The Band’s Levon Helm dies: How, through ‘The Weight,’ his voice will go on

Levon Helm, the singer and drummer who co-founded The Band, died Thursday after battling throat cancer. He was 71.

I realize this is a bit obvious, but when I think of Helm, the first thing that comes to my mind is “The Weight.” The song, which begins “I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead,” was written by Robbie Robertson but came alive thanks to Helm’s deep, soulful voice.

Robertson, who said on his Facebook page that he visited Helm on Sunday, called him “one of the most extraordinary talented people I’ve ever known.”

“The Weight” has been featured in dozens of movies and TV shows, including “The Big Chill” and “Sports Night,” as well as commercials for products like Diet Coke. It’s also been covered more times than I can count.

Below, check out my favorite use and performance of the song.


View Photo Gallery: The drummer and leathery-voiced singer with The Band, a revered rock group that recorded and collaborated with Bob Dylan and was one of the most influential groups of the 1960s and ’70s, died from cancer.

“The Weight” was featured in 1969’s “Easy Rider,” the iconic road movie starring Peter Fonda. Because of licensing issues, a cover by Smith was used on the soundtrack.

But really, the song is most effective in the film. It doesn’t get any better than an image of motorcycles on the open road matched Helm’s weather-worn voice.

The Band also performed the song in “The Last Waltz,” a Martin Scorsese directed film that documented their last concert in 1976. Even though, as Time’s Nate Rawlings points out, Helm hated the film, it’s still a great performance of “The Weight.”

What are your best memories of Helm and The Band? Share them in the comments.

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