Legendary outsider musician Daniel Johnston died last night (September 10) at 58 years old, according to The Austin Chronicle. The singer, who launched his career in Austin, Texas in the ’80s, passed away following a heart attack. The news was confirmed by Johnston’s former manager, Jeff Tartakov.
Johnston dealt with a variety of health issues for much of his life. In 2017, The New York Times noted that Johnston battled manic depression and schizophrenia for years, and that towards the end of his life, he faced diabetes, a kidney infection, and hydrocephalus.
Johnston first achieved fame through self-released recordings he handed out to people in Austin. He gained increased notoriety after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing a t-shirt featuring the cover art of Johnston’s 1983 album Hi, How Are You, which was Johnston’s defining album. During his career, he released 17 studio albums. His first, Songs Of Pain, was released in 1981, and his latest, Beam Me Up!, came out in 2010.
In 2017, Johnston announced his final concert tour, a five-date stretch of shows between September and November of that year. At each show, he was accompanied by a special guest: Jeff Tweedy & Friends joined him in Chicago, Built To Spill joined in Portland and Vancouver, the Preservation All-Stars joined in New Orleans, and the Districts and Modern Baseball joined in Philadelphia. The guest bands created the setlists, and each performance was preceded by screenings of the 2005 documentary The Devil And Daniel Johnston.
Even after announcing his final tour, Johnston seemed excited to continue making music. In 2018, he told The Austin Chronicle, “I’ve been working on a new album with [Austin musician] Brian Beattie for years, and I hope it comes out real soon.” In a New York Times in an interview published in September 2017, Johnston also said, “Hopefully, I could have a big hit someday, a real hit. […] I can’t stop writing. If I did stop, there could be nothing. Maybe everything would stop. So I won’t stop. I’ve got to keep it going.”
The Johnston family released the following statement about Daniel Johnston’s death:
The Johnston family is deeply saddened to announce the death of their brother, Daniel Johnston. He passed away from natural causes this morning at his home outside of Houston, Texas.
Daniel was a singer, songwriter, an artist, and a friend to all. Although he struggled with mental health issues for much of his adult life, Daniel triumphed over his illness through his prolific output of art and songs. He inspired countless fans, artists, and songwriters with his message that no matter how dark the day, “the sun shines down on me” and “true love will find you in the end.”
Daniel’s life and music inspired the Hi, How Are You Project to encourage open conversation around mental health. His birthday, January 22, is celebrated as Hi, How Are You Day.
Dick Johnston, Daniel’s older brother says of Dan, “I always wanted Danny to feel like his own person, and in control of his own life. 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. Health issues have plagued us for years, I’m glad for the time we had.”
Tom Gimbel, Daniel’s manager of over 25 years, says, “I am so saddened by the news of Daniel’s passing. It has been the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life to work with Daniel Johnston – someone who I consider to be one of the greatest songwriting geniuses of our time. In our time together Daniel was more than an artist; he was a friend, he was family. I will miss him greatly but will smile every time I hear his songs.”