Steve Morse has made his absence from Deep Purple permanent, announcing his decision to quit so he can focus on helping his wife, Janine, who is battling cancer.

The move brought an end to his 28-year stint with the veteran band, who had retained the same lineup since keyboardist Don Airey replaced Jon Lord in 2002. Simon McBride had been filling in as live guitarist since Morse confirmed in March that he was needed at home.

"Last autumn, I suddenly left the Purple writing session in Germany because my wife was having a real medical crisis," Morse explained in a statement posted to the band's Facebook page. "Almost a year later, we are learning to accept stage 4 aggressive cancer and chemo treatment for the rest of her life."

He continued: "We both miss being at shows, but I simply couldn’t commit to long or far-away tours, since things can change quickly at home. I suggested lining up a substitute guitarist last autumn, hoping we could see the miraculous cancer cure all of us have heard about. As time went by, I could see the way things were heading though... I’ve already played my last show with Purple back in Florida on the Rock Legends Cruise."

Morse reported that "being Janine’s helper and advocate has made a real difference at many key points," expressing the hope that the couple could "play some shorter nearby concert tours with friends to, hopefully, get both of us out of the house!"

Singer Ian Gillan paid tribute to Morse’s kindness and "musical genius," adding: "he’s in a bad place right now but dealing with it bravely and as best he can; we all admire his devotion; he's been a strong family man all his life." He noted: "As we get older, we realize that we're much closer to the end, and that triggers an urgency that won't be tamed. ... I can only imagine that there is no possible 'nice' way of continuing with a new man, but it is either that or call it a day, because the lack of momentum was gradually becoming something more significant; it felt terminal.

“The best way I can describe this is by using Steve’s own words; when I sent him a love letter a few weeks ago, he replied that it was weird being at home whilst we guys were out there, but 'reality intervenes'...and that’s what has happened. I can only put out love and respect, and positive vibes at the memories of good times together."

Bassist Roger Glover said: "He will be missed but our friendship will remain. ... Janine needs him now, and my best wishes and thoughts go out to them." Drummer Ian Paice added: "[T]here is one important truth here and that is, 'family comes first.' Steve is adhering to that truth with his wife Janine’s health situation. We will miss him." Airey’s message to Morse was: "I know it would take a lot more than this to extinguish your talent and your music, so hopefully we’ll see you down the road a-piece."

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Their storied career spans over half a century, with more than 20 studio albums – in addition to many live and best-of sets.