British singer/songwriter and guitarist Syd Barrett was an art-school student in London when he founded and named Pink Floyd in 1964. He wrote the band's "See Emily Play" and "Piper at the Gates of Dawn," and his LSD-inspired lyrics were the quintessence of London's 1967 psychedelic Summer of Love. After recording with the group during its earliest years — including 1967's influential The Piper at the Gates of Dawn — Barrett was dismissed from the band in April 1968 because of his drug-induced personality problems; David Gilmour replaced him after covering for him when he began missing shows.
Barrett released two intriguing and influential solo albums in 1970, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett; neither sold well. He appeared on John Peel's BBC radio show (released on album in 1987) and did a couple of gigs with a loose-knit band called Stars.
Barrett eventually became a recluse, living with mental illness and diabetes in Cambridge from 1972 on. His mental problems would become a theme on Pink Floyd's later albums — in particular, in Roger Waters' songwriting on The Dark Side of the Moon and tracks such as "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond, from Wish You Were Here. His surreal songwriting and atmospheric sound has influenced numerous artists in the years since, including Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Cope. Barrett died at age sixty from pancreatic cancer on July 7, 2006.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Mark Kemp contributed to this article.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies