Many celebrities expressed their sadness over the loss of Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter who died Tuesday at age 58 after "a presumed heart attack"

By Jen Juneau
September 12, 2019 09:50 AM
Daniel Johnston
Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston has died.

The alternative musician’s former manager, Jeff Tartakov, confirmed the news to The Austin Chronicle, which reported that Johnston died after “a presumed heart attack” on Tuesday night, at his home. He was 58.

“We’ve been struggling for several years with Daniel’s health, and his frequent and lengthy stays in hospitals dampened his creative efforts, but throughout he continued to draw and write songs,” Johnston’s brother, Dick Johnston, told Spin.

“We had hoped to get back to a point where he was stable and could enjoy things like touring. He had just returned from a recent hospital stay and seemed (and looked) better than I’d seen him in a good while,” Dick added, calling his sibling’s death “something of a surprise” as a result.

According to the Chronicle, Johnston moved to Austin in the early ’80s and, over the span of his life, recorded almost a dozen and a half albums. His most famous was Hi, How Are You, which gained even more recognition after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain wore a shirt featuring the album’s cover art.

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Johnston’s songs have been covered by a myriad of artists like Tom Waits, Yo La Tengo, Wilcom and Beach House. Johnston also made an appearance on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” in 2012, performing songs like “Mean Girls Give Pleasure,” “American Dream,” and “Sense of Humor.”

And it seems he had more up his sleeve. As the star revealed to the Chronicle last year, “I’ve been working on a new album with [Austin’s] Brian Beattie for years, and I hope it comes out real soon.”

“To me, there was something about the way he was only being himself and, at the same time, he was completely formed by the larger world, yet he was so uniquely private in that weird way that he was,” Beattie told the Chronicle after Johnston’s death.

Johnston struggled throughout his life with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and manic depression. A 2005 documentary about the musician — titled The Devil and Daniel Johnston, chronicling his life, career and health struggles — nabbed the award for documentary direction at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Daniel Johnston
Scott Dudelson/Getty

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Many celebrities and fellow musicians expressed their grief over Johnston’s death on social media. A Wednesday tweet from Foster the People read, “Very sad to hear that daniel johnston passed away today. i saw him live a couple years ago and he cracked my heart open like nobody else. that guy carried such a pure truth with everything he did. sending love to his family ❤️”

“Sitting here on set tearing up. I hope Daniel is up there with Kurt playing the most beautiful music together. RIP #DanielJohnston,” wrote Evan Rachel Wood, while Jenny Lewis tweeted, “Love you forever Daniel Johnston 💙”

In his conversation with Spin, Johnston’s brother Dick said he “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,” Dick added. “He was always, everywhere, warmly received and he at least knew he was well loved.”