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The Last Days of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker

Walter Becker
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Friends of late Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker have shared what they know of the health issues that led to his passing on Sept. 3 at the age of 67. While he’d struggled with his health for at least a decade, he was such a private person that many close acquaintances weren’t aware of how sick he’d become.

“I understand Walter was ill,” comedian Chevy Chase told Rolling Stone. “But I had no idea how sick.” The report also pointed out that no cause of death had been revealed. Another friend, singer Krishna Das, said: “The last time I saw him he was going to try another round of treatments for hep C.”

Becker’s health had declined such that Steely Dan had begun performing shows without him, after he’d had to leave the stage at New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2013, then undergone an unspecified medical procedure before a show last year. “That was always looming,” said bassist and producer Larry Klein of liver problems suffered by Becker. “If we went out to dinner he couldn’t order a glass of wine. He had to have a real clean liver.”

Concern over his health increased after he missed two shows in July and co-founding bandmate Donald Fagen later said he was “recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” Fagen visited Becker in hospital a week before his death, said friend Pete Fogel. “I could sense that he knew that might have been the last time he would see Walter. He reminisced about their long personal and musical relationship. It was very sad, to say the least.”

Das also discussed Becker’s troubled childhood in a broken home, while the report referred to a periods of drug addiction after he’d been seriously injured in a traffic accident in 1980, and the death of girlfriend Karen Stanley after an overdose the same year. “His relationships were difficult and his relationship with life was difficult,” Das said. “But music was always there for him. It was the most dependable source of beauty he had in his life.”

Steely Dan return to the road on Oct. 13 in Thackerville, Okla. with a run of dates that includes three shows in and around the U.K. Fagen said soon after Becker’s death: “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

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