Photo: Frank Mullen/WireImage
Daniel Johnston, Influential Singer/Songwriter, Dies At 58
Austin, Texas singer/songwriter and visual artist Daniel Johnston died of a heart attack on Sept. 10. He was 58 years old.
A bigtime Beatles fan, Johnston began making homemade cassettes of his distinctive songs, gaining attention for his unique voice, elemental lyrics, undeniable pop instincts and gritty lo-fi recordings with accompanying hand-drawn artwork. He also fought a lifelong battle with mental illness and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Johnston attracted major label attention after many of the bands he influenced, such as Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Nirvana, found success. Johnston was signed to Atlantic and released Fun in 1994.
A wide range of rock and alternative artists were influenced by Johnston's work. Most famously, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt of Johnston's 1993 album Hi, How Are You at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, but many artists have covered Johnston's songs, including Pearl Jam, Tom Waits, Lana Del Rey, Wilco, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, Sufjan Stevens and Beach House.
In 2005, a documentary called The Devil and Daniel Johnston won Documentary Directing Award at Sundance. Johnston retired from touring in 2017, but just earlier this year, the city of Austin made his Jan. 22 birthday “Hi, How Are You?” Day, honororing his contributions to music and his Hi, How Are You? project, which raises awareness for mental health issues.
daniel johnston will be missed. a brilliant story teller and songwriter who carried my friends and i through many over night drives in the van. so much to learn from daniel in the way he shared fearlessly.
— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) September 11, 2019
Fans and fellow music makers have taken to social media to pay tribute to the late Johnston, including Beck, Jack Antonoff and Judd Apatow. He is survived by his by his brother Dick Johnston and sisters Margy Johnston, Sally Reid and Cindy Brewer.