Widespread's Houser Dead at Forty

Guitarist succumbs to cancer

August 12, 2002 12:00 AM ET

Michael Houser, lead guitarist and a founding member of the southern rock jam band Widespread Panic, died in his home at age forty on Saturday, August 10th from complications related to pancreatic cancer.

Born in Boone, North Carolina, on January 6, 1962, Houser, affectionately known as "Mikey," met band mate John Bell in 1982 while attending the University of Georgia in Athens. The duo became a trio when bassist Dave Schools quit college to join them in 1984. The band derived its name from an in-joke when a frequently stressed-out Houser, whose nickname was already "Panic," decided he'd like to be "Widespread." Drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz rounded out the group, and keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann joined in 1992.

Despite his soft-spoken manner and his seated position onstage, Houser always stood out. In addition to his unostentatiously creative guitar work, he contributed numerous songs to Widespread Panic's repertoire, including "Gimme," about his wife and "Waker," about his son.

The band cancelled a scheduled tour through Europe last spring when Houser's illness was first diagnosed, but he continued to play with the band during the first part of its summer tour. He left the road and returned home after a July 2nd show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, due to his failing health.

On July 16th, a statement from Houser posted on the band's Web site confirmed months of rumors that he was ill, explaining only that he was suffering from terminal cancer and giving the situation as positive a spin as possible, assuring fans that he was well-supported by friends and family and that he looked forward to returning to the stage. "In the words of Lou Gehrig," Houser wrote, "'Though some of you may have thought I have caught a bad break, I feel like the luckiest man in the world' . . . I have hopes of playing again soon, although I can't say for sure when or where."

A private memorial service will take place in Athens; the band's management would not comment on when. Fans are being asked to conduct their own tributes to commemorate Houser's passing. "In this very sad time," reads a statement from the band, "we encourage you to gather with your Panic families in your hometown and celebrate Michael Houser's life on Monday, August 12th."

Widespread Panic also ask that any donations be made to the Michael Houser Music Fund, which benefits the Athens Academy. "Through this fund," continues the statement, "the school will be able to provide children with the opportunities to discover the richness and wonder of music that so enriched Michael's own life."

The Michael Houser Music Fund
Athens Academy
PO Box 6548
Athens, GA 30604

The future of Widespread Panic -- including plans for this fall and the two remaining concert dates on this tour, August 17th and 18th at the Seven Fiddlers Music Festival at Fiddler's Green in Englewood, Colorado -- remains uncertain.

Houser is survived by his wife Barbette, his son Waker and his daughter Eva.

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