Daniel Johnston has died of a heart attack at 58, according to The Austin Chronicle, who confirmed the news with his former manager.
Johnston was born in Sacramento and grew up in West Virginia, but it was in Austin where he developed a cult following by handing out cassette tapes on the street. He released a great many albums throughout his career, starting with 1981’s Songs Of Pain and ending with 2010’s Beam Me Up! (There’s also a lost album somewhere in there that has yet to be released.)
His music was beloved by many other musicians, including the late Kurt Cobain, who frequently appeared wearing a Johnston t-shirt and included 1983’s Yip/Jump Music among his favorite albums. In 2005, Johnston was the subject of the acclaimed documentary The Devil And Daniel Johnston, which detailed the musician’s experience with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Austin became a central hub for Johnston’s music. A few years ago, the city designated his birthday “Hi, How Are You?” Day . In 1993, Johnston painted an iconic mural outside of a now-closed record shop of his “Jeremiah The Innocent” frog (from the cover of his 1983 album Hi, How Are You) that became a landmark.
The singer-songwriter had been in bad health for a while now, as detailed in New York Times piece from a couple years ago. In 2017, Johnston announced his final tour with a string of shows where he was backed by musicians who have been inspired by him throughout the years. This past January, there was a a tribute concert for Johnston in his adopted home city of Austin for his 58th birthday.
Daniel Johnston’s family has shared a statement on the musician’s death, through the nonprofit organization Hi, How Are You Project, which was founded by Johnston and his family to inspire “new conversations around mental health issues by funding and creating thoughtful media content, projects and events.” Read the statement below:
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.”