Garcia was influenced by music at an early age, taking piano lessons for much of his childhood. His father was a retired professional musician and his mother enjoyed playing the piano. His father's extended family—which had emigrated from Spain in 1919—would often sing during reunions.
Garcia's ancestors on his father's side were from Galicia in northwest Spain. His mother's ancestors were Irish and Swedish. He was born in the Excelsior District of San Francisco, California, on August 1, 1942, to Jose Ramon "Joe" Garcia and Ruth Marie "Bobbie" (née Clifford) Garcia, who was herself born in San Francisco. His parents named him after composer Jerome Kern. Jerome John was their second child, preceded by Clifford Ramon "Tiff", who was born in 1937. Shortly before Clifford's birth, their father and a partner leased a building in downtown San Francisco and turned it into a bar, partly in response to Jose being blackballed from a musicians' union for moonlighting.
Jerome John Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for being a principal songwriter, the lead guitarist and a vocalist with the rock band the Grateful Dead, of which he was a founding member and which came to prominence during the counterculture of the 1960s. Although he disavowed the role, Garcia was viewed by many as the leader or "spokesman" of the group.
In 1946 two-thirds of four year-old Garcia's right middle finger was cut off by his brother in a wood splitting accident while the family was vacationing in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Garcia later confessed that he often used it to his advantage in his youth, showing it off to other children in his neighborhood.
In 1953, Garcia's mother married Wally Matusiewicz. Subsequently, Garcia and his brother moved back home with their mother and new stepfather. However, due to the roughneck reputation of their neighborhood at the time, Garcia's mother moved their family to Menlo Park. During their stay in Menlo Park, Garcia became acquainted with racism and antisemitism, things he disliked intensely. The same year, Garcia was also introduced to rock and roll and rhythm and blues by his brother, and enjoyed listening to the likes of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Hank Ballard, and, later, Chuck Berry. Clifford often memorized the vocals for his favorite songs, and would then make Garcia learn the harmony parts, a move to which Garcia later attributed much of his early ear training.
After a short stint at Denman Junior High School , Garcia attended tenth grade at Balboa High School in 1958, where he often got into trouble for skipping classes and fighting. Consequently, in 1959, Garcia's mother again moved the family to a safer environment, to Cazadero, a small town in Sonoma County, 90 miles (140 km) north of San Francisco. This turn of events did not sit well with Garcia, who had to travel by bus thirty miles (50 km) to Analy High School in Sebastopol, the nearest school. Garcia did, however, join a band at his school known as the Chords. After performing in and winning a contest, the band's reward was recording a song. They chose "Raunchy" by Bill Justis.
Garcia stole his mother's car in 1960, and as punishment he was forced to join the United States Army. He received basic training at Fort Ord. After training, he was transferred to Fort Winfield Scott in the Presidio of San Francisco. Garcia spent most of his time in the army at his leisure, missing roll call and accruing many counts of being AWOL. As a result, Garcia was given a general discharge on December 14, 1960.
In January 1961, Garcia drove down to East Palo Alto to see Laird Grant, an old friend from middle school. He had bought a 1950 Cadillac sedan from a cook in the army, which barely made it to Grant's residence before it broke down. Garcia spent the next few weeks sleeping where friends would allow, eventually using his car as a home. Through Grant, Garcia met Dave McQueen in February, who, after hearing Garcia perform some blues music, introduced him to local people and to the Chateau, a rooming house located near Stanford University which was then a popular hangout.
On February 20, 1961, Garcia got into a car with Paul Speegle, a sixteen-year-old artist and acquaintance of Garcia; Lee Adams, the house manager of the Chateau and driver of the car; and Alan Trist, a companion of theirs. After speeding past the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, the car encountered a curve and, traveling around 90 miles per hour (140 km/h), collided with the guard rail, sending the car rolling turbulently. Garcia was hurled through the windshield of the car into a nearby field with such force he was literally thrown out of his shoes and would later be unable to recall the ejection. Lee Adams, the driver, and Alan Trist, who was seated in the back, were thrown from the car as well, suffering from abdominal injuries and a spine fracture, respectively. Garcia escaped with a broken collarbone, while Speegle, still in the car, was fatally injured.
