Walter Becker Dies: Cause Of Death Unknown, But Steely Dan Guitarist Was ‘Very Ill’ In Recent Months

Steely Dan co-founder and guitarist Walter Becker died Sunday at the age of 67. No cause of death has been made available, but Becker’s passing comes after he had to miss recent concert dates due to unspecified health issues.

The sad news was confirmed Sunday morning on Becker’s official website, and while there were few other details included in the announcement, a report from BBC News noted that the veteran musician had missed Steely Dan’s July concerts due to health reasons. Becker’s bandmate and co-founder, singer Donald Fagen, confirmed in an August press conference that Walter was “recovering from a procedure,” but declined to elaborate further.

Similarly, TMZ reported that Walter Becker’s cause of death is still unknown, but noted that he had undergone surgery last month, and been “very ill” prior to his passing.

In a tribute posted by Rolling Stone hours after Walter Becker’s death was announced, Donald Fagen looked back on the 50-year friendship he shared with his late bandmate, which began in 1967 when they met as students at Bard College in New York. Having bonded over their shared love of jazz, soul, Chicago blues, science fiction, and old movies, the two friends moved to California in the early ’70s, and formed Steely Dan with singer David Palmer, guitarists Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias, and drummer Jim Hodder.

As Fagen recalled, Becker had a “very rough childhood” growing up, though he was able to overcome these early challenges to become a creative and skilled guitarist and songwriter.

“Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.”

Fagen’s tribute to Walter Becker following his death made reference to the guitarist’s “habits” getting the best of him as the ’70s drew to a close. At that time, Steely Dan was one of the biggest rock bands in the world, having recorded top 10 singles such as “Do It Again” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and released several top-selling albums. But Variety noted that things were beginning to fall apart in the lead-up to Steely Dan’s 1980 album Gaucho, which took much longer than usual to complete, and saw longtime friends Becker and Fagen beginning to fall out with each other.

Following Steely Dan’s disbandment in 1981, Becker continued dealing with a drug habit, as well as the drug overdose death of his then-girlfriend, Karen Stanley. But he recalled in an interview with Mojo in 1995 (as cited by Variety) that he decided to get a grip on his drug use by spending the next few years in Maui and laying low.

“I spent a couple of years not doing any music or anything, just here in Hawaii trying to get healthy and adjust to the new regimen I was setting up for myself.”

NEW YORK - MAY 21: Donald Fagen (R) and Walter Becker of Steely Dan perform at the Beacon Theatre on May 21, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Donald Fagen;Walter Becker

With Fagen and Becker having patched things up after a period of estrangement, Steely Dan reunited in 1993 and in 2000, the band released Two Against Nature, their first studio album in two decades, which won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Another studio album, Everything Must Go, would follow three years later, with Becker releasing his second and final solo album, Circus Money, in 2008.

While Walter Becker’s death leaves a big void in the iconic jazz/rock band’s lineup, Donald Fagen concluded his tribute to his departed friend and colleague by saying that he “(intends) to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

[Featured Image by Sean Gardner/Getty Images]