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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ Michael ``Mikey'' Houser, guitarist and singer for the rock band Widespread Panic, died Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 40.

Houser released a statement last month explaining his illness and saying he would not participate in its summer tour. His death was reported in The Athens Banner-Herald and on the band's Web site Sunday.

Houser began playing in 1982 with the band's vocalist, John Bell, while both were attending the University of Georgia. The band formed three years later with bass player Dave Schools, percussionist Domingo Ortiz and keyboardist John ``JoJo'' Hermann.

Widespread Panic, which developed a large, faithful following, is known for its blues-based music with long, improvisational passages and progressive percussions that attracted fans of ``jam'' bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish.

In a prepared statement released Sunday by Paula Donner, Houser's spokeswoman, the family is encouraging people to make contributions to the Michael Houser Music Fund, a program at Athens Academy.

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On the Net:

Widespread Panic: http://www.widespreadpanic.com