Grateful Dead Members Laud Bill Walton as Band’s Biggest Fan and ‘The Best Friend I Ever Had’

Members of the Grateful Dead and its currently playing spin-off group, Dead & Company, have taken to social media after the death of basketball legend Bill Walton to share their grief and love for the man who was considered the Dead’s biggest celebrity superfan.

Dead & Company, which is in the midst of a residency at Las Vegas’ Sphere, posted a collective statement as well, on top of those of individual members. “Fare you well, fare you well, we love you more than words can tell,” the band posted. “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, @BillWalton, deeply. Rest in peace and may the four winds blow you safely home.”

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The reference to “Father Time” alludes to how the Celtics great dressed up and played that role during a 2015 New Year’s Eve show by Dead & Company in Los Angeles, pictured above, and at earlier shows by Dead offshoot groups, as seen in the photo montage posted on Instagram.

Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann all shared their thoughts individually as well.

Wrote Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead and Dead & Company: “Bill was my best friend, the best friend I ever had. 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 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. Bill had an incredible passion for drums. After any meal at his house, we would play. There was nothing like a Bill Walton… nothing. There are things you can replace. And others you cannot. Bon voyage, old friend, I love you.”

Weir, the co-frontman of the two groups, posted a photo of himself playfully thumbing his nose at Walton, with the caption: “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…”

Bill Kreutzmann, a veteran Grateful Dead drummer and a member of Dead & Company until last year, wrote: “There are incredible stories about Bill Walton that I promised him I would only tell after he passed away, and it’s not nearly that time yet because before we laugh, first we must allow ourselves to cry. Darn it. This is a mournful day. This is a period of mourning. 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. 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.”

He continued, “Similarly, when he walked into a room, you knew it – but it wasn’t because of his size. It was because of that laugh of his that broadcasted joy, and it was his easygoing smile that beamed sunshine across any space he ever entered. So, yeah, losing Bill is an irreplaceable loss and, in simple terms, I am heartbroken. When somebody means that much to you, when their friendship is that important – that’s called love. I loved Bill Walton. As we say in the land of the Dead: May the four winds blow him safely home.”

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