Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band came to international attention in the 1960s as a result of early collaborations with Frank Zappa. Their distinctive brand of psychedelic, avant-garde rock placed the band at the radical end of the counter-culture spectrum of the late 60s, but this did not stop their magnum opus Trout Mask Replica gaining a wide international audience following its 1969 release.
Van Vliet always considered himself a visual artist as much as a musician, and in 1982 he turned his back on music, and on his Captain Beefheart persona, to concentrate on abstract art. By the end of his life, his canvases were selling for tens of thousands of dollars.
His death was caused by complications associated with multiple sclerosis. He had been suffering from the disease since the 1980s and had been confined to a wheelchair since the early 1990s.