Billy Rath, the bassist best known for his time in the New York-based punk band Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, has passed away at the age of 66 after battling a long illness.

Rath replaced original Heartbreakers bassist Richard Hell in 1976, prior to the recording of the band's only studio album, 1977's 'L.A.M.F.' Although the record was far from a critical or commercial hit, the group caught the eye of the Sex Pistols, who invited them to travel on the Anarchy Tour, which also included the Damned and the Clash; unfortunately, what should have been an opportunity quickly devolved into a disaster, as all but a handful of shows ended up being canceled (due at least in part to pressure from local politicians along the tour's route).

The Heartbreakers broke up in 1978, but reformed periodically for reunion gigs, and Rath walked away from the lineup -- and rock 'n' roll in general -- in the mid-'80s. "I disappeared in 1985 for health reasons or I would have probably died as was rumored," he explained in a 2011 interview. "What I did was go back to school. I now have a BS in Psychology and a Masters in Theology. I was helping/counseling people with alcohol/drug addiction. I also became a minister and pastored a few churches helping people find a better way to live."

Rath found his way back to rock in later years, starting a new band he dubbed the Street Pirates and gigging while making plans to record a new album. His health problems complicated those efforts, although he remained upbeat with his fans, telling Facebook followers last November that "It's because of all of you that I get strength to keep on rock 'n' rollin'. I live to give you all my love and respect."