Levon Helm, Drummer for The Band, Dies at 71

04/19/2012 at 03:20 PM EDT

Levon Helm, The Band Drummer Was 71
Levon Helm
Jeffrey Ufberg/Wireimage
Levon Helm, the legendary drummer for The Band whose country-flavored vocals are heard on the hit "The Weight," died Thursday at 71.

"Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon," his rep says. "He was surrounded by family, friends and bandmates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul."

Earlier this week, his wife Sandy and daughter announced on his website that he was "in the final stages of his battle with cancer."





The Arkansas-born Helm played in a rockabilly band in the late 1950s before moving to Canada and joining guitarist Robbie Robertson and three other musicians to form what would become Bob Dylan's back-up band in the mid-1960s.

Later called simply The Band, the group featured Helm's drumming and vocals on such songs as "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" until their final performance in 1976, which Martin Scorsese filmed as the movie The Last Waltz.

In their message, Helms's wife and daughter said, "Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration ... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage ... We appreciate all the love and support and concern."

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