Lithuanians are mourning the loss of their beloved bard and troubadour Vytautas Kernagis, who died of cancer on Saturday at age 56.
Kernagis was and will long remain a figure of iconic stature in Lithuanian society.
A supremely talented lyricist and performer of simple but meaningful songs as well as a hugely popular television host, he deftly managed to cut across the generations.
Ever hopeful their dear Maestro would manage to recover and return triumphantly to the stage, Lithuanians around the world remain in a state of shock over the news.
A one-man unity force, his resounding voice touched the hearts of rich and poor, young and old, city and country. Kernagis also travelled to the far reaches of the globe to perform for Lithuanian emigre audiences.
A valiant fight against stomach cancer had left him emaciated but the illness did not hold him back from making public appearances to connect with legions of fans.
Even in the final stages of his battle, Lithuanians were treated to a flash of his sparkling wit when he issued a polite message asking them to stop sending him oranges, bananas, and postcards depicting Trakai Castle.
Kernagis's catalogue of about 200 songs, mostly comprising sung poetry, will live on.
A duet he recorded with Irish-Lithuanian singer Erica Jennings is frequently played, and sung along to, at Lithuanian wedding feasts.
In a classic ditty from the late-Soviet period, Kernagis -- a huge Beatles fan -- assumed the alter ego of a plumber from the town of Ukmerge.
'I'll never return to Jamaica,' the plumber laments, 'because I've never been there.' Stuck admiring the 'wonderful panorama' of Ukmerge, he glances mournfully at a map, knowing he will never get to kiss the raven-haired beauty of his mind's eye. 'Better not ask why,' sings the plumber, although it was not lost on anyone that it was because he was trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
His death could not have come at a worse time in the country's history. With young people emigrating in droves, fleeing a country rife with social and economic tension, his reassuring presence and comforting smile will be deeply missed as a potentially ugly and divisive national election approaches.
Television at the weekend ditched scheduled programming to show retrospective scenes from his life and his performances.
The massive tide of grief could be seen in the thousands of postings that accompanied Internet news-portal announcements of his death.
President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas both released condolence messages.
Vytautas Kernagis will be laid to rest in Vilnius's Antakalnis Cemetery on Monday at 1 pm.
Requiescat In Pace, Dearest Maestro