Former Wilco Member Jay Bennett Dead at 45 of Unknown Causes

May 26, 2009 8:52 AM ET

Former Wilco member Jay Bennett died in his sleep early Sunday morning, May 24th in Urbana, Illinois, the Chicago Sun-Times, reports. He was 45. No cause of death has been announced and an autopsy is being performed, a spokesperson for the family said.

After serving as a founding member and recording three albums with the 1990s alternative group Titanic Love Affair, Bennett joined fellow Chicago band Wilco prior to the release of their 1996 second album Being There. Bennett shared songwriting credits on nearly all the songs on the band's 1999 classic Summerteeth and performed on both of Wilco's Mermaid Avenue albums with Billy Bragg. Bennett left Wilco in 2001 after tensions grew during the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and went on to record five solo albums.

Earlier this month, Rock Daily reported that Bennett sued Jeff Tweedy and his former Wilco bandmates, claiming he was owed royalties from his seven years in the band and also from the group's 2002 documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. The film, directed by Sam Jones, chronicled the tumultuous recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and captured Bennett's constant disagreements with Tweedy and producer Jim O'Rourke in the studio.

Bennett's motivation for suing Wilco might have had something to do with his need to undergo hip surgery, as didn't have any health insurance. Bennett posted a note on his MySpace page two weeks before filing the suit noting that he had injured his hip in a stage diving incident and that the injury required medical help: "Well, it turns out that these types of injuries don't really heal themselves, as I naively told myself might just magically happen, if I rested that leg, used a cane for a while, and lost a bit of weight."

Wilco, who are on tour in Europe, said in a statement, "We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him — as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."

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