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For any talented musician to die before their time is a cause for sadness, but this is doubly painful because after well over a dozen albums, Chesnutt was at the peak of his abilities.

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He was battling deep depression but also at the peak of his powers, and with the help of friends and family he was in the middle of a desperate search for help. The Athens, Georgia singer-songwriter sang of death not as something far-off and foreboding, but a constant presence, always close at hand.

Vic Chesnutt

There has always been something in Chesnutt's songs — a sense of humility, and a wry levity that could only have been born out of tough personal experience — that elevated his music far beyond the maudlin.

On Flirted With You All My Lifehe describes his relationship with the reaper in the manner of a man addressing his childhood sweetheart. Paralysed from the waist down following a car accident inChesnutt nonetheless explained the accident helped to focus his creativity.

The system failed to provide it. An early supporter of Chesnutt was Michael Stipe, who produced his first two albums, 's Little and the following year's West Of Rome.

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His last couple of records for Constellation Records - At The Cut and its predecessor, North Star Deserter - were amongst his best, rendering the songs as raw, fragile chamber-rock elegies that nonetheless had the capacity to explode with impressive force.

On the Constellation Records homepage, Jem Cohen, a filmmaker and producer of Chesnutt's North Star Deserter vented his spleen at the United States' "broken health care system depriving so many of the help they need to stay around and stay sane, and a society that never balks at providing more money for more wars but fights tooth and nail against decent care for its citizens.

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Chesnutt died on Christmas Day, following an apparently deliberate overdose of muscle relaxants. For the rest of us, it's just another sad waste; but thankfully his wonderful music remains, and if you haven't heard it before, now is not too late to seek it out.

At the risk of turning a personal tragedy into a political issue, it's hard not to draw lines between the details of Chesnutt's passing with the shortcomings of the current US healthcare system.

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Share via Email Vic Chesnutt, who has died aged 45 Vic Chesnutt and death were far from strangers, as anyone who has spent time with his album At The Cut will know.

The s were a decade in which it was fashionable to play the tortured artist, but Vic Chesnutt's troubles were genuine.