Today news broke that Jay Bennett, a singer/songwriter most famous for his work with the band Wilco, died during his sleep on Sunday. Bennett, who earlier in the month sued Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, recently blogged that he needed hip replacement surgery, but lacked health insurance to cover its costs.

Bennett, who was famously fired from Wilco after butting heads with Tweedy during the filming of I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a documentary about the band, sued Tweedy earlier this month for breach of contract and $50,000 in unpaid royalties, a move allegedly motivated by Bennett's declining health and his desperate need for money to cover his medical expenses. Though an autopsy to determine Bennett's cause of death is pending, and it should be noted that he has battled drug addiction in the past, it's hard not to wonder if Bennett's inability to get care for his hip didn't contribute to his death. In a Myspace blog post regarding his health dated April 24th this year, Bennett wrote:

I've been close to bedridden since I last "saw" y'all. After burying my proverbial head in the proverbial sand since last summer, I finally decided it was time I "face the music," and find out what was causing the severe pain and immobility in my right leg. I have had a torn A.C.L. in that knee for many years (caused by a "daring," well, uh, really just ill-planned, and poorly executed, stage jump at Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis, with Titanic Love Affair), and suspected that time had most likely further worn down, or even torn loose some more cartilage, most likely causing premature arthritis. So, after much prompting from friends and loved ones ("Jay that limp is NOT getting any better"), bright and early one Monday morning I decided to simply open up the Yellow Pages, and find the first Orthopedic Medicine Clinic with an immediate opening and find out what a large part of me did not want to find out. I braced myself for a diagnosis of additional minor knee surgery to remove some "floating" cartilage, and told myself that maybe all I needed was a cortisone shot or two, or something like that…but, something deep down inside was telling me this could well be something bigger and badder (or else why would I have "run" from it for so long). I DID NOT brace myself for THE diagnosis of the need for a complete hip replacement (ball and socket, if you will). I just about fainted when I saw the X-Rays of that hip….holy &%$#*, what a mess I had made. The doctor sized me up at 5'9" (well actually, now a bit shorter than that on one side) and concluded that most likely I was not a basketball player, yet recognized the damage as that typically caused by repetitive high impact sports activity. Well, I knew in a heartbeat that could mean only one thing…. and, yes, you guessed it—-a decade plus of multiple nightly stage jumps and various other rock and roll theatrics had finally taken a toll that I could no longer merely "deal with," or ignore, even if I were to change my evil ways (baby). As I dizzily drove home (a drive I can barely remember), I alternately rode waves of the power derived from finally having the knowledge I had both craved and avoided, and of the fear of an uncertain future.

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. So, major surgery it was to be…the only glitch, I am among our nations under-insured (my previous injury to that leg was listed as a pre-existing condition, and any injury that could be linked to the same root cause, I was told would not be covered). Some time passed as I contemplated my next "move,"—-how to come up with the money to pay for the surgery "out of pocket," and as I brainstormed, my hip finally decided to lock up, and the pain got worse. So I began the arduous, or more accurately, extremely time consuming and endlessly frustrating, process of finding a surgeon and hospital that would perhaps "cut me a deal," be willing to bargain/barter a bit, or at least allow me to make installment payments. As it turns out, this is possible, but also difficult to arrange, if you can not come up with a sizable down payment as a show good faith, etc. I have been saving as much money as possible ever since I made this new commitment to my health, my future, and my quality of life, and have sold off some vintage recording gear, whose monetary collectors value now far outweighs it's functional value.

I still don't know exactly when my surgery will be, but I have learned a good deal about the procedure, and that has helped to make me MUCH less fearful. The double dose of anxiety caused by the pain, and the quite natural fear of the invasive surgery itself, really had me in its grip for a while, but now it only comes in waves. Once I am able to get a down payment of sorts together and actually have the surgery performed, I have been told that I then have only about six to eight weeks of physical therapy before I should be operating at approximately 80% capacity—-these types of joint replacements have come light years in the past five years or so. The way I look at it, I'm functioning WAY below 80% right now, so what do I have to lose? Except a limp, some pain, some anxiety, and some weight. In many ways, I'm really looking forward to it, and wish I could go in tomorrow.

We hate to get all political at the time of a man's death, but if a well-established musician/producer like Jay Bennett couldn't afford the health care he needed to seek treatment for his crippling injuries, what hope does that leave for the rest of us in this country? His story is intolerably sad, not to mention downright scary.

Finally, a Wilco spokesperson released this statement from Tweedy and the rest of the band earlier today:

"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."

Jay Bennett was 45 years old.

Jay Bennett, Dead at Age 45 [Chicago Sun Times]
Jay Bennett, Ex-Member of Wilco, Dies at 45 [New York Times]
Hip Replacement [Jay Bennett's Myspace Blog]
Photo via Jay Bennett's Myspace Page