In April 1961, Garcia first met Robert Hunter, who would become a long-time friend of and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, collaborating principally with Garcia. The two involved themselves in the South Bay and San Francisco art and music scenes, sometimes playing at Menlo Park's Kepler's Books. Garcia performed his first concert with Hunter, each earning five dollars. Garcia and Hunter also played in bands (the Wildwood Boys and the Hart Valley Drifters) with David Nelson, who would later play with Garcia in the New Riders of the Purple Sage and contribute to several Grateful Dead album songs.
In 1962, Garcia met Phil Lesh, the eventual bassist of the Grateful Dead, during a party in Menlo Park's bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood (where author Ken Kesey lived). Lesh would later write in his autobiography that Garcia reminded him of pictures he had seen of the composer Claude Debussy, with his "dark, curly hair, goatee, Impressionist eyes". While attending another party in Palo Alto, Lesh approached Garcia to suggest they record Garcia on Lesh's tape recorder and produce a radio show for the progressive, community-supported Berkeley radio station KPFA. Using an old Wollensak tape recorder, they recorded "Matty Groves" and "The Long Black Veil", among several other tunes. The recordings became a central feature of a 90-minute KPFA special broadcast, "The Long Black Veil and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia". The link between KPFA and the Grateful Dead continues to this day, having included many fundraisers, interviews, live concert broadcasts, taped band performances and all-day or all-weekend "Dead-only" marathons.
Garcia met his first wife, Sara Ruppenthal, in 1963. She was working at the coffee house in the back of Kepler's Books, where Garcia, Hunter, and Nelson regularly performed. They married on April 23, 1963, and on December 8 of that year their daughter Heather was born.
Between 1962 and 1964, Garcia sang and performed mainly bluegrass, old-time, and folk music. One of the bands Garcia performed with was the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, a bluegrass act. The group consisted of Garcia on guitar, banjo, vocals, and harmonica, Marshall Leicester on banjo, guitar, and vocals, and Dick Arnold on fiddle and vocals. Soon after this, Garcia, Weir, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, and several of their friends formed a jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Around this time, the psychedelic drug LSD was gaining popularity. Garcia first began using LSD in 1964; later, when asked how it changed his life, he remarked: "Well, it changed everything [...] the effect was that it freed me because I suddenly realized that my little attempt at having a straight life and doing that was really a fiction and just wasn't going to work out. Luckily I wasn't far enough into it for it to be shattering or anything; it was like a realization that just made me feel immensely relieved."
Garcia and the band toured almost constantly from their formation in 1965 until Garcia's death in 1995. Periodically, there were breaks due to exhaustion or health problems, often due to Garcia's drug use. During their three-decade span, the Grateful Dead played 2,314 shows.
In 1965, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions evolved into the Warlocks, with the addition of Phil Lesh on bass guitar and Bill Kreutzmann on percussion. However, the band discovered that another group (which would later become the Velvet Underground) had recently selected the same name. In response, Garcia came up with "Grateful Dead" by opening a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary to an entry for "Grateful dead". The definition for "Grateful dead" was "a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial". The band's first reaction was disapproval. Garcia later explained the group's reaction: "I didn't like it really, I just found it to be really powerful. [Bob] Weir didn't like it, [Bill] Kreutzmann didn't like it and nobody really wanted to hear about it." Despite their dislike of the name, it quickly spread by word of mouth, and soon became their official title.
In 1965, when Garcia was playing with the Warlocks, he used a Guild Starfire, which he also used on the début album of the Grateful Dead. Beginning in late 1967 and ending in 1968, Garcia played black or gold mid-1950s Gibson Les Paul guitars with P-90 pickups. In 1969, he picked up the Gibson SG and used it for most of that year and 1970, except for a small period in between where he used a sunburst Fender Stratocaster.
