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Wilko Johnson, Dr. Feelgood Guitarist and Game of Thrones Actor, Dies at 75

Musician inspired the punk movement with his unconventional persona
Wilko Johnson
(Credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

Wilko Johnson, the guitarist for influential U.K. rock band Dr. Feelgood and fan-favorite actor in early seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, died Monday (Nov. 21) at the age of 75. No cause of death was announced; Johnson had battled pancreatic cancer over the past decade but was said to be in remission as of 2014.

Johnson formed Dr. Feelgood in 1971 and led the band to immense popularity amid the pre-punk London pub rock era. Dr. Feelgood’s hard R&B-driven sound is best heard on the 1976 live album Stupidity, which hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts and was said to have influenced eventual punk figureheads such as Paul Weller and the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon. Johnson perfected a Chuck Berry-style duck walk on stage and was known for his intense stare.

Johnson left the group in 1977 over musical disagreements, but Dr. Feelgood continues on to this day with no original members. His stint in the band was chronicled in Julien Temple’s 2009 documentary, Oil City Confidential.

Post Dr. Feelgood, Johnson played with Ian Dury in the Blockheads and also formed the Wilko Johnson Band, which recorded a host of albums through the late 1980s. Around the time of his original cancer diagnosis, Johnson teamed with the Who’s Roger Daltrey for the collaborative album Going Back Home, a surprise No. 3 hit on the U.K. charts. He was performing live as recently as a few weeks ago.

Johnson is perhaps best known to younger generations as mute executioner Ser Ilyn Payne from Game of Thrones. He appeared in four episodes of the show from 2011-2012, a casting inspired by his appearance in Oil City Confidential.

Tributes have been posted by everyone from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos, who wrote of Johnson on Instagram, “His unique, wired playing style and stage presence thrilled and inspired many guitarists, myself included. When I interviewed him a few years ago, he was bright, thoughtful, and an astonishing storyteller, carving legend from life. His presence on this planet will be felt for many more years.”