Robbie Robertson, The Band co-founder, songwriter and guitarist, dead at 80

The group toured as Bob Dylan's backing band before releasing their debut album.

August 9, 2023, 5:38 PM

Robbie Robertson, the Canadian-born musician best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members The Band, has died, according to his long-time manager, Jared Levine, who shared a statement with ABC News. He was 80.

The statement reads, "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," as well as his five grandchildren.

No cause of death was immediately given.

Robbie Robertson of the rock group "The Band" performs onstage at "The Last Waltz" concert with his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, Nov 25, 1976 in San Francisco.
Larry Hulst/Getty Images, FILE

Born Jamie Royal Robertson in Toronto in 1943, Robertson was a member of rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins' backing band The Hawks, along with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. After leaving Hawkins, the musicians toured as Bob Dylan's backup band and recorded the legendary "basement tapes" with him in 1967.

Along the way, The Hawks became known as The Band. Under that name, they released their debut album, "Music from Big Pink," in 1968, featuring a rootsy sound that influenced everyone from Elton John and Eric Clapton to The Beatles. As The Band's guitarist and primary songwriter, Robertson wrote such classics as "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

The Band split in 1976 amid personal conflicts and substance abuse issues, saying goodbye at a star-studded farewell concert at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, famously documented in the Martin Scorsese-directed film "The Last Waltz."

Robertson released six solo albums; his self-titled 1987 debut featured contributions from Peter Gabriel and U2's Bono, and included the rock hit "Somewhere Down the Crazy River." Robertson and The Band were inducted into Canada's Juno Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Robertson continued working with Scorsese on music for other films, including "Raging Bull," "The King of Comedy," "Casino," "The Departed," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Irishman," along with contributions to other TV and movie soundtracks.

Robertson had recently finished working on music for the filmmaker's forthcoming movie, "Killers of the Flower Moon."

In a statement shared with ABC News, Scorsese remembered his friend, "Robbie Robertson was one of my closest friends, a constant in my life and my work. I could always go to him as a confidante. A collaborator. An advisor. I tried to be the same for him."

The statement continued, "It goes without saying that he was a giant, that his effect on the art form was profound and lasting. There’s never enough time with anyone you love. And I loved Robbie."

In lieu of flowers, the manager's statement requests that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River, to build their new cultural center; Robertson's mother was Mohawk, one of the First Nation Six Nations. Robertson's First Nation heritage later inspired much of his solo work. His biological father, Alexander Klegerman, died in a car accident before he was born.

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