Carolyn Adams, a Merry Prankster also known as "Mountain Girl" or "M.G.," had a daughter, Sunshine, with Ken Kesey. Mountain Girl married another Prankster, George Walker, but they soon separated. She and Sunshine then moved into 710 Ashbury with Garcia in late 1966 where they would ultimately live together until 1975. In 1967, Sara and Jerry officially divorced after a long separation. Adams gave birth to Garcia's second and third daughters, Annabelle Walker Garcia (February 2, 1970) and Theresa Adams "Trixie" Garcia (September 21, 1974).
Because of their public profile, Garcia and his collaborators were occasionally singled out in the American war on drugs. On October 2, 1967, 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco (where the Grateful Dead had taken up residence the year before) was raided after a police tip-off. Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan were apprehended on marijuana charges which were later dropped, although Garcia himself was not arrested. The following year, Garcia's picture was used in a defamatory context in a campaign commercial for Richard Nixon.
Garcia also played pedal steel guitar for fellow-San Francisco musicians New Riders of the Purple Sage from their initial dates in 1969 to October 1971, when increased commitments with the Dead forced him to opt out of the group. He appears as a band member on their debut album New Riders of the Purple Sage, and produced Home, Home on the Road, a 1974 live album by the band. He also contributed pedal steel guitar to the enduring hit "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Garcia also played steel guitar licks on Brewer & Shipley's 1970 album Tarkio. Despite considering himself a novice on the pedal steel, Garcia routinely ranked high in player polls. After a long lapse from playing the pedal steel, he played it once more during several of the Dead's concerts with Bob Dylan in the summer of 1987.
In 1969, Garcia played pedal steel on three notable outside recordings: the track "The Farm" on the Jefferson Airplane album Volunteers, the track "Oh Mommy" by Brewer and Shipley and the hit single "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their album Déjà Vu, released in 1970. Garcia played on the latter album in exchange for harmony lessons for the Grateful Dead, who were at the time recording Workingman's Dead.
Throughout the early 1970s, Garcia, Lesh, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and David Crosby collaborated intermittently with MIT-educated composer and biologist Ned Lagin on several projects in the realm of early ambient music; these include the album Seastones (released by the Ned Lagin on the Round Records subsidiary) and L, an unfinished dance work composed by Ned Lagin. In 1970, Garcia participated in the soundtrack for the film Zabriskie Point.
Most of the band were arrested again in January 1970, after they flew to New Orleans from Hawaii. After returning to their hotel from a performance, the band checked into their rooms, only to be quickly raided by police. Approximately fifteen people were arrested on the spot, including many of the road crew, management, and nearly all of the Grateful Dead except for Garcia, who arrived later, outgoing keyboardist Tom Constanten, who abstained from all drugs as a member of the Church of Scientology, and McKernan, who eschewed illegal drugs in favor of alcohol.
During August 1970, Garcia's mother Ruth was involved in a car crash near Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Garcia, who was recording the album American Beauty at the time, often left the sessions to visit his mother with his brother Clifford. She died on September 28, 1970.
In 1971, Garcia began playing a sunburst Les Paul. In March and April 1971 – the time period during which the Grateful Dead recorded its second live album, Grateful Dead – Garcia played the "Peanut," a guitar he had received from Rick Turner, who had custom built the guitar's body and incorporated the neck, pickups, and hardware from an early 60's Les Paul. In May, Garcia began using a 1957 natural finish Stratocaster that had been given to him by Graham Nash. Garcia added an alligator sticker to the pickguard in the fall of that year. “Alligator" would remain Garcia's principal electric guitar until August 1973. In the summer of 1971, Garcia also played a double-cutaway Les Paul TV Junior. While Alligator was in the shop in the summer of 1972, he briefly reverted to the sunburst Stratocaster; this can be seen in Sunshine Daydream.
In late 1972, Garcia purchased the first guitar (Eagle) made by Alembic luthier Doug Irwin for $850 (equivalent to $5,200 in 2019). Enamored of Irwin's talents, he immediately commissioned his own custom instrument. This guitar, nicknamed Wolf for a memorable sticker Garcia added below the tailpiece, was delivered in May 1973 and replaced Alligator on stage in September. It cost $1,500 (equivalent to $8,600 in 2019), an extremely high price for the era.
