Daniel Johnston, Songwriter, Dies at 58

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


Daniel Johnston, the songwriter, has passed away due to natural causes in his Texas home at the age of 58, according to his family.

He inspired many and they mourn him through social media, including Beck, and film star Elijah Wood, who referred to him as a “gentle, beautiful treasure.”

Jeff Antonoff, a producer, praised the way Johnston “shared fearlessly.”

Johnston was born in California in 1961. However, he was raised in West Virginia. He did not become known as a songwriter until he moved to Austin, Texas.

He started handing out cassette tapes of his home recordings to people on the street and his reputation grew.

He became a cult figure on the local music scene. Johnston’s exposure grew wider when MTV filmed a program on the Austin music scene in 1985 for “The Cutting Edge” MTV series.

His performance brought him acclaim almost overnight, and his home recordings had a vinyl release on the indie label, Homestead.

Johnston was not an accomplished player and his pinched high tenor vocals kept him from being a mainstream star – but “the aching emotional sincerity of songs ‘Life in Vain’ and ‘True love Will Find You in The End,’ earned him a loyal fanbase.

Once, Kurt Cobain described him as “the best songwriter on earth,” and wore one of Johnston’s t-shirts to the 1992 MTV Awards.

Other musicians who covered his songs include Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, Yo La Tengo, and Sufijan Stevens.

In 2013, Lana Del Rey and rapper Mac Miller contributed $10,000 each to fund a short film about Johnston. Del Rey recorded a version of “Some Things Last a Long Time” for the soundtrack.

Additionally, Johnston was known as an artist and a comic-book writer “his magic marker cartoon drawings were an inspiration for ‘Simpsons’’ creator Marr Groening.

In 1993, in Austin, Johnston was asked to create a mural of Jeremiah the Innocent, the alien frog featured on the cover of his album, “Hi, How Are You.”

Johnston’s artwork was featured in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in 2006.

Mental health problems such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia plagued him, hindered his career, and endangered his life. This includes the incident where he attempted to crash a plane piloted by his father.

“The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” a documentary released in 2005, portrayed how fragile he had become and brought his music and story to a new generation.

In an interview with the Austin Chronicle, Johnston reflects, “It sure was embarrassing. Every terrible dilemma, every fabled mistake. Nothing I can do about it now, though. I with they’d added a laugh track to it, because is sure is funny.”

Johnston’s musical output slowed in recent years after his farewell tour in 2017, he was confined mostly to his family home.

His brother, Dick Johnston, told The New York Times his brother had been treated for kidney issues not long before his death.

He said, “He was still productive, writing songs and drawing, and was just annoyed by his health more than anything. It was just one thing after another.”

In a Facebook post, his family remembered him:

“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 that ‘the sun shines down on me” and “true love will find you in the end.”


When the news of his death spread and fans laid flowers and cassettes at the foot of his mural in Austin, and musicians and fellow creators spoke of Johnston’s impact on their lives.

Zola Jesus said: “There are not enough words I can say about the vitality of Daniel Johnston’s musical spirit. He was a huge inspiration to me, to follow my creative impulse no matter how messy or simple.”

The indie group, Death Cab for Cutie covered Johnston’s song, “Dream Scream” wrote that their “hearts were heavy.”

By Jeanette Smith


BBC: Cult musician Daniel Johnston dies
The New York Times: Daniel Johnston Dies; Gifted and Enigmatic Songwriter Was 58
Pitchfork: Daniel Johnston Dead at 58

Image Courtesy of Stephanie Elliott’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License









Send Us A Message