Don Van Vliet, who blended rock, blues, psychedelia and free jazz under the stage name Captain Beefheart, died today at the age of 69, after years of battling multiple sclerosis.
As a musician he recorded with a number of rotating artists under the name Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. The album considered his magnum opus, 1969's "Trout Mask Replica," was ranked 58th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney were known as great admirers of Beefheart.
Van Vliet was born in Glendale, Calif., and was an avid painter and sculptor as a child. He became friends with Frank Zappa while in high school, and collaborations with Zappa - which include supplying the vocals for "Willie The Pimp" on 1969's 'Hot Rats'- helped launch a musical career that lasted until the early 1980s, when he largely abandoned music to concentrate on a well-received career as a visual artist.
He had made few public appearances over the past two decades, living quietly in small towns in California. According to Entertainment Weekly, Van Vliet died at a hospital in Northern California on Friday morning.