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Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, dies [Updated]

December 17, 2010 |  2:27 pm

 Sad news from Northern California: Avant blues/rock/free jazz iconoclast Don Van Vliet, best known as Captain Beefheart, has died. The singer, who hadn't released a record since 1982's "Ice Cream for Crow," was also an acclaimed visual artist whose work was represented by the Michael Werner Gallery, which confirmed his death. Van Vliet had reportedly suffered from multiple sclerosis for the last 20 years.

This statement was released by the Michael Werner Gallery:

It is with great sadness that Michael Werner Gallery announces the death of Don Van Vliet. The artist, who was 69, died 17 December 2010 in California, from complications of multiple sclerosis.

 Don Van Vliet was a complex and influential figure in the visual and performing arts. He is perhaps best known as the incomparable Captain Beefheart who, together with his Magic Band, rose to prominence in the 1960s with a totally unique style of blues-inspired, experimental rock & roll. This would ultimately secure Van Vliet's place in music history as one of the most original recording artists of his time. After two decades in the spotlight as an avant-garde composer and performer, Van Vliet retired from performing to devote himself wholeheartedly to painting and drawing. Like his music, Van Vliet's lush paintings are the product of a truly rare and unique vision.

The Gallery sends its deepest sympathies to Jan Van Vliet, the artist's wife of over 40 years. Don Van Vliet will be sorely missed.

Pop & Hiss will provide updated information as it arrives; last week, we wrote about the upcoming Captain Beefheart Symposium, organized by former Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band member Gary Lucas. Above is Van Vliet's video, for the song "Ice Cream for Crow."

[Updated: Richard Cromelin has written an obituary of Don Van Vliet for the Times, which features remembrances from kindred spirit Tom Waits, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and writer Kristine McKenna. Read it here. ]

-- Randall Roberts