In the midst of a March 1973 Grateful Dead engagement at the Nassau Coliseum near New York City, Garcia met Deborah Koons, an aspiring filmmaker from a wealthy Cincinnati, Ohio-based family who would much later marry him and become his widow. After a brief correspondence, he began his relationship with her in mid-1974. This gradually strained his relationship with Adams and culminated in Garcia leaving Adams for Koons in late 1975. The end of his relationship with Koons in 1977 precipitated a brief reconciliation with Adams, including the reestablishment of their household. However, she did not agree with the guitarist's persistent use of narcotics and moved with the children to the Eugene, Oregon area, living near Kesey, in 1978.
According to Bill Kreutzmann, the band's use of cocaine accelerated throughout the early 1970s. After experimenting with heroin in a brothel in 1974 (likely on the band's second European tour), Garcia was introduced to a smokeable form of the drug (initially advertised as refined opium) colloquially known as "Persian" or "Persian Base" during the group's 1975 hiatus. Influenced by the stresses of creating and releasing The Grateful Dead Movie and the acrimonious collapse of the band's independent record labels over the next two years, Garcia became increasingly dependent upon both substances. These factors, combined with the alcohol and drug abuse of several other members of the Grateful Dead, resulted in a turbulent atmosphere. By 1978, the band's chemistry began "cracking and crumbling", resulting in poor group cohesion. As a result, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux left the band in February 1979.
During the Grateful Dead's 1974 European tour, Wolf was dropped on several occasions, one of which caused a minor crack in the headstock. Following filming of The Grateful Dead Movie (in which the guitar is prominently visible) a month later, Garcia returned it to Irwin for repairs. Throughout its absence, Garcia predominantly played several Travis Bean guitars, including the TB1000A (1975) and the TB500 (1976-1977). On September 28, 1977, Irwin delivered the refurbished Wolf back to Garcia. The wolf sticker which gave the guitar its name had now been inlaid into the instrument; it also featured an effects loop between the pick-ups and controls (so inline effects would "see" the same signal at all times) which was bypassable. Irwin also put a new face on the headstock with only his logo (he later claimed to have built the guitar himself, though pictures through time clearly show the progression of logos, from Alembic, to Alembic & Irwin, to only Irwin).
Nearly seven years after he commissioned it, Garcia received his second custom guitar (Tiger) from Irwin in the summer of 1979. He first employed the instrument in concert at a Grateful Dead performance at the Oakland Auditorium Arena on August 4, 1979. Its name was derived from the inlay on the preamp cover. The body of Tiger was of rich quality: the top layer was cocobolo, with the preceding layers being maple stripe, vermilion, and flame maple, in that order. The neck was made of western maple with an ebony fingerboard. The pickups consisted of a single coil DiMarzio SDS-1 and two humbucker DiMarzio Super IIs which were easily removable due to Garcia's preference for replacing his pickups every year or two. The electronics were composed of an effects bypass loop, which allowed Garcia to control the sound of his effects through the tone and volume controls on the guitar, and a preamplifier/buffer which rested behind a plate in the back of the guitar. Fully outfitted, Tiger weighed 13 ⁄2 pounds (6.1 kg). This was Garcia's principal guitar for the next eleven years, and most played.
Adams and Garcia were married on December 31, 1981, largely as a result of mutual tax exigencies. Despite the legal codification of their union, she remained in Oregon, while Garcia continued to live near the Grateful Dead's offices in San Rafael, California. Garcia lived with a variety of housemates, including longtime Grateful Dead employee and Jerry Garcia Band manager Rock Scully. Scully, who co-managed the Grateful Dead throughout the mid-to-late 1960s before serving as the band's "advance man" and publicist, was dismissed by the group in 1984 for enabling Garcia's addictions and for allegedly embezzling the Garcia Band's profits. Another housemate was Nora Sage, a Deadhead who became Garcia's housekeeper while studying at the Golden Gate University School of Law. The exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, although it is believed to have been platonic due to Garcia'a addictions. She later became his art representative.
