October 27, 2008 / 7:32 AM / in 9 years

Former Grateful Dead keyboardist Saunders dies at 74

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Keyboardist Merl Saunders, who had a long-term collaboration with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, has died at the age of 74 from complications after suffering a stroke six years ago, his family said.

His family paid tribute to the jazz and rock musician, whose favored instrument was the Hammond B3 organ, in a statement on his web site, saying they were sad to lose him and comforted by the affection from his fans.

"Merl Saunders stood for music and love - his smile alone told you that," said the statement.

"He was a special man, a beautiful companion, father, grandfather, and family patriarch, and the proof of that spirit is in the way you've reached out to us at his passing."

The family said a memorial service would be held on October 29 in San Francisco for Saunders who was a bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school and recorded with a list of top musicians including Miles Davis and B.B King.

His MySpace entry noted that in 2000 Saunders became the first recipient of the lifetime activist award from a Florida environmentalist group for his environmental activism.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by David Fox

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