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Robert Hunter, who wrote some of the Grateful Dead’s most vivid and poetic lyrics, has died at the age of 78.

The wordsmith never performed with the band on stage, but was nonetheless a vital part of their success.

Rooted in the American folk tradition, his storytelling lyrics gave “The Dead” a cosmic sheen of otherness on songs like Ripple, Truckin’ and Dark Star.

“We loved Bob Hunter and will miss him unimaginably,” Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart wrote on Twitter.

He went on to call his bandmate “a visionary wordsmith extraordinaire”.

“For a man who provided us with so many meaningful words, the soundtrack to our lives, he’s left us a bit speechless with his passing,” said David Lemieux, an archivist for the band.

“Robert Hunter has been just as integral a part of the legacy of the Grateful Dead as those who recorded the music to accompany his words,” he wrote in a statement on the band’s official website.

LSD experiments

Born Robert Burns in California in 1941, Hunter met Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia in 1961 at a local production of the musical Damn Yankees.

The pair didn’t immediately hit it off but eventually bonded over music. Hunter would often play mandolin and upright bass in Garcia’s pre-fame bands.

Yet he declined an invitation to join the Grateful Dead, going instead to Stanford University.

There he volunteered in a government-sponsored psychedelic research program, ingesting hallucinogens including LSD, psilocybin and mescaline.

The drugs unlocked something in his writing.

“The words jumped from subconscious to the page,” he told America’s Independent newspaper in 2014. “It was better than the clicking of typewriter keys.”

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