(CelebrityAccess) – Daniel Johnston, the lo-fi singer-songwriter and visual artist who rose to underground fame in the 1980s, has passed following a heart attack. He was 58 years old.
Johnston was a prolific songwriter whose poignant, moving and often childlike songs – primarily recorded on mono cassette player in the basement of his parents’ home – made him highly revered by fellow musicians and fans alike.
Born in Sacramento, California, Johnston grew up in New Cumberland, West Virginia. Eventually, he moved to Austin, Texas where he began cultivating a following by constantly passing out his cassette tapes to passersby. His local success landed him an appearance on MTV’s The Cutting Edge series in 1985.
In 1990, Johnston was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic and was involuntarily committed after a psychotic episode during which he caused the plane his father was piloting to crash by removing the keys from the ignition mid-flight.
During that time, a major label bidding war for Johnston began after Kurt Cobain brought attention to his music by famously wearing a t-shirt that featured the artwork of his 1983 album Hi, How Are You on it.
Ultimately Johnston signed with Atlantic. The question of whether he was in a state to be subjected to the happenings of the music business hung heavy over the deal, however, the potency of his songwriting was hard to shake off and couldn’t be denied.
Atlantic dropped Johnston in 1996, but his influence and cult following never wained. Counting artists such as Radio, Jad Fair, Bright Eyes, Wilco, Tom Waits, Death Cab for Cutie, Beck, Sparklehorse, Lana Del Rey and numerous others among his greatest admirers, Johnston’s songs continue to cut through even 40 years on making his loss a painful one for many in the music community.
In 2005, Jeff Feuerzieg directed the award-winning documentary about his life called The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Around this time, he formed his own label, Eternal Yip Eye Music. He released his last album through Yip Eye, Space Ducks: Soundtrack, in 2012, and later embarked on his final tour in July 2017. In 2018, the city of Austin honored Johnston by naming January 22 “Hi, How Are You” Day.
So sad to hear of the death of the great Daniel Johnston. Here is a beautiful performance of his which makes me cry every time. Swell season + Daniel Johnston – Life in vain – HD-ACL – with lyrics https://t.co/ELElWjpZ3P via @YouTube @Glen_Hansard @TheSwellSeason
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) September 11, 2019
Ah man, Daniel Johnston. That ones hit me hard. That dude wrote nearly all of my favourite songs. There won’t be another one of them. What a songwriter. https://t.co/tcpfrSrXde
— Eddie Argos (@EddieArgos) September 11, 2019
Daniel Johnston was a genius. How else to alchemize pain and fear into timeless songs that made people feel not so alone.
Drove those demons
Out of my head
With an organ and a pencil full of lead
And when I’m dead
I’d like to have it said
He drove those demons out of his head
— Michael Azerrad (@michaelazerrad) September 11, 2019