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The Band's Levon Helm dies at 71

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Media captionWhen Levon Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer more than a decade ago he feared he would never sing again

Levon Helm, singer and drummer for rock group The Band, has died of cancer at the age of 71.

The folk-rock musician died at a New York hospital surrounded by friends and family, manager Barbara O'Brien said.

The Band famously toured with Bob Dylan in 1965, '66 and '74 and collaborated on The Basement Tapes in 1967.

In a statement on his website, Dylan said: "He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation."

He added: "I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together.

"I'm going to miss him, as I'm sure a whole lot of others will too."

Helm, who was born in Arkansas in May 1940, had been in the final stages of throat cancer, which was first diagnosed in 1998.

His bandmate Garth Hudson, part of the band's original quintet, paid tribute to his friend on his website .

"Thank you for 50 years of friendship and music. No more sorrows, no more troubles, no more pain. He went peacefully to that beautiful marvellous wonderful place. Levon, I'm proud of you."

The Band - who settled on the 'no-frills' name after touring with various artists including Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins - made their recording debut in 1968 with the album Music From the Big Pink.

They reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s, and had several big hits, including Rag Mama Rag and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Helm's southern-inflected singing-style carried the vocals on several tracks, including The Weight.

Dylan joined them in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, which documented the Band's last live performance together in 1976, alongside Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell.

The Band briefly reunited in the 1980s, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. They received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2008.

Latterly, Helm toured with Ringo Starr's All Starr Band in the 1980s and won multiple Grammy awards for his albums Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt and Ramble at the Ryman, as well as one in 2011 for a live recording in Nashville, Tennessee.

Elton John's 1971 song Levon was inspired by Helm - and the name Levon is among the names chosen for his baby son.

"He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates," longtime friend and guitarist Larry Campbell told Rolling Stone .

"All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left, we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity."

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