"Dead at 53? Of natural causes?"
So went the reaction of one contemporary of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Although hardly a die-hard "Deadhead" himself, this fan is still a "relic of the Sixties" -- at least in the eyes of his twenty-something daughter.
Relics of the Sixties -- and admirers of the Grateful Dead -- are everywhere these days, from the White House and Capitol Hill to job sites grand and small across the land. Reporters searching for reactions to Mr. Garcia's death found devotees everywhere, across the generations and across political lines.
Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper are fans of the Grateful Dead. So is Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont (along with his 31-year-old son). Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican, donned a black ribbon and called a news conference to express his own sadness. He told reporters, "I listened to the Dead for a couple hours last night."
The death of Jerry Garcia may mark the end of a well-loved band. But it came as no surprise to those who knew the toll taken by his diabetes, combined with his distinctly un-Nineties habits. Drugs, drink, tobacco and more -- those seemed so harmless a few decades ago.
Music fans are no strangers to mortality -- from Buddy Holly's plane crash to John Lennon's murder. But those icons died prematurely. Mr. Garcia apparently succumbed to a heart attack and hard living.
He died in his sleep at a drug treatment center. We presume his death was peaceful. Fans would say that was fitting for a man whose music embodied good feelings, and whose unforgettable, soaring guitar riffs entranced fans for nearly three decades. The most devoted Deadheads followed the band from city to city on their nationwide tours.
For one writer, the sad news of Mr. Garcia's death brought an irresistible urge to dig out those old LPs, find "American Beauty" and, like Governor Weld, just sit for a while and listen.
Then, of course, like a good relic of the Sixties, it will be refreshment time. A big bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream ought to do just fine.