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The New York Dolls

Sylvain Sylvain, Founding Member Of The New York Dolls, Dead At 69

The New York Dolls perform at one of their final New York-area shows in 1975. (Shutterstock)
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(CelebrityAccess) — Sylvain Sylvain, co-founder and rhythm guitarist for the legendary androgyenous proto punk band the New York Dolls, died on Wednesday. He was 69.

According to a social media post from his wife, Sylvian died from complications of cancer.

“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years. Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way,” Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi wrote.

Although he was born in Egypt, Sylvian Mizrahi’s family arrived in New York in the mid 1950s, settling first in Buffalo before relocating once again to Queens, where Sylvian attended Newtown High School and then Quintano’s School for Young Professionals in Manhattan.

While in high school, Sylvian met future bandmate Billy Murcia and the two started playing in several local bands together, as well as forming a fashion company “Truth And Soul” which later provided foundational elements for the Dolls’ aesthetic.

In 1971, Sylvain joined David Johnson, Arthur “Killer” Kane, Murcia and John “Johnny Thunders” Genzale to form the New York Dolls, taking their inspiration for the band’s name from a doll repair store near the Manhattan men’s boutique where Sylvian worked.

The group’s first show took place on New Year’s Eve 1971 at the Endicott Hotel, a former luxury accommodation that had become a refuge for the city’s homeless. Right out of the gate, the New York Dolls were provocateurs, wearing stage costumes sourced from women’s second hand clothing stores and creating a unique style that fused gritty punk with elements of UK glam rock.

The band’s big break came the following year after they were noticed by Rod Stewart, and he invited them to open for him at a performance in London. The international show opened a window for a brief tour of the UK, but the trip was tempered by tragedy when Murcia died of asphyxiation after suffering an overdose at a party in London.

In 1972, the band signed with Mercury Records and Marty Thau as manager and the following year released their eponymously-named debut album to mixed reviews. Their 1974 followup Too Much Too Soon, also landed with a thud and while it was well-reviewed, it peaked at #167 on the Billboard 200 and following a turbulent national tour, the band was dropped by Mercury.

Amid fading popularity, artistic differences and drug abuse, the New York Dolls parted ways after a final performance at Max’s Kansas City on December 30th, 1976.

After the Dolls split, Sylvian performed with Johnson on several solo albums and recorded a solo album of his own for RCA. He also formed his own band The Criminals, and continue to gig in the New York club scene.

In the 1990s, Sylvain relocated to Los Angeles where he recorded and toured with several bands, including Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, the The Batusis, which debuted at SXSW in 2010, and Sylvain Sylvain and the Sylvains, which also debuted at SXSW in 2015.

In 2004, Sylvian reunited with Kane and reformed the Dolls. The group releasing several albums — “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This,” “Cause I Sez So” and “Dancing Backward in High Heels” — but parted ways again following the unexpected death of Kane in 2004.

The Dolls reunited again in 2011 and took the stage as an opening act for a summer tour featuring Mötley Crüe and Poison.

Last year, Sylvian revealed that he was battling cancer and set up a GoFund me page to help raise money to pay for his treatments.

While the New York Dolls career was brief, it was also influential, informing the work of generations of musicians who followed. Their on-stage style including spandex, high heels, big hair and platform boots was gradually co-opted by the more commercially palatable metal and musically accomplished bands of the late ’70s and ’80s such as Aerosmith, Poison, and Motley Crue.

“The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to. From the time I first saw their poster appear on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, advertising a residency at the Mercer Hotel up the street, throughout their meteoric ascent and shooting star flame-out, the New York Dolls were the heated core of this music we hail, the band that makes you want to form a band. Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he was welcomed all over the world, from England to Japan, but most of all the rock dens of New York City, which is where I caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Bowery Electric. Still Syl. His corkscrew curls, tireless bounce, exulting in living his dream, asking the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His twin names, mirrored, becomes us,” said Patti Smith Band guitarist Lenny Kaye via Facebook.

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