, drawing a passionate following at London's UFO club. The band secured its record deal based on the Barrett composition "Arnold Layne," and he wrote eight tracks on Piper, the most successful being the Top 10 U.K. single "See Emily Play."
After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett recorded two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both of which failed commercially. He subsequently exited the music industry altogether and became a recluse, spending the rest of his life living with his mother.
Barrett shocked his former band mates by paying them a surprise visit during recording sessions for Wish You Were Here.
According to Nick Mason's book, Inside Out; A Personal History of Pink Floyd, it was a sad reunion--Barrett had become virtually unrecognizable to the band, having gained weight and shaved his head and eyebrows. Barrett had also taken to randomly brushing his teeth and jumping up and down in place. The sight so upset Waters that he nearly broke down.
"Roger was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears," Wright once told VH1. "It was very shocking...seven years of no contact and then to walk in while we're actually doing that particular track ["Shine on You Crazy Diamond"]. I don't know--coincidence, karma, fate, who knows? But it was very, very, very powerful."
That image of Barrett was later recalled in a scene in Pink Floyd's The Wall, Alan Parker's 1981 feature, when Bob Geldof also had his eyebrows shaved.
No immediate word on a public memorial, but Barrett's brother Alan tells the British music site NME.com that there will be a private family funeral in the next few days.