Garcia's decade-long heroin addiction culminated in the rest of the band holding an intervention in January 1985. Given the choice between the band or the drugs, Garcia agreed to check into a rehabilitation center in Oakland, California. A few days later in January, before the start of his program in Oakland, Garcia was arrested for drug possession in Golden Gate Park; he subsequently attended a drug diversion program. Throughout 1985, he tapered his drug use on tour and at home with the assistance of Nora Sage; by the spring of 1986, he was completely abstinent.
After returning from the band's 1992 summer tour, Garcia became sick, a throwback to his diabetic coma in 1986. Manasha Garcia nursed Jerry back to health and organized a team of health professionals which included acupuncturist Yen Wei Choong and Randy Baker, a licensed holistic doctor to treat him at home. Garcia recovered over the following days, despite the Grateful Dead having to cancel their fall tour to allow him time to recuperate. Garcia reduced his cigarette smoking and began losing weight. He also became a vegetarian.
Later in life, Garcia struggled with diabetes, and in 1986 went into a diabetic coma that nearly cost him his life. Although his overall health improved somewhat after that, he continued to struggle with obesity, smoking, and longstanding heroin and cocaine addictions. He was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack on August 9, 1995 at the age of 53.
Precipitated by an unhealthy weight, dehydration, bad eating habits, and a recent relapse on the Grateful Dead's first stadium tour, Garcia collapsed into a diabetic coma in July 1986, waking up five days later. He later spoke about this period of unconsciousness as surreal: "Well, I had some very weird experiences. My main experience was one of furious activity and tremendous struggle in a sort of futuristic, space-ship vehicle with insectoid presences. After I came out of my coma, I had this image of myself as these little hunks of protoplasm that were stuck together kind of like stamps with perforations between them that you could snap off." Garcia's coma had a profound effect on him: it forced him to have to relearn how to play the guitar, as well as other, more basic skills. Within a handful of months, he had recovered, playing with the Jerry Garcia Band and the Grateful Dead again later that year.
After Garcia's recovery, the band released a comeback album In the Dark in 1987, which became their best-selling studio album. Inspired by Garcia's improved health, a successful album and the continuing emergence of Mydland as a third frontman, the band's energy and chemistry reached a new peak in the late 1980s.
In 1987, Vermont ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's introduced their Cherry Garcia flavor dedicated to him. It was the first ice cream flavor dedicated to a musician.
During the autumn of 1978, Garcia developed a friendship with Shimer College student Manasha Matheson, an artist and music enthusiast. They remained friends over the following nine years before initiating a romantic relationship in Hartford, Connecticut on the Grateful Dead's spring 1987 tour. On August 17, 1990, Jerry and Manasha married at their San Anselmo, California home in a spiritual ceremony free of legal convention. Jerry and Manasha became parents with the birth of their daughter, Keelin Noel Garcia, on December 20, 1987. In 1991, Garcia expressed his delight in finding the time to "actually be a father" to Keelin in contrast to his past relationships with his children. A year later, Garcia dedicated his first art book, Paintings, Drawings and Sketches, "For Manasha, with love, Jerry."
In 1988, Garcia agreed to perform at several major benefits including the "Soviet American Peace Walk" concert at the Band Shell, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, that drew 25,000 people. He was asked to play by longtime friend and fellow musician, Pete Sears, who played piano with all the bands that day, and also procured all the other musicians. Garcia, Mickey Hart and Steve Parish played the show, then were given a police escort to a Grateful Dead show across the bay later that night. Garcia also played with Nick Gravenites and Pete Sears at a benefit given for Vietnam Veteran and peace activist Brian Willson, who lost both legs below the knee when he attempted to block a train carrying weapons to military dictatorships in El Salvador.
