Shane MacGowan, the irascible frontman of beloved Irish rock band the Pogues, died in his sleep this morning (Nov. 30) at the age of 65. A cause of death has not been announced, but MacGowan had just been released from the hospital last week after a months-long stay for an unspecified medical issue. He’d been relegated to a wheelchair since 2005 after suffering several falls, and last year was diagnosed with encephalitis.
He is survived by his wife of five years, Victoria Mary Clarke, his sister Siobhan, and his father Maurice. “I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” Clarke wrote on Instagram. “There’s no way to describe the loss that I am feeling and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world.
The Pogues are most widely known for the 1987 holiday-themed song “Fairytale of New York,” but MacGowan long reigned as the centerpiece of the group, which often injected political and social themes into its high-energy music. He was an unlikely rock star when he founded the band (then called “Pogue Mahone,” an anglicized Gaelic phrase translating to “kiss my arse”) in London in 1982. Shenanigans often abounded, including an incident when MacGowan was so drunk he fell from a moving train. But he always held onto his lifelong inspiration to create art, the visual side of which was chronicled in last year’s book The Eternal Buzz and The Crock of Gold.
“I don’t really have any advice for people who want to be icons,” he told SPIN at the time. “I would say forget about fame and forget about what anyone else thinks. Do what you do, be yourself, live your own life, and if people like, it that’s great. But that’s not what matters.”
Due to his heavy drinking, MacGowan left the Pogues in 1991 but reunited with them a decade later and performed with them until 2014. In addition to his work with the band, MacGowan released two albums with the Popes, 1994’s The Snake and The Crock of Gold in 1997. He was the subject of a pair of recent documentaries, Shane McGowan: A Wreck Reborn (2015) and Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane McGowan (2020).
This morning, Nick Cave saluted MacGowan as “a true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation. A very sad day,” while Laura Jane Grace wrote on X, “forever grateful to have had the opportunity of opening for the Pogues years ago. Shane was a lyrical god to me. Always will be.” Cave was joined by Bono, the late Sinéad O’Connor, Carl Barat, Bobby Gillespie, Jesse Malin and Glen Hansard for a concert in Dublin to celebrate MacGowan’s 60th birthday in 2018.