Warren Hellman, the San Francisco philanthropist who brought Hardly Strictly Bluegrass to Golden Gate Park and donated millions to local organizations, succumbed to leukemia Sunday.

Warren Hellman at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. // Photo courtesy of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

Hellman founded the festival 11 years ago and picked up the tab each year for performances from some of the biggest names in bluegrass, Americana, rock ’n’ roll and indie rock. This year, the festival expanded with four full days of music, drawing more than 500,000 people to the park. Hellman, himself a banjo picker, performed a morning slot each year with little fanfare.

Hellman’s death arrives just days after the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commission voted to rename Speedway Meadow in his honor. That area of the park, which is the central hub of the bluegrass festival, will now be known as Hellman Hollow.

A memorial service will be held for Hellman this Wednesday (December 21) at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. A community celebrations will follow within a few weeks, according the the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass website, and “Yes, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival will go on!” Next year’s dates are Oct. 5-7.

Mayor Ed Lee left the following statement on his Facebook wall Sunday night:

“I am profoundly saddened by our great loss this evening with the passing of Warren Hellman – truly one of the greatest San Franciscans in the history of our City. Few have contributed so much of their heart and soul to improve our City, leaving a legacy that will endure forever. We will never forget Warren’s passion for music, his sense of humor, but most of all his love for San Francisco and his enduring faith that despite our differences, we can come together to make San Francisco a better place for everyone. We have lost a great friend, true hero and one of a kind San Franciscan.”

More from Hellman’s family.

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