Healthy Living

Diabetes Killed Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia: Lessons that Were Learned

Diabetes Killed Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia: Lessons that Were Learned

Photo Source: Newsweek

Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995. He was a singer-songwriter and guitarist known for his work as the lead guitarist and vocalist of the Grateful Dead during their thirty-year career. The entire time, Jerry suffered with diabetes, and his lifestyle caused his diabetic symptoms to be dangerous. In 1986, he went into a diabetic coma that almost cost him his life.

His health improved after that experience, but he continued to struggle with obesity, heroin and cocaine addictions, smoking and diabetes.

Jerry’s life with diabetes

Jerome John Garcia was born in 1942, and his life was recording and performing. He is best remembered for “I'll Take a Melody,” “The Wheel” and “Might as Well.” His fans called themselves Deadheads and were intensely loyal to Garcia. Jerry lived large until his death in 1995 of a heart attack, and he was only 53.

Throughout his brief life, Garcia had health problems. His weight fluctuated, and the drugs he used caused further complications. During 1984 and 1985, Garcia’s health declined, and he was often incoherent and forgetful on stage. His heavy smoking had changed his voice, and he often forgot the songs he was singing.

Just before his diabetic coma in 1986, Robert Hunter, singer/songwriter/friend, found Jerry guzzling down fruit juice. In John’s words, “I believe that sugar put Jerry where he was. He was in terrible health – diabetic and taking in immense amounts of sugar, and it did what sugar will do to a diabetic and overloaded him into a coma.”

Jerry Garcia’s diabetic coma lasted for five days and left him unable to do little daily tasks. Garcia had to relearn how to play the guitar and take care of himself. He tried to control his diabetes by hiring a personal trainer who worked with him on diet and exercise.

After his recovery and new-found interest in his health, the band released an album, In the Dark, in 1987.  This studio album quickly became one of their bestselling works. Garcia’s improved health led the band to a new peak of success during the late 1980's.

The death of Brent Mydland, one of the members of the band, left Jerry Garcia with little hope that the band would ever be the same. However, they hired two keyboardists, and their skills gave Garcia new energy for music.

The band toured through 1991, but Garcia was exhausted from five straight years of touring. He wanted a break, but that didn't happen. The touring continued, but Garcia lost interest and his stamina began to suffer. At this point, heroin took over his life, again.

The band held an intervention in 1991, and Garcia tried to clean up his act. But, because of his renewed interest in cocaine and heroin, he relapsed and became almost as sick as he was in 1986.

After his recovery from this diabetic decline, Garcia reduced his smoking habit, began to lose weight, and became a vegetarian.

Despite his efforts to improve his health, his physical and mental condition continued to break down. In 1993 and 1994, he began to use narcotics again, and by 1995 playing guitar became excruciatingly painful. Because of diabetes, he experienced the loss of feeling in his hands, fingers, and toes. Carpal tunnel syndrome caused his guitar playing to be sporadic. Garcia continued to perform with the Grateful Dead but often had to be reminded what song they were playing on stage.