Daniel Johnston Dead at 58

Daniel Johnston was a cult figure among fans of the US indie rock scene

Daniel Johnston, who for decades was a fixture of underground music in America, has died of a heart attack at age 58. The singer was known for a bare, lo-fi aesthetic with cracking, reverb-laden vocals conveying personal lyrics. Johnston struggled with mental illnesses throughout his life. Tom Waits, Yo La Tengo, Bright Eyes and many other bands covered Johnston's achingly honest songs of alienation.

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. According to a 2006 documentary, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston", while on a flight piloted his father Bill, grabbed the key from the plane's ignition and hurled it out the window.

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Born in Sacramento and raised in West Virginia, Johnston took art classes at Kent State - where he recorded his 1981 debut Songs of Pain - dropped out two years later, and spent time traveling with a carnival before moving to Austin, Texas. Late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain directed the spotlight on Johnston when he wore a t-shirt featuring the artwork from Johnston's sixth album Hi, How Are You, sparking a label bidding war. After this episode, Johnston was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Cobain called him one of the "greatest" songwriters, and his songs have been covered by Beck, Lana Del Rey, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Flaming Lips. The film outlined Johnston's struggles with manic depression and schizophrenia. He announced that he was retiring from live performance in 2017, closing his career with a five-date farewell tour that included sets from Jeff Tweedy, Modern Baseball, and Built to Spill. In the a year ago, his mental health also worsened. A NY magazine article from April chronicled Johnston's work on an as-yet-unreleased new album called If. "Day" in his honor, on his birthday.

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