Paul Schatzkin

Pete Huttlinger, Acclaimed Guitarist, Dead at 54

Provided Inspiration Through His Music and Battle Against Medical Adversities

Pete Huttlinger, a gifted guitarist who inspired others with his music, resilience and optimism, died Friday (Jan. 15) of a stroke at a Nashville hospital after many years of medical adversities.

A native of Washington, D.C., the 54-year-old musician and composer gained international recognition after becoming John Denver’s guitarist in 1994. Huttlinger spent four years touring with Denver, playing on his recordings and appearing on his TV specials.

After launching his career as a solo artist in the ‘90s, Huttlinger won the National Fingerpick Guitar Championship in 2000. In addition to his own concert tours, he also toured with LeAnn Rimes and John Oates of Hall & Oates and recorded more than 15 albums. He made three appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and three appearances at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals.

Born with a rare heart defect, Huttlinger underwent a series of operations, beginning as a teenager, that ultimately failed to normalize the heart’s functions. In 2010, he suffered a stroke that his doctors initially thought would permanently immobilize him. However, he returned to playing within three weeks, including his first performance for his doctors.

Soon after, he suffered a heart failure so catastrophic that it kept him at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston for four months in 2011. Again, he worked his way back to mastery of his instrument.

In the four years following his stay in Houston, Huttlinger toured, recorded and conducted guitar camps. In addition, he gave inspirational talks to medical, military and civic groups on the topic, “Don’t Just Live: Live Well.” His last musical performance was in Atlanta on Jan. 9, only two days before his final hospitalization.

He and his wife and manager, Erin Morris, chronicled his ordeal and recovery in their 2015 memoir, Joined at the Heart: A Story of Love, Guitars, Resilience and Marigolds.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date, and a memorial fund is being established in his honor.