Having previously studied at the San Francisco Art Institute as a teenager, Garcia embarked on a second career in the visual arts in the late 1980s. He created a number of drawings, etchings, and water colors. Garcia's artistic endeavors were represented by the Weir Gallery in Berkeley, California from 1989 to 1996. During this period, Roberta Weir (unrelated to Garcia's bandmate Bob Weir) provided Garcia with new art techniques to use, sponsored his first solo show in 1990, and prepared blank etching plates for him to draw on. These would then be processed and printed by gallery staff and brought back to Garcia for approval and signature, usually with a passing of stacks of paper backstage at a Dead show. His annual shows at the Weir Gallery garnered much attention, leading to further shows in New York and other cities. Garcia was an early adopter of digital art media; his artistic style was as varied as his musical output, and he carried small notebooks for pen and ink sketches wherever he toured. Roberta Weir continues to maintain an archive of the artwork of Jerry Garcia. Perhaps the most widely seen pieces of Jerry Garcia's art are the many editions of men's neckties produced by Stonehenge Ltd. and Mulberry Neckware. Some began as etchings, other designs came from his drawings, paintings, and digital art. Garcia's artwork has since expanded into everything from hotel rooms, wet suits, men’s sport shirts, a women’s wear line, boxer shorts, hair accessories, cummerbunds, silk scarves and wool rugs.
In 1990, Irwin completed Rosebud, Garcia's fourth custom guitar. It was similar to his previous guitar Tiger in many respects, but featured different inlays and electronics, tone and volume controls, and weight. Rosebud, unlike Tiger, was configured with three humbuckers; the neck and bridge pickups shared a tone control, while the middle had its own. Atop the guitar was a Roland GK-2 pickup which fed the controller set inside the guitar. The GK2 was used in junction with the Roland GR-50 rack mount synthesizer. The GR-50 synthesizer in turn drove a Korg M1R synthesizer producing the MIDI effects heard during live performances of this period as heard on the Grateful Dead recording Without a Net. Sections of the guitar were hollowed out to bring the weight down to 11 ⁄2 pounds (5.2 kg). The inlay, a dancing skeleton holding a rose, covers a plate just below the bridge. The final cost of the instrument was $11,000 (equivalent to $21,500 in 2019).
Amid a litany of personal problems, Mydland died of a speedball overdose in July 1990. His death greatly affected Garcia, leading him to believe that the band's chemistry would never be the same. Before beginning the fall tour, the band acquired keyboardists Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby. The power of Hornsby's performances drove Garcia to new heights on stage. However, as the band continued through 1991, Garcia became concerned with the band's future. He was exhausted from five straight years of touring. He thought a break was necessary, mainly so that the band could come back with fresh material. The idea was put off by the pressures of management, and the touring continued. Garcia's decrease in both stamina and interest to continue touring caused him to use heroin again after several years of intermittent prescription opiate use. Though his relapse was brief, the band was quick to react. Soon after the last show of the tour in Denver, Garcia was confronted by the band with another intervention. After a disastrous meeting, Garcia invited Phil Lesh over to his home in San Rafael, California, where he explained that after the meeting he would start attending a methadone clinic. Garcia said that he wanted to clean up in his own way, and return to making music.
In 1993, carpenter-turned-luthier Stephen Cripe tried his hand at making an instrument for Garcia. After researching Tiger through pictures and films, Cripe set out on what would soon become known as Lightning Bolt, again named for its inlay. The guitar used Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard and East Indian rosewood for the body, which, with admitted irony from Cripe, had been taken from a 19th-century bed used by opium smokers. Built purely from guesswork, Lightning Bolt was a hit with Garcia, who began using the guitar exclusively. Soon after, Garcia requested that Cripe build a backup of the guitar. Cripe, who had not measured or photographed the original, was told simply to "wing it."
In January 1993, Barbara "Brigid" Meier, a former girlfriend from the early 1960s, reentered Garcia's life. According to Meier, he had considered her to be the "love of his life" and proposed to her during a Hawaiian vacation shortly after their relationship recommenced.
Garcia was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead in 1994. He declined to attend the ceremony; the band jokingly brought a cardboard cutout of Garcia out on stage in his absence.
While they would briefly reunite following his diabetic coma, Garcia and Adams ultimately divorced in 1994. Phil Lesh has subsequently stated that he rarely saw Adams on any of the band tours. In a 1991 Rolling Stone interview, Garcia stated that "we haven't really lived together since the Seventies".
