Skip to content

Tom Verlaine, Television Founder and Frontman, Dies at 73

Beloved New York musician also worked closely with Patti Smith and Jeff Buckley
Tom Verlaine, Breekend Festival, Bree, Belgium, 1985. (Photo by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Tom Verlaine, frontman for iconic punk band Television, has died at the age of 73. A press statement said that Verlaine died at his New York City home after battling a brief illness.

Jessie Paris Smith, daughter of Verlaine’s friend and contemporary Patti Smith, also confirmed the news to the New York Times. In a statement of her own, Patti Smith said, “This is a time when all seemed possible. Farewell Tom, aloft the Omega.”

Born Thomas Miller, the budding talent was raised in New Jersey, where he first learned saxophone and piano. Like many young people of his era, he switched to guitar after being inspired by the music of the Rolling Stones.

As a teen, he met future bandmate Richard Hell when they both attended the same east coast boarding school and bonded over music and poetry (Verlaine is said to have borrowed his stage name from the French poet Paul Verlaine). The two eventually escaped to New York where, along with drummer Billy Ficca, formed the short-lived group the Neon Boys.

By 1973, they reformed as Television with the addition of guitarist Richard Lloyd, and became part of the burgeoning punk and underground scene in New York City’s East Village. There, peers like Patti Smith, Blondie, and the Talking Heads were emerging and co-mingling at spots like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

After Hell was let go from the group, Fred Smith joined Television on bass in 1975, solidifying the lineup that would become heralded as a major influence on future post-punk and indie rock bands.

In 1977, Television released its debut album, Marquee Moon, to resounding acclaim. Verlaine’s unique singing style and dazzling two-guitar attack in tandem with Lloyd helped make it one of the most notable rock albums of its time. A follow-up, Adventure, quickly arrived in 1978, but the band broke up acrimoniously and Verlaine moved onto solo pursuits, including his self-titled 1979 debut and 1981’s Dreamline.

“There was a countermovement of people like me who were dissatisfied with the way rock had been glamorized,” Smith told SPIN of the ’70s New York rock revolution in a 2008 interview. “People like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell and Debbie Harry and myself wanted to continue the efforts of bands like the MC5 and Jefferson Airplane. We were merging jazz and politics and poetry and different kinds of performance. It was a cultural revolution.”

After more than a decade of inactivity, Television unexpectedly reformed in 1991 and released a surprisingly strong self-titled album the following year. Even after Lloyd’s departure in 2007, the group was active in fits and starts until recent years and Verlaine had claimed new songs were in the offing, but none materialized.

During his career, Verlaine also contributed to Patti Smith’s recordings and was the original producer on Jeff Buckley’s sophomore album before the artist drowned while making it in 1997. It was eventually released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk the following year.

Verlaine was also a part of the supergroup Million Dollar Bashers featuring members of Sonic Youth and Wilco.