Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston has passed away at the age of 58. According to The Austin Chronicle, Johnston died at his home following what was reportedly a heart attack. His death was confirmed by his former manager Jeff Tartakov.
Johnston may be best known for his "Hi How Are You" frog mural that graces the side of an old record store building in Austin, Texas and had been saved from demolition in 2004, becoming one of the main distinctive landmarks of the city.
According to The Austin Chronicle, Johnston's health has "worsened significantly" with his sister Margy telling the outlet in 2018 that Johston had experienced falls, hospitalization and adjustments to his medications. The artist's life was peppered with time spent in psychiatric treatment institutions and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Daniel Johnston was and will always be a heavyweight. He took us all on an artistic journey through light and darkness, his pain was our gift.
An all-time great, the songs stand as a perfect summation of an imperfect life.— scharpling (@scharpling) September 11, 2019
Rest in power and keep punching, Joe.
Throughout his career, Johnston produced over 17 full-length albums of original music according to The Chronicle, with several home-recorded tapes and an album that the performer told the outlet about in 2018.
“I’ve been working on a new album with [Austin’s] Brian Beattie for years, and I hope it comes out real soon," Johnston told The Austin Chronicle.
Johnston hit the national scene after Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt featuring the "Hi How Are You" frog, also featured on the cover of the album of the same name. Many also became aware of him through the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston in 2005, exploring his battle with schizophrenia and manic depression in balance with his musical output.
Kurt Cobain wearing a Daniel Johnston shirt to a major award show in 1992, because he could pic.twitter.com/WtVHlVRKa9— Zach Schonfeld (@zzzzaaaacccchhh) September 11, 2019
Many of his songs have been covered by Tom Waits, Yo La Tengo, Beck, The Flaming Lips and several others.
“When we heard those tapes, Hi, How Are You and all those, there wasn’t any other music from my age group where it was so absolutely personal,” Johnston's friend and former producer Brian Beattie told The Austin Chronicle. “The things he was singing about, it was almost voyeuristic to hear it. So, he really cracked open the kind of emotions you don’t understand yet. He was all about those emotions. He understood not understanding them.
“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 continued with the outlet.
My dad introduced me to Daniel Johnston’s music & at first I didn’t know if it was meant as a joke or something else. But once I’d listened to a few songs, I heard the DNA of so many other’s work.— Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) September 11, 2019
A unique & special human being.
Rest peacefully, Daniel.https://t.co/5m3hwEdS9G