Wilko Johnson, guitarist with British blues-rock band Dr. Feelgood and “Game of Thrones” actor, has died. He was 75.
Johnson’s death was announced on his official Facebook page Wednesday saying that the rocker died at his home in England Monday. The cause of death wasn’t given, but in 2013 he announced he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
“Thank you for respecting Wilko’s family’s privacy at this very sad time, and thank you all for having been such a tremendous support throughout Wilko’s incredible life.” the post read.
Johnson was a member of English bands including Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He also led the Wilko Johnson band up until his death.
Johnson was a guest star in the early seasons of “Game of Thrones” as executioner Ser Ilyn Payne.
Born John Wilkinson in 1947, Johnson was raised on Canvey Island, a marshy, industrial oil town in England’s River Thames estuary. He studied Anglo-Saxon literature at Newcastle University and worked as a schoolteacher before forming Dr. Feelgood with other local friends.
At a time of flamboyant glam and indulgent rock, they played a then-unfashionable brand of blues and R&B, dressed in cheap suits that made them look, Johnson said later, like “shoddy bank robbers.”
Johnson helped give Dr. Feelgood a dangerous edge with his choppy, relentless guitar style and thousand-yard glare — a look terrifying enough to earn him his role on “Game of Thrones.”
The anarchic outfit inspired bands who would soon drive the U.K. punk explosion, and teetered on the edge of global fame, scoring a U.K. No. 1 album, tours of the U.S. and a deal with CBS records. Then in 1977 Johnson walked out amid friction with charismatic lead singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994.
Johnson later said that if the band had been able to follow its managers’ instructions to behave, “I’m pretty sure we’d be multimillionaires. But we didn’t. We were geezers from Canvey Island. We were great friends, and we fell out.”
Johnson went on to perform with Ian Dury’s band, the Blockheads, and spent years playing to a devoted fanbase, largely in the U.K. and Japan.
Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer nearly a decade ago and chose “not to receive any chemotherapy,” according to the Facebook announcement at the time. The guitarist had an unexpected career renaissance after being told he had nine to ten months to live.
After his diagnosis, he decided to go on one last tour, and recorded a “final” album, “Going Back Home,” with Roger Daltrey of The Who.
“I suddenly found myself in a position where nothing matters anymore,” he told the Associated Press in 2013. “I’m a miserable so-and-so normally … I’d be worrying about the taxman or all the things that we worry about that get in the way of the real things. And suddenly it doesn’t matter. All of that doesn’t matter.”
“You walk down the street and you feel intensely alive. You’re ‘Oh, look at that leaf!’ You’re looking around and you think, ‘I’m alive. Ain’t it amazing?'”
In 2014, a fan of Johnson who was also a cancer specialist offered to help the rocker. He underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove a 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) tumor from his body. Johnson announced in 2014 he was cancer-free. He released another album, “Blow Your Mind,” in 2018, and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.
Daltrey paid tribute to “the uncompromising Bard of Canvey.”
“More than anything Wilko wanted to be a poet,” he said. “I was lucky to have known him and have him as a friend. His music lives on but there’s no escaping the final curtain this time.”
Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and grandson Dylan.
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