Singer, songwriter, and wordsmith Daniel Johnston has died following a heart attack, his manager confirmed on Thursday morning. He was 58.
Johnston was a huge cult figure in music, finding his popularity blossoming after he moved to Austin, Texas in the ’80s. The singer would stand around Austin streets handing out tapes of his music to people, all while working a job at a nearby McDonalds.
Safe passage, Daniel Johnston. pic.twitter.com/W8bkB439Jp
— Polaris Music Prize (@PolarisPrize) September 11, 2019
For much of his life Johnston suffered from mental health issues. In the ’90s, during a manic psychotic episode, he threw the keys out of a small plane he and his father were in. Both survived the crash, but Johnston was soon sent to a psychiatric institution where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Incredibly eccentric and full of surprises, Johnston’s honesty in his music is what drew so many to him. His lyrics, and his ability to create music that reconciled with his mental health, was monumental in his rise as one of his generations great songwriters.
In 2005, Johnston’s life was chronicled in the award-winning documentary ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston.’
Praised and respected by a whos-who of legendary musicians, Johnston’s cult status was perhaps most helped by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who chose to wear a T-shirt featuring a drawing of Johnston’s regularly.
As news spread of his passing, people flocked to social media to remember the iconic musician.
I'm so thankful for the ways Daniel Johnston's work continually explored the ways that any pursuit of love can be woven into the fabric of a person's sanity, comfort, and well-being. And the fact that the pursuit of love doesn't owe us anything at the end.
— Hanif Abdurraqib (@NifMuhammad) September 11, 2019
on the surface “hi, how are you” is a tossed off, everyday phrase—but as a real, honest inquiry, there’s so much depth and care and personal emotion to it. and it’s a small example of how daniel johnston made the everyday magic again. rip.
— Brandon Stosuy (@brandonstosuy) September 11, 2019
Rest In Peace Daniel Johnston.
— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) September 11, 2019
This one hurts. RIP Daniel Johnston. One of my favorite songwriters of all-time and a huge inspiration on what it means to be an artist through and through. He was truly DIY and always a genuine creative force. His songs will live on forever.
— Beach Fossils (@beachfossils) September 11, 2019
????not only was he a true, great talent, the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston is my favorite all time documentary (with the exception of the dentist scene). Walking The Cow is a great introduction to DJ. He inspired our movie Frank and much as Frank Sidebottom did. https://t.co/nTPNsB2sGr
— jon ronson (@jonronson) September 11, 2019
— Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) September 11, 2019
Daniel Johnston was and will always be a heavyweight. He took us all on an artistic journey through light and darkness, his pain was our gift.
An all-time great, the songs stand as a perfect summation of an imperfect life.
Rest in power and keep punching, Joe.
— scharpling (@scharpling) September 11, 2019
“Drove those demons out of my head, with an organ and a pencil full of lead.” Johnston sings in 1983’s ‘Sorry Entertainer’.
“And when I’m dead, I’d like to have it said, he drove those demons out of his head.”