Daniel Johnston, the eccentric singer-songwriter who was loved by many fans despite – or even because of – his battles with mental health problems, died at age 58. His hometown newspaper, Austin Chronicle, confirmed with Johnston's former manager, Jeff Tartakov, that the artist died of a heart attack on Tuesday night.
Johnston has released 17 albums and has been revered by artists such as Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, many of whom have covered lo-fi songs that contained significant extravagance and great anguish. It was the subject of a 2005 documentary, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston".
Called all from an eccentric genius to a solitary child, Johnston made his bones and his reputation for oblique but touching texts, voices that scream and strangely contagious melodies (for example: "Speeding Motorcycle") with a handful of tapes made at home (like "Other songs of Pain", "Yip / Jump Music" and "Hi, How Are You") and almost 20 albums.
Tom Waits, Jad Fair and Yo La Tengo recorded his songs and made him famous. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wore Johnston's artwork on a shirt and made him infamous. His struggles for mental illness, however, made him vulnerable and gave Johnston some of his first prints.
Johnston moved to Austin in the 80s and made that city his art center, founding his label there (Eternal Yip Eye Music) and even creating a mural "Hi, how are you" Frog a Guadalupe and 21st Street , along the famous Austin The Drag.
Beginning in 1988 and in the early 1990s, during the recording of his first studio album production, Johnston's mental health suffered and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
While he was heading to a small music festival in Austin in 1990, he had a psychotic episode while his plane was in the air (he actually removed the ignition key and left the plane pilot, his father, to land the plane). After this episode, Johnston was unintentionally engaged in a psychiatric hospital.
Despite all his problems, Johnston maintained a level of artistic excellence and an unmistakable sound, one that, in 1994, found him publishing albums (eg "Fun") on a great label, Atlantic Records, beating Elektra only because it was potential the Metallica label mates were devil worshipers in his eyes.
Johnston eventually returned to smaller, more independent labels like Tim / Kerr and Jagjaguwar, better suited to publish his intimate, non-commercial sounds. However, Johnston still maintained his reputation as a lo-fi ruler, also publishing a kind of "duets" in 2004, the double album "The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered" where Beck, TV on the radio and Death Cab for Cutie drew the most out of his sparse composition of songs.
In 2005, director Jeff Feuerzieg captured the life and times of the musician for the documentary, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston", while Johnston released albums such as "The Electric Ghosts", "Is and Always Was" and "Space Ducks" , his latest published complete album, also in the 2000s.
Johnston played his last major shows in 2017 through a five-date mini-tour with support from Wilco's Built Twilly, Built to Spill, Modern Baseball and The Districts. In a profile of the New York Times, he denied believing that it would be his swan song. "Why should it be?" Johnston asked.
As the Times said, "the idea of leaving the road is not unreasonable. It has fought manic depression and schizophrenia for most of its adult life and in recent years has suffered from numerous physical ailments, including diabetes, kidney infection and hydrocephalus, a condition in which the fluids in his brain frequently caused him to lose balance … In the last year, his mental health also deteriorated … … Mr. Johnston's psychiatric treatment has required extended stays in hospitals and, although now living with a certain degree of independence, it needs considerable assistance ".
Although he was closer to Houston, Johnston was a fairly revered character in Austin that the city had designated an annual “Hello, how are you? Day "in his honor, for his birthday.