As the cloud grows dark and thick over the Grateful Dead's future following Jerry Garcia's death, an uncounted population of Deadheads is warily girding itself for commercialization that history has shown will come.
The 53-year-old counter-culture icon was found dead Aug. 9 in a drug-addiction treatment center in Forest Knolls, Calif. The reported cause of death was a heart attack.
If the deaths of Elvis, John Lennon and Kurt Cobain are any indication, the Dead could very well see a lucrative surge in popularity.
"Elvis was worth just $7 million when he died. Now he's a $100 million a year industry," said Michael Schau, editor of the Brooklyn-based The Entertainment Marketing Letter. "Garcia got a front-page obit in The New York Times. There will undoubtedly be many people who aren't Dead fans that will be wondering what the Dead are all about and will check it out."
Mr. Garcia was a veritable CEO of a multimillion-dollar entertainment marketing enterprise that would never admit to being such. The Grateful Dead churned out dozens of albums in its 30-year history, but only one ever sold more than 3 million units, perhaps because the band encouraged its fans to make and sell bootlegs of its music. However, the band's next album, due out Oct. 3 from Arista Records, is expected to go through the roof.
Still, the band amassed fortune and fame by touring incessantly. Last year, it played 77 shows and grossed almost $50 million. The band has its own licensing division, Grateful Dead Merchandising, which brings in additional millions each year and aggressively cracks down on counterfeiting. Mr. Garcia licensed his name and likeness to companies such as Ben & Jerry's Homemade (ice cream) and Stonehenge (ties), donating much of his profits to charity.
Ben & Jerry's last week began offering to donate up to $1 of every Cherry Garcia sale to the Rex Foundation, a wide-ranging charity established by the Dead. Also, Ben & Jerry's is tentatively planning to use only black cherries in the ice cream during the next month, in honor of Mr. Garcia.
A spokeswoman for the Dead said the band has yet to make any decisions concerning its future. The Art Peddler, the San Francisco-area company that handles Mr. Garcia's licensing, didn't return calls.
Deadheads-loyal fans who follow the band from concert to concert-likely would rail against attempts to exploit their grief and use Mr. Garcia's death as a marketing opportunity.
"There's going to be outrageous resentment if anyone tries to capitalize on a movement that's about love and sharing," said Lynn Lochheed, Deadhead and senior editor at Imperiale Publishing in Boulder, Colo., which is compiling a Dead-endorsed book about the band and Mr. Garcia called "I Will Survive," the refrain from the band's biggest hit, "Touch of Gray." The book will be in stores in two months.