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DANIEL JOHNSTON,
1961-2019

Daniel Johnston, the beloved, troubled cult artist, whose lo-fi cassette recordings won him loyal fans famously including Kurt Cobain, died of a heart attack on 9/10 in his long-time home of Austin. He was 58.

Born in Sacramento and raised in West Virginia, Johnston began recording his songs in the late ’70s on a cheap Sanyo boombox. When he moved to Austin in the early ’80s, he became part of the colorful "Keep Austin Weird" local scene,  handing out tapes to passersby on the streets and at the McDonald’s where he was working.

Johnston’s mental condition—diagnosed as schizophrenia—worsened in 1988 while he was cutting his first studio album, 1990, in New York City. Two years later, after Cobain was spotted in a T-shirt bearing the cover art of Johnston’s 1983 album, Hi, How Are You, igniting a bidding war even while Johnston was being treated in a mental hospital.

Elektra and Atlantic offered him deals, but Johnston went with Atlantic, believing that Elektra’s Metallica were Satanic. He only lasted for one album on Atlantic, 1994’s Fun, before being dropped, but he remained a prolific record-maker. The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, released in 2004, contained covers of his songs by high-profile acts including Tom Waits, Death Cab for Cutie, Beck, Sparklehorse, TV on the Radio and Bright Eyes.

The documentary feature The Devil and Daniel Johnston was released the following year. Johnston released what would be his final album, Space Ducks: Soundtrack, in 2012 on his own Eternal Yip Eye Music label in 2012.

Johnston’s hand-painted “Hi, How Are You” frog mural has become an unofficial Austin landmark. The city honored him last year by making Jan. 22 “Hi, How Are You Day.”

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