Ron “Pigpen” McKernan died on March 8, 1973 of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage caused by alcoholism and congenital biliary cirrhosis. He was a founding member, songwriter, organist, harmonica player, and singer of the Grateful Dead. He was 27 years and 181 days old. He was a lover and close friend of Janis Joplin, another member of the 27 club. McKernan grave is in the Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto, California.
McKernan had started drinking as a teenager, and was unable to finish high school due to his problematic behavior. His love of Southern Comfort and cheap wine was legendary, and so was his ability to consume massive quantities. He was diagnosed with congenital biliary cirrhosis, an anti-immune disease, in 1970, and soon after that his symptoms became so severe that he could not continue playing in the band. Even though he was very ill and his doctors advised against it, he rejoined the band for their famous European tour in 1972. After a brief summer tour of the states, he never again appeared with the Dead.
McKernan became close friends with his hired replacement during a hiatus in 1967 and 1968 when he had been fired from the band. Tom Constanten played keyboards with the band and when McKernan returned to the fold, they both stayed on. They shared an extreme dislike for the psychedelics that were commonly used by everyone else in the band at that time, and an equally strong love of drink. Ironically, this infatuation with alcohol led to his early demise, because with his diagnosis there was nothing worse he could have done than to continue drinking.
In another of the ironies of his life, one of his compositions called Turn On Your Love Light became a signature Dead jam tune that sometimes stretched out to nearly an hour in concert. He had become disenchanted with the band in the late 60s when they started experimenting with long form jams, and only returned when the band showed a renewed interest in more compact songs on their timeless albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. He was responsible for classic vocal turns on Operator, Easy Wind, Mister Charlie, and many other favorite Grateful Dead tunes. With his death at 27, the Grateful Dead lost a distinctive voice, a fine songwriter, and a talented instrumentalist.
Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.