Shortly thereafter, Garcia renewed his acquaintance with Deborah Koons in the spring of 1993. They married on February 14, 1994, in Sausalito, California. Garcia and Koons were married at the time of his death.
Garcia also spent a lot of time in the recording studio helping out fellow musician friends in session work, often adding guitar, vocals, pedal steel, sometimes banjo and piano and even producing. He played on over 50 studio albums, the styles of which were eclectic and varied, including bluegrass, rock, folk, blues, country, jazz, electronic music, gospel, funk, and reggae. Artists who sought Garcia's help included the likes of Jefferson Airplane (most notably Surrealistic Pillow, Garcia being listed as their "spiritual advisor"). Garcia himself recalled in a mid-1967 interview that he'd played the high lead on "Today," played on "Plastic Fantastic Lover" and "Comin' Back to Me" on that album. Others include Tom Fogerty, David Bromberg, Robert Hunter (Liberty, on Relix Records), Paul Pena, Peter Rowan, Warren Zevon, Country Joe McDonald, Pete Sears, Ken Nordine, Ornette Coleman, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, It's a Beautiful Day, and many more. In 1995 Garcia played on three tracks for the CD Blue Incantation by guitarist Sanjay Mishra, making it his last studio collaboration.
In light of his second drug relapse and current condition, Garcia checked himself into the Betty Ford Center during July 1995. His stay was limited, lasting only two weeks. Motivated by the experience, he then checked into the Serenity Knolls treatment center in Forest Knolls, California, where he died.
Garcia died in his room at the rehabilitation clinic on August 9, 1995, eight days after his 53rd birthday. The cause of death was a heart attack. Garcia had long struggled with drug addiction, weight problems, sleep apnea, heavy smoking, and diabetes—all of which contributed to his physical decline. Lesh remarked that, upon hearing of Garcia's death, "I was struck numb. I had lost my oldest surviving friend, my brother." Garcia's funeral was held on August 12, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Belvedere. It was attended by his family, the remaining Grateful Dead members, and their friends, including former pro basketball player Bill Walton and musician Bob Dylan. Deborah Koons barred some of Garcia's former wives from the ceremony.
On the morning of April 4, 1996, after a total lunar eclipse earlier that day, Weir and Deborah Koons, accompanied by Sanjay Mishra, spread half of Garcia's ashes into the Ganges at the holy city of Rishikesh, India, a site sacred to Hindus. The remaining ashes were poured into the San Francisco Bay. Koons did not allow former wife Carolyn Garcia to attend the spreading of the ashes.
After Garcia's death, the ownership of his Wolf and Tiger came into question. According to Garcia's will, his guitars were bequeathed to Doug Irwin, who had constructed them. The remaining Grateful Dead members disagreed—they considered his guitars to be property of the band, leading to a lawsuit between the two parties. In 2001, Irwin won the case. However, nearly having been left destitute from a traffic accident in 1998, he decided to place the guitars up for auction in hopes of being able to start another guitar workshop.
On May 8, 2002, Wolf and Tiger, among other memorabilia, were placed for auction at Studio 54 in New York City. Tiger was purchased for $957,500, while Wolf was bought for $789,500. Together, the pair sold for $1.74 million, setting a new world record. Wolf went into in the private collection of Daniel Pritzker who kept it in a secure climate controlled room in a private residence at Utica, N.Y. Tiger went to the private collection of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. In May 2017, Wolf was again auctioned, but this time for charity. Pritzker decided to sell the guitar and donate all proceeds to the Montgomery, Alabama based Southern Poverty Law Center. Brian Halligan placed the winning bid totaling $1.9M.
As one of its founders, Garcia performed with the Grateful Dead for their entire 30-year career (1965–1995). Garcia also founded and participated in a variety of side projects, including the Saunders–Garcia Band (with longtime friend Merl Saunders), the Jerry Garcia Band, Old & In the Way, the Garcia/Grisman acoustic duo, Legion of Mary, and New Riders of the Purple Sage (which Garcia co-founded with John Dawson and David Nelson). He also released several solo albums, and contributed to a number of albums by other artists over the years as a session musician. He was well known for his distinctive guitar playing, and was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" cover story in 2003. In the 2015 version of the list he was ranked at #46.
