Artist News Obituaries

Daniel Johnston dies

By | Published on Thursday 12 September 2019

Daniel Johnston

Much-loved indie singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston has died following a heart attack. He was 58.

Born in 1961, the youngest of five children in what his website describes as “a Christian fundamentalist household”, Johnston began recording music in the late 70s, recording his first two albums – ‘Songs Of Pain’ and ‘More Songs Of Pain’ – in the early 80s. “When I was nineteen, I wanted to be The Beatles”, he later said. “I was disappointed when I found out I couldn’t sing”.

He first became more widely known after moving to Austin, Texas in the mid-80s, where he would hand out cassettes of his music to friends and people he met day-to-day. His troubled, childlike songs drew a following beyond the city, and further still once Kurt Cobain regularly began singing his virtues.

This led to a major label bidding war which eventually saw him sign to Atlantic – he previously turned down a deal with Elektra because Metallica were signed to the label, who he believed to be sent by Satan to hurt him. However, his underground popularity failed to translate into mainstream success, and he was dropped after his one album for the label, 1994’s ‘Fun’.

Nonetheless, Johnston remained prolific and released numerous albums throughout his career. Most recently 2012’s ‘Space Ducks’, a record that was inspired by his comic ‘Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book Of Musical Greatness’ and which also featured artists like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Eleanor Friedberger.

Beyond the records, in 2005 he was the subject of award-winning documentary film ‘The Devil And Daniel Johnston’, and more recently he starred as himself in short film ‘Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston?’

Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Johnston had several stays in psychiatric hospitals during his lifetime. Other health issues also contributed to him remaining largely confined to his home in recent years.

“He was still productive, writing songs and drawing, and was just annoyed by his health more than anything”, his brother and manager Dick told the New York Times, while confirming his death. “It was just one thing after another”.

Johnston had been working on a new album, titled ‘If’, for several years.