Daniel Johnston, eccentric singer-songwriter, dead at 58

Daniel Johnston, who for decades was a fixture of underground music in America, has died of a heart attack at age 58.

Johnston’s manager confirmed the news to The Austin Chronicle on Wednesday. The singer-songwriter, who was born in West Virginia but was considered an iconic part of the Austin, Texas music scene, died Tuesday evening.

His most popular tune, “True Love Will Find You In the End,” has been covered by Beck and Wilco, among many others. Johnston struggled with mental illnesses throughout his life. He was diagnosed at various points with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and spent time in psychiatric institutions.

Johnston emerged as a cult favorite in the the 1980s — partially by passing out homemade tapes around town, including in a McDonald’s — and even appeared on MTV in 1985, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s, when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain started appearing in a t-shirt bearing the cover of Johnston’s “Hi, How Are You?” album that Johnston’s fame took off.

However, it was short lived, as Johnston was soon hospitalized for mental health. According to a 2006 documentary, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” while on a flight piloted his father Bill, grabbed the key from the plane’s ignition and hurled it out the window. He and his father survived following a crash-landing. But this incident didn’t prevent a bidding war by labels once Cobain gave Johnston his stamp of approval.

After ultimately signing with Atlantic Records, Johnston was dropped when his music fared poorly commercially.

Interest in Johnston was revived by the documentary, which won the Director’s Award at Sundance in 2005, and the exposure allowed Johnston to tour extensively. He enjoyed a late-life rebirth as a renaissance man, releasing a comic book, apparel collaborations with Supreme and a game for the iPhone. He embarked on a final tour before retiring from public performances in 2017.

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