Daniel Johnston Dead at 58
Daniel Johnston died at 58 years old on Tuesday night, the Austin Chronicle is reporting and Spin can confirm. The Austin-based musician attracted a small but devoted following for his simple, emotionally direct, and sometimes profoundly affecting songs, most of which he home-recorded and self-released on a series of cassettes in the 1980s. According to Johnston’s former manager Jeff Tartakov, as reported by the Chronicle, Johnston suffered a heart attack. A statement from Johnston’s family says only that he died of natural causes.
Johnston, born in 1961 in Sacramento, first found found cult fame in his adopted home city of Austin, where a mural he painted based on the cover of his 1983 cassette Hi, How Are You still stands as an officially designated cultural landmark. His profile rose thanks to the support of many indie and alternative musicians in the ’90s, including Kurt Cobain, who frequently wore a Hi, How Are You t-shirt and named Johnston’s 1985 release Yip/Jump Music on a much-publicized list of his favorite albums ever. He gained an even wider audience following the 2005 release of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary about his music and life as a person with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“We’ve been struggling for several years with Daniel’s health, and his frequent and lengthy stays in hospitals dampened his creative efforts, but throughout he continued to draw and write songs,” the artist’s brother, Dick Johnston, told Spin in and email. “We had hoped to get back to a point where he was stable and could enjoy things like touring. He had just returned from a recent hospital stay and seemed (and looked) better than I’d seen him in a good while. So this was something of a surprise.”
“I always wanted Danny to feel like his own person, and in control of his own life,” Dick Johnston continued. “Since beginning to work and travel with him in about 2003, we gratefully were able to travel the entire globe for over a decade to get out before the fans. He was always, everywhere, warmly received and he at least knew he was well loved. “
Johnston’s most recent album was Space Ducks, a soundtrack to a comic book also by Johnston, which featured contributions from artists like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Deer Tick, and Eleanor Friedberger, and was released in 2012. A New York magazine article from April chronicled Johnston’s work on an as-yet-unreleased new album called If. The article also documented Johnston’s struggles with his physical health, including a condition called hydrocephalus, which relates to excessive fluid in the brain.