Bob Dylan has released a statement on the death of his old pal Robbie Robertson, who succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 80 on Wednesday.
Robertson, the frontman of the classic rock group The Band, had a professional and personal bond with Dylan that stretched back more than half a century.
When Dylan, 82, controversially went electric in the mid-1960s, it was The Band that provided his onstage backing.
At one point Robertson even had to save Dylan’s life — the folk legend was so dead to the world after abusing amphetamines on tour that he nearly drowned in the bath, only for Robertson to fish him out in the nick of time.
Two days after Robertson’s death, Dylan told Billboard: ‘This is shocking news. Robbie was a lifelong friend. His passing leaves a vacancy in the world.’
Bereaved: Bob Dylan, pictured in 2018, has released a statement on the death of his old pal Robbie Robertson, who succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 80 on Wednesday
The way they were: Dylan (left) and Robertson (pictured) are pictured onstage at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in Martin Scorsese’s seminal documentary The Last Waltz
Robertson’s manager of 34 years Jared Levine released a statement in Variety revealing Robertson’s demise came at the end of a long illness. Sources informed TMZ that the musician succumbed to prostate cancer.
Some of the most beloved songs he wrote for The Band include The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up On Cripple Creek and The Weight.
Robertson also enjoyed a long professional relationship with Martin Scorsese, first with The Band and then as a solo composer on a string of the filmmaker’s classics.
‘Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, including his wife, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her partner Nicholas, and his children Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s partner Kenny,’ said his manager’s statement.
‘He is also survived by his grandchildren Angelica, Donovan, Dominic, Gabriel, and Seraphina,’ Levine added. ‘Robertson recently completed his fourteenth film music project with frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon.’
With a top-flight cast including Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, Killers Of The Flower Moon follows a scheme by white Americans to seize oil that has been discovered by the Osage Indians on their land.
‘In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to support the building of their new cultural center,’ said Levine.
Robertson was born in Toronto in 1943 to a mother who grew up on Canada’s Six Nations Reserve, being of Mohawk and Cayuga descent.
Duo: When Dylan controversially went electric in the 1960s, it was The Band that provided his backing onstage; Dylan and Robertson are pictured in 1966
Place to be: They also continued performing with Bob Dylan, including during a 1968 concert at Carnegie Hall (pictured) and a 1974 gig at Florida’s Hollywood Sportatorium
Quintet: Robertson (second from left) is pictured in a portrait with (from left) Rick Danko, Levon Holm, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson of The Band in London in 1971
Side by side: Dylan and Robertson are pictured together performing at New York’s Academy Of Music near the beginning of 1972
During his own childhood visits to his maternal family on the reserve, Robertson quickly acquired an enduring taste for music.
‘It seemed to me that everybody played a musical instrument or sang or danced. I thought: “I’ve got to get in on this club!”‘ he told the Guardian.
His instrument of choice was the guitar, which he thought looked ‘pretty cool,’ prompting his mother to give him one featuring a painting of a cowboy.
‘I thought it was very ironic that Indians would teach me to play guitar with a picture of a cowboy on,’ Robertson drily recalled.
During his teenage years, he started jobbing around on the fringes of the entertainment industry, working traveling carnivals and even a freakshow.
By the age of 15 he had joined the burgeoning rock scene in Toronto – and in 1958, he helped form the group that became The Band.
Under their original name The Hawks, they provided backup for Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly stalwart who himself died last year at the age of 87.
They turned into The Band in 1967 – but not before they played with Bob Dylan on his furiously polarizing electric tour.
Legendary: After the divisive Dylan tour, the Hawks became The Band, releasing their groundbreaking debut album Music From Big Pink in 1968
Bond: Robertson also enjoyed a long professional relationship with Martin Scorsese, including a solo composer on a string of the filmmaker’s classics; the pair are pictured at Cannes in 1978
Remember when: Scorsese fan favorites like Raging Bull (pictured), The King Of Comedy and The Wolf Of Wall Street featured original music by Robertson
‘We got booed all over North America, Australia, Europe, and people were saying this isn’t working and we kept on and Bob didn’t budge,’ Robertson told Mojo years later.
An abiding friendship formed between Dylan and Robertson, as recounted in the latter’s memoir Testimony, in which he writes about them getting stoned together and mingling with an artistic social circle ranging from the Beatles to Salvador Dali.
After the divisive Dylan tour, the Hawks became The Band, releasing their groundbreaking debut album Music From Big Pink in 1968.
Dylan helped write multiple songs on the album, including Tears Of Rage, This Wheel’s On Fire and I Shall Be Released.
With its blend of genres like soul, country and rock, Music From Big Pink had a profound influence on such top-flight artists as Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd.
One year after Music From Big Pink, The Band released a self-titled album that contained some of their best-known songs to this day.
They also continued performing with Bob Dylan, including during a 1968 concert at Carnegie Hall and a 1974 gig at Florida’s Hollywood Sportatorium.
Although he was no stranger to drugs, Robertson managed to sidestep the heroin problem that took hold of his bandmates as their rise to fame continued.
Onstage in 1974: Robertson noted in his memoir that as The Band skidded towards disintegration ‘Self-destructiveness had become the power that ruled us’
Legendary: In 1976, six years after they landed on the cover of Time magazine, the band played their iconic farewell show The Last Waltz at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom
Closeout: It was this famed concert that marked the birth of Robertson’s relationship with Martin Scorsese, who filmed the gig for a wildly acclaimed rock documentary
‘Let me be very clear: I was no angel. I was not Mr. Responsible,’ he told Salon a few years ago. ‘I was just better off than others, and in a position to say: “Is everyone OK?” But even if people aren’t OK, they say they are.’
However he was unable to avoid a bitter feud with The Band’s drummer Levon Helm, arising from a dispute over copyright issues and songwriting credits.
Ultimately, the tensions between the musicians over the drugs and the business side of their relationship became insurmountable.
Robertson noted in his memoir that as The Band skidded towards disintegration ‘Self-destructiveness had become the power that ruled us.’
In 1976, six years after they landed on the cover of Time magazine, they played their iconic farewell show The Last Waltz at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.
A cavalcade of guest stars joined The Band onstage, including Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and Dylan.
It was this concert that marked the birth of Robertson’s relationship with Martin Scorsese, who filmed the gig for a wildly acclaimed rock documentary.
According to Helm, Robertson – whose decision it was to break up the band – was so pale from tiredness that his wife had to slather him with makeup for the camera.
The way they were: Robertson is pictured onstage in 1974 with Danko, who died of heart failure in 1999 at the age of 55 after years of heroin use
Robertson ultimately broke away from the band but retained his professional connection to Scorsese as the composer for several of his movies.
Fan favorites like Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy and The Wolf Of Wall Street all feature original music by Robertson, as did lesser-known features like Silence.
Meanwhile, other members of The Band fell prey to their demons – pianist Richard Manuel hanged himself in 1986, a decade on from The Last Waltz, and bassist Rick Danko died of heart failure in 1999 after years of heroin use.
Levon Helm died of cancer at the age of 71 in 2012 – and while unconscious received a deathbed visit from Robertson, who had never managed to mend fences with him.
Looking back over his time with The Band, Robertson mused that it ‘was like everything else – half of it was beautiful and half of it, I didn’t know what the f*** was going on. It’s a balancing act.’
He maintained: ‘God, there were good intentions. John Lennon really wanted people to connect in the most beautiful way. Who doesn’t want peace? Or that love is special and the most important thing in the world?’
Robertson wistfully concluded his appraisal: ‘To look back and think: “That’s a waste” is awful. People really meant well.’