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Karl Mueller, 41, bassist for rock band Soul Asylum

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Karl Mueller, bass player and founding member of the Minneapolis rock band Soul Asylum, died Friday morning in his Minneapolis home, apparently due to complications from esophageal cancer. He was 41.

Mr. Mueller was diagnosed in May 2004 and had spent the past year in and out of the hospital. His band mates and wife, Mary Beth, are expected to release statements in the coming days.

Soul Asylum rose to prominence in Minnesota in the '80s before going on to sell millions of albums in the '90s. Paul Westerberg of the Replacements and Husker Du's Bob Mould were among the band's contemporaries on hand for a sold-out, all-star benefit concert for Mr. Mueller in October. The show, held in Minneapolis, raised funds to help pay his hospital bills.

''Even then, in the face of all that had happened, and was to come, Karl was still Karl -- upbeat, welcoming, humble," said Mould, who briefly reunited with his long-estranged musical partner Grant Hart during the benefit concert. ''Karl was one of the nicest people I have ever encountered. He always let you know where he stood, and rarely had anything but kind words for those around him."

Mr. Mueller's musical career began in 1981 when he formed Loud Fast Rules with guitarist Dan Murphy and drummer Dave Pirner.

''Loud Fast Rules was one hell of a band," said Billy Batson, vocalist for the Hypstrz and Mighty Mofos, as well as a longtime soundman for the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. ''Karl was a good guy. He was probably the smartest one in the bunch."

The trio eventually changed its name to Soul Asylum, with Pirner moving to guitar and vocals. Mould produced the band's 1984 debut, ''Say What You Will, Clarence . . . Karl Sold the Truck," which was released on the local label Twin/Tone Records.

In 1989, the band signed its first of two major-label deals. Three years later, Soul Asylum's disc ''Grave Dancers Union" scored with the mainstream and sold more than 2 million copies on the strength of the hit singles ''Somebody to Shove," ''Black Gold" and ''Runaway Train." In January 1993, the band performed at an MTV-sponsored inaugural ball for Bill Clinton.

Soul Asylum's 1995 follow-up ''Let Your Dim Light Shine" went platinum. Following a devastating flood in April 1997 in Grand Forks, N.D., the band performed at the prom for the city's high school students. A recording of the show, ''After the Flood: Live at the Grand Forks Prom June 28, 1997," was released last fall.

''He was always the quiet one in the band," said Jill Fonaas, a former publicist for Twin/Tone who also worked for Soul Asylum's management in the '90s. ''He was so down-to-earth and stabilizing for them. And there was never any pretense, or `rock star-ness' about him."

After taking an extended break, Soul Asylum was working on a new album when doctors found a cancerous tumor in Mr. Mueller's throat.

Mr. Mueller was in remission by the time of the October concert, when he performed onstage with Soul Asylum. Earlier this year, Mr. Mueller's cancer returned and he spent his final days at home.

Seeing Mr. Mueller battle cancer left a lasting impression on his friend, former Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero.

''Karl changed my life," Barbero said. ''He was the strongest man I've ever met. His willpower was above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined."

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