Sean Michaels 

Robbie Robertson seeks reconciliation at Levon Helm’s sickbed

The former colleagues in the Band, enemies for 35 years, come together as Helm faces death
  
  

As Levon Helm proceeds through the "final stages" of cancer, Robbie Robertson, his former colleague in the Band, has described setting aside years of acrimony to visit Helm in hospital. "I am so grateful I got to see him one last time," Robertson said, "and will miss him and love him forever."

The Band's Garth Hudson has also commented on Helm's illness, posting a video of Knocking on Heaven's Door. "I am too sad for words right now," he wrote on his website. "Please continue praying for Levon and family."

Robertson's dispute with Helm is one of music's longest-running feuds, dating back more than 35 years. They last played together at the Band's final concert, The Last Waltz, in 1976. Helm was furious at Robertson's decision to "destroy" the Band, he wrote in his autobiography, and participated in the concert on the basis of his attorney's advice: "Do it, puke, and get out of the way." They also clashed over royalties. "[Robbie] and [manager] Albert [Grossman] get all the money, and the rest of us get all the leftovers, and he was supposed to be one of us," Helm said in 1998.

In his statement on Facebook, Robertson said he learned of Helm's sickness last week. "It hit me really hard because I thought he had beaten throat cancer and had no idea that he was this ill," he said. "I spoke with his family and made arrangements to go and see him. On Sunday I went to New York and visited him in the hospital. I sat with Levon for a good while, and thought of the incredible and beautiful times we had together … Levon is one of the most extraordinary talented people I've ever known and very much like an older brother to me." The night before they visited in New York, Robertson offered Helm "prayers and love" in a speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Robertson was not the only one to be surprised by Helm's sudden turn for the worse. Although the drummer postponed several concerts in the past month, a statement on 6 April cited a slipped disk in his back as the cause of his cancellations. "Levon would like to assure everyone that his health otherwise has been excellent as of late," his representative said. "Levon and the band are eager to get back on the road and hope to see all the fans soon."

Now 71, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. At the time, the cost of paying for treatment threatened to leave him homeless. "You got to pick one – pay your medical bills or pay the mortgage," he said in a 2010 CNN interview. "Most people can't do both, and I'm not different." Helm recovered, and his home became the venue for a star-studded weekly concert series, the Midnight Rambles. These gigs led to a creative resurgence and two acclaimed albums, 2007's Dirt Farmer and 2009's Electric Dirt.

Robertson, 68, released his fifth solo album last year.

• This article was amended on 23 April 2012. The original mistakenly said Levon Helm wrote in his autobiography that Robbie Robertson didn't take the Band's final concert seriously, and that Helm described Robertson's attitude to that gig as: "Do it, puke, and get out." This has been corrected.