Daniel Johnston, the eccentric US singer-songwriter who was beloved by many fans in spite of – or even because of – his battles with mental health issues, has died at 58.
Johnston’s former manager, Jeff Tartakov, has confirmed that the artist died of a heart attack on Tuesday night, the Austin Chronicle, reports.
Johnston released 17 albums and was revered by artists like Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, the Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, many of whom who covered lo-fi songs that encompassed significant whimsy and great angst.
He was the subject of a 2005 documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston and performed at the Laneway Festival in Sydney in January, 2010.
Called everything from an eccentric genius to a childlike loner, Johnston made his bones and his reputation for oblique, yet touching lyrics, yelping vocals and oddly contagious melodies such as Speeding Motorcycle, with a handful of homemade cassettes such as More Songs of Pain, Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You.
He released about 20 albums.
Tom Waits, Jad Fair and Yo La Tengo recorded his tunes, and made him famous.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain wore Johnston’s art work on a T-shirt, and made him infamous. His own struggles with mental illness, however, made him vulnerable and gave Johnston some of his earliest press.
Johnston moved to Austin in the 80s, and made that city his artistic centre, setting up his own label Eternal Yip Eye Music, and even creating a Hi, How Are You frog mural along Austin’s famed The Drag.
Starting In 1988, and into the early 90s during the recording of his first studio produced albums, Johnston’s mental health suffered, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
While heading to a small music festival in Austin in 1990, he suffered a psychotic episode while his plane was in mid-flight, removing the key from the ignition, leaving his father pilot to crash-land the plane. He was subsequently, involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
Johnston played his last major shows in 2017 via a five date mini-tour featuring backing from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Built to Spill, Modern Baseball and The Districts.
In a New York Times profile, he denied believing that it would be his swan song.
Although he had moved closer to Houston, Johnston was a revered enough figure in Austin that the city had designated an annual “Hi, How Are You? Day” in his honour, on his birthday.
His final album was Beam Me Up! in 2010, but he told the Chronicle in 2018 that he had been working on a new album with Brian Beattie, as yet unreleased.