The Washington Post

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.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans