Dead & Company, Pearl Jam Pay Tribute To Bill Walton

Dead & Company, Pearl Jam Pay Tribute To Bill Walton

Bill Walton, the legendary basketball player and sportscaster, died of cancer this week at age 71. Walton, a California native, was widely beloved for his freewheeling West Coast approach to life, a lifestyle that included a passionate dedication to the Grateful Dead.

Walton was maybe the best-known Deadhead in the world. He wore his fandom on his sleeve (often literally in the form of band apparel), followed the band around on tour, became a close friend to the band members, and even joined them onstage sometimes. A New York Times feature this week pointed out a key stat from Walton’s 2016 autobiography: He played in 604 basketball games across his college and NBA career but attended 869 Grateful Dead shows. That number increased to more than 1,000 gigs when factoring in Dead & Company, the band featuring the surviving Grateful Dead members plus John Mayer and others.

Thursday at the Las Vegas Sphere, Dead & Company paid tribute to Walton. Halfway through a 10-minute performance of “Fire On The Mountain,” a series of archival band photos gave way to a montage featuring shots of Walton at shows and rocking Deadhead apparel. Earlier this week, various band members also wrote fare thee well notes to Walton on social media. Here’s Bob Weir:

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…

And here’s Mickey Hart:

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.

Here’s John Mayer:

Bill Walton lived a life that the rest of us could only hope to achieve on our second (or third) go-round. He had an eye toward the truly important stuff, the stuff we already know better than to lose sight of, but often do. One of Bill’s great talents was to reorient you so as to stand bedside him and see the light in life that he refused to break eye contact with.

The climb to acceptance is steep in the Grateful Dead universe, and Bill gave me a huge lift up those stairs with his kindness, his encouragement, and his friendship. He will be so deeply missed, but his approach to life will never be forgotten. I think it’s pretty good advice that when times get tough, everything will be okay if you just pretend to be Bill Walton. Thank you Bill. ♥️

The band’s official account posted this:

Fare you well, fare you well, we love you more than words can tell.

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. 🌹💀⚡️

Here’s the footage of last night’s tribute, which begins about 5:15 into the video:

Walton also maintained a friendship with Pearl Jam, who also paid tribute to him this week. Tuesday during their hometown show at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, the band played “Man Of The Hour,” from the soundtrack to 2003’s Big Fish, in Walton’s honor. Introducing the song, Eddie Vedder told the crowd, “He was a big man with a huge heart, and he put a wide path of peace and love behind him.” Watch that performance below.

And here are the Dead & Company Instagram tributes:

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