Vic Chesnutt, a singer-songwriter whose music dealt with mortality and black humor, died on Friday in a hospital in Athens, Ga., a spokesman for his family said. He was 45 and lived in Athens.
He had been in a coma after taking an overdose of muscle relaxants earlier this week, said the family spokesman, Jem Cohen.
In a two-decade career, Mr. Chesnutt sang darkly comic and often disarmingly candid songs about death, vulnerability, and life’s simple joys. A car accident when he was 18 left him a quadriplegic, but he has said that the accident focused him as a musician and a poet.
“It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say,” he said in a recent radio interview with Terry Gross.
Discovered in the late 1980s by Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who produced his first two albums, Mr. Chesnutt has been a mainstay in independent music, collaborating with the bands Lambchop and Widespread Panic.
In 1996 his songs were performed by Madonna, the Indigo Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M. and others for “Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation,” an album that benefited the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a nonprofit group that offers medical support for musicians.
His survivors include his wife, Tina Whatley Chesnutt; a sister, Lorinda Crane; and nine nieces and nephews.
Recently Mr. Chesnutt had had a burst of creativity, releasing two 2009 albums, “At the Cut” and “Skitter on Take-Off.” In the song, “Flirted With You All My Life,” from “At the Cut,” Mr. Chesnutt sings about suicide, which he had attempted several times. Written as a breakup song with death, it expresses a wish to live:
“When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind
But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death
Oh death, I’m really not ready.”
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