Singer-songwriter and synth pioneer Gary Wright, who penned the massive hits “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” and became George Harrison’s longtime friend and collaborator, died Monday morning. He was 80.
Wright’s son, Justin, confirmed the musician’s death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause was Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. According to Justin, Wright was diagnosed with Parkinson’s “around six or seven years ago” before a subsequent dementia diagnosis. “He managed it fairly well for a while,” Justin tells Rolling Stone. “But a few years ago, he needed professional help and home-care nurses and eventually 24-hour care.”
Best known for two hits — “Dream Weaver” and “Love Is Alive” off 1975’s The Dream Weaver — Wright’s contributions also included co-founding British rock band Spooky Tooth, producing for Traffic and the Rolling Stones and playing keyboards on friend George Harrison’s landmark All Things Must Pass.
Born April 26, 1943 in Cresskill, New Jersey, Wright appeared on the show Captain Video and His Video Rangers at the age of seven and featured in radio and TV commercials before being offered the part of Cesario in the 1954 Broadway production of the musical Fanny.
Although Wright reportedly considered music an unstable career choice and studied to become a doctor — ultimately completing his studies at the Free University of Berlin — music remained an integral part of his life. In the late 1960, he moved to England and remained there for seven years, both as a member of blues-rock band Spooky Tooth (Wright wrote some of the band’s biggest songs) and a solo artist with A&M Records.
He released two albums in the early 1970s — Extraction and Footprint — before signing with Warner Bros. Records and releasing his 1975 breakthrough album, The Dream Weaver.
That album saw huge success due to its second single “Dream Weaver,” which Wright had written after visiting Harrison in India. The song, which remains a perennial standby for budding romance in countless TV shows and films, peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 1 million copies in the US and and was certified double Platinum. (The album would go on to sell over 2 million copies.) The track helped bolster the record’s lead single, “Love Is Alive,” which also reached number two on the Hot 100. Backed by only drums and an army of synths, the album is credited as being one of the first all-synthesizer records to earn widespread success.
Wright met Harrison through bassist Klaus Voormann, who invited Wright to play the piano on the former Beatles member’s 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. Their shared interest in Indian religion and music forged a lasting friendship between the two, and Wright contributed to all of Harrison’s subsequent solo albums during the 1970s.
“They became fast friends. It was George who introduced my father to his spiritual path,” Justin tells Rolling Stone, adding that the duo made several trips to India together. Wright also performed on releases that the former Beatle produced for Apple Records including Harrison’s former bandmate Ringo Starr’s 1971 “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” in 1972.
In the 1990s and beyond, Wright’s work both as a solo artist and with Spooky Tooth would find new life as hip-hop sample fodder for Jay-Z, Eminem, City Girls and Raekwon, among many others. Jay-Z, Kanye West and producer 88-Keys famously flipped Spooky Tooth’s “Sunshine Help Me” for Watch the Throne’s “No Church in the Wild.”
Wright’s musical output slowed in the 1980s and Nineties, though in the 2000s, he played shows with a reunited Spooky Tooth and joined Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. His last album — 2010’s Connected — was his first pop album in nearly 20 years.
Fellow musician Stephen Bishop shared a tribute to Wright on Monday. “It is with great sadness that I received the news of my dear friend Gary Wright’s passing,” wrote Bishop on X, formerly known as Twitter, alongside photos of the first time they shared the stage with John Ford Coley. “Gary’s vibrant personality and exceptional talent made every moment together truly enjoyable. His legacy will live on for many years to come.”