In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Jerry Garcia 13th in their list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
On July 30, 2004, Melvin Seals was the first Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) member to headline an outdoor music and camping festival called "The Grateful Garcia Gathering". Jerry Garcia Band drummer David Kemper joined Melvin Seals and JGB in 2007. Other musicians and friends of Garcia include Donna Jean Godchaux, Mookie Siegel, Pete Sears, G.E. Smith, Chuck Hammer, Barry Sless, Jackie Greene, Brian Lesh, Sanjay Mishra, and Mark Karan.
On July 21, 2005, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission passed a resolution to name the amphitheater in McLaren Park "The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater." The amphitheater is located in the Excelsior District, where Garcia grew up. The first show to happen at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater was Jerry Day 2005 on August 7, 2005. Jerry's brother, Tiff Garcia, was the first person to welcome everybody to the "Jerry Garcia Amphitheater." Jerry Day is an annual celebration of Garcia in his childhood neighborhood. The dedication ceremony (Jerry Day 2) on October 29, 2005 was officiated by mayor Gavin Newsom.
On September 24, 2005, the Comes a Time: A Celebration of the Music & Spirit of Jerry Garcia tribute concert was held at the Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. The concert featured Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby, Trey Anastasio, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Michael Kang, Jay Lane, Jeff Chimenti, Mark Karan, Robin Sylvester, Kenny Brooks, Melvin Seals, Merl Saunders, Marty Holland, Stu Allen, Gloria Jones, and Jackie LaBranch.
Georgia-based composer Lee Johnson released an orchestral tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead, recorded with the Russian National Orchestra, entitled "Dead Symphony: Lee Johnson Symphony No. 6." Johnson was interviewed on NPR on the July 26, 2008 broadcast of Weekend Edition, and gave much credit to the genius and craft of Garcia's songwriting. A live performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Johnson himself, was held Friday, August 1.
In 2010 the Santa Barbara Bowl in California opened Jerry Garcia Glen along the walk up to the venue. There is a statue of Garcia's right hand along the way.
In 2015, Hunter and Garcia were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Hunter accepted the award along with Garcia's daughter, Trixie Garcia, accepting on behalf of her father.
In 2015, Jerry Garcia's wife, Manasha Garcia and their daughter, Keelin Garcia launched The Jerry Garcia Foundation, a nonprofit charity that supports projects for artistic, environmental, and humanitarian causes. The Foundation's Board members are Bob Weir, Peter Shapiro, Glenn Fischer, Irwin Sternberg, Daniel Shiner, TRI Studios CEO, Christopher McCutcheon and Fender Music Foundation Executive Director, Lynn Robison. Keelin Garcia said, "It is a tremendous honor to participate in nonprofit work that is in accordance with my father's values."
On May 14, 2015 an all-star lineup held a tribute concert for Garcia at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. The event was called "Dear Jerry".
In 2018, Jerry Garcia family members, Keelin Garcia and Manasha Garcia launched the Jerry Garcia Music Arts independent music label
With the addition of keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland that year amid the ongoing coalescence of the Deadhead subculture, the band reached new commercial heights as a touring group on the American arena circuit in the early 1980s, enabling them to forsake studio recording for several years. Nevertheless, this was offset by such factors as the band's atypically large payroll and Garcia's $700-a-day (equivalent to $1,900 in 2019) drug addiction, resulting in the guitarist taking on a frenetic slate of solo touring outside of the Grateful Dead's rigorous schedule, including abbreviated acoustic duo concerts with Jerry Garcia Band bassist John Kahn that were widely rumored to be a funding conduit for their respective addictions.
For the majority of 2019 Wolf and Tiger were included in the Play it Loud exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. On June 23, 2019 John Mayer played Wolf with Dead & Co. at Citi Field.