Vic Chesnutt died of an overdose of muscle relaxers on Christmas Day, according to The New York Times. He was 45.
The songwriter’s collaborator Kristin Hersh revealed in a Twitter message that the seminal Athens, GA-based songwriter had tried to kill himself earlier this week. The singer lingered in a coma before passing on today.
The musician had used a wheelchair since suffering injuries in a car accident when he was 18. He had attempted suicide on several occasions in the past.
After moving to Athens, Chesnutt befriended local hero Michael Stipe, who produced his first two albums: 1990’s Little and 1991’s West of Rome. Chesnutt’s eerily dark, moody songs inspired several generations of southern entertainers, from filmmaker Billy Bob Thornton—who cast the singer in his 1996 breakout Sling Blade —to younger indie/roots bands like Drive-By Truckers and Dead Confederate. The Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Soul Asylum, Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and Victoria Williams are just a few of the acts who covered Chesnutt’s music on the 1993 tribute CD Sweet Relief II.
Chesnutt had a longstanding relationship with the members of Widespread Panic. The Athens jam-titans have released two albums with Chesnutt under the alias brute: 1995’s Nine High a Pallet and 2002’s Co-Balt. Songs from those albums like “Protein Drink/Sewing Machine,” “Let’s Get Down to Business” and “Expiration Day” remain staples in Panic’s live set. Chesnutt has also joined Panic onstage a handful of times, most recently at Athens’ The Classic Center on April 25, 2007.
“I never thought people would cover my songs because they’re so idiosyncratic,” Chesnutt told Jambands.com in 1999. “When I started hearing Panic do them, I was like WOW, well, OK. To me it is the coolest thing in the world to see Dave Schools singing ‘Sleepy Man.’ I’m just on the top of the planet when that happens.”
Earlier this year Chesnutt released the albums At the Cut and Skitter on Take-Off. He recently completed a tour in support of At the Cut that featured members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Witchies and Fugazi as his backing band.
A number of musicians posted reflections following Chesnutt’s passing. “We have lost one of our great ones,” Stipe said in a statement, while Patti Smith offered the following words about Chesnutt: “’I flew around a little room once.’ A line from ‘Supernatural.’ He was just that. He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind. He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself. Before he made an album he said he was a bum. Now he is in flight bumming round beyond the little room. With his angel voice.”
Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum also offered some kinds words. “In 1991 I moved to Athens, Georgia in search of God, but what I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt,” he said. “Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt.”
Please click here for an archival interview with Chesnutt