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Cult US indie artist Daniel Johnston has died aged 58

His brother said his death was unexpected and he was in good spirits just one day ago.

Image: Youtube

US INDIE SINGER Daniel Johnston has died of natural causes at the age of 58.

Johnston, praised as an enigmatic singer-songwriter, had been in and out of hospital in recent months with issues relating to his kidneys, according to his brother and manager Dick Johnston. 

His death was “unexpected” his brother said, adding “just yesterday his spirits were great and his ankles were swollen and he was looking and feeling really good”. 

He spent time in psychiatric care on a number of occasions for manic depression and made a name for himself bringing a new sound to lo-fi with decades’ worth of homemade recordings recounting stories of personal pain and unrequited love set to Beatles-inspired pop. 

In recent years he had largely been under his family’s care in the small town of Waller in eastern Texas.

Two years ago, Johnston, who composes on piano and has traditionally performed on guitar, embarked on a tour that would turn out to be his last.

He put aside instruments to sing with bands like Fugazi, that took inspiration from him and performed set lists from Johnston’s vast repertoire.

Source: vinceleers/YouTube

Some of his songs have been covered by internationally renowned acts like Pearl Jam, Tom Waits and Beck.


His career enjoyed a major boost when the late Kurt Cobain appeared on MTV in one of Johnston’s T-shirts, leading to a surge of interest in the outsider artist, who at the height of Nirvana’s fame, was institutionalized.

Born in Sacramento, California on 22 January 1961, Johnston was raised in West Virginia. He became a mainstay of the underground rock circles in Texas’ capital Austin in the early 1980s, offering up homemade cassettes to his friends and customers at his McDonald’s day job.

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The Austin City Limits music festival paid tribute to Johnston, saying the city known for its eclectic music had “lost a giant today”.

He began drawing attention from members of the music industry with songs like Speeding Motorcycle and Don’t Play Cards with Satan.

Before the announced retirement from touring, Johnston had appeared to be in improving health and in the 2000s traveled to play in Europe and Japan.

A prolific sketcher, he has also found growing interest in his paintings, with the latest exhibition taking place this month in Tokyo.

At his final New York performance in 2017, he took the stage to a standing ovation after a screening of “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” the award-winning 2005 documentary on his troubled but prodigiously creative life.

© AFP 2019 

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