15 Interesting Phil Lesh Facts: His Health Battles, Philanthropy, and More

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Phil Lesh is best known for being the co-founder and bassist of the rock band The Grateful Dead, and later Phil Lesh and Friends to honor the band following its disbandment in 1995. He has since become one of the most intellectual and exceptional musicians in the genre’s history. 

Here are 15 Phil Lesh facts you’ll be interested to learn.

1. He is a Godfather

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Phil Lesh is godfather to singer and actress Courtney Love. How did that happen? He went to college with her father, Hank Harrison, who allegedly managed Lesh’s early band, the Warlocks, which eventually became the Grateful Dead.

Related: How Did Kurt Cobain Die?

2. He was on a David Crosby Album

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Phil Lesh has a lot of credits to his name, including on a 1971 album by David CrosbyIf I Could Only Remember My Name. He’s a credited artist on the first track of side two, “What Are Their Names.”

3. Phil Lesh Didn’t Always Play the Bass

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Phil Lesh’s claim to fame may have been as bassist for The Grateful Dead, but while attending Berkeley High School, he was known as the violinist around the school. He also studied the trumpet under the direction of Bob Hansen, conductor of the Golden Gate Park Band.

4. Phil Lesh Played with a Jazz Band

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Just like the bass isn’t Phil Lesh’s only instrument, rock isn’t his only genre. In 1959, he played trumpet on a recording with the San Mateo College Jazz Band. 

Related: 21 Best Jazz Songs

5. Phil Lesh was a Mailman

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While attending college, Phil Lesh was hired as a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service. His role didn’t last, though, as he was fired for having too long of hair. Of all the Phil Lesh facts, this one makes us giggle.

6. Phil Lesh is a Best-Selling Author

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Phil Lesh’s 2005 autobiography, Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Deadbecame a best-seller almost instantaneously. Throughout, he shares with fans the journey of his life both within and outside his life as the Grateful Dead bassist.

7. He Has His Own Charity

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Phil Lesh founded the Unbroken Chain Foundation with the help of his wife, Jill, in 1997. Just like his life and career, music is at the core of the foundation as it raises money for the arts, especially the musical arts, through auctions and charity events. The foundation’s main aim is to support future inspirational bands.

8. Phil Lesh Had Prostate Cancer

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Phil Lesh was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2006. He was later deemed cancer-free after he underwent surgery. We think he was probably just as relieved as fans that this became one of the Phil Lesh facts considering his father wasn’t so lucky, having passed away from the disease years earlier.

9. Phil Lesh Had Cancer a Second Time

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Prostate cancer was only the start for Phil Lesh. He announced in October 2015 that he had surgery to treat bladder cancer. Once again, his fans didn’t have to overly worry as he noted that his prognosis was favorable and was most likely to make a full recovery.

10. He Had a Liver Transplant

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Cancer isn’t the only health problem that Phil Lesh has faced. In 1998, he had to have a liver transplant to treat a chronic hepatitis C infection. Ever since, Lesh has advocated for organ donation, pegged as the “donor rap” during any live performance recordings. 

11. His Favorite Childhood Book

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During an interview with Rolling StonePhil Lesh noted Destination Moon by Robert A. Heinlein as his favorite book as a child. “I was a space nut. In elementary school, I check [the book] out about 3,000 times from the library,” he said in the interview. 

Related: Best Rock Songs: The Ultimate Top 40

12. Phil Lesh Loves Classical

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There are so many sides to Phil Lesh. He may be a rock god, but he has said that he enjoys listening to Sebastien Bach and various string quartets. “I’ve always seen the music we make [in Phil Lesh and Friends] as electric chamber music,” he told Rolling Stone.

13. His Sons Have Followed in His Footsteps

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Phil Lesh is the father of two – Grahame and Brian. They have followed in their father’s footsteps, pursuing a career in music. He has performed with his sons on multiple occasions over the years.

14. He Founded a Music Venue in California

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Terrapin Crossroads, a music venue in San Rafael, California, was founded by Phil Lesh in 2012. It was an excellent opportunity for his rising star sons as they serve as the house band when they’re not on tour. Unfortunately, it was closed in 2021 after the lease expired.

15. Phil Lesh’s Biggest Influences

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Phil Lesh has noted several musical influences over the years. Amongst them include Bach, Cream’s Jack Bruce, as well as jazz bassists Charles Mingus and Jimmy Garrison.

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Written by Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson received her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth in 2015. She has worked in journalism since 2015, beginning as production assistant and eventual head staff writer of the Fort Leavenworth Lamp newspaper in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Currently, she is a multimedia journalist with the Diocese of Nashville's Office of Media and Evangelization where she writes, does photography, and edits for several types of content, including the Tennessee Register, Catholic Awakenings, and She has also worked as a freelance journalist with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas's newspaper, The Leaven, since 2016.
In her spare time, Peterson enjoys reading, spending time with her pup, Sadie Lynn, singing and songwriting.


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