Cult musician Daniel Johnston has died of a heart attack at his home in Texas, aged 58. He was a prolific songwriter who released 11 albums in the 1980s, initially gaining a following after handing out tapes of his simple, childlike music while he was working at a branch of McDonald’s in Austin.
His popularity skyrocketed after Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt displaying the artwork for 1983 cassette ‘Hi, How Are You?’ to the 1992 MTV Music Awards. The album would become Johnston’s first ever vinyl release, after a series of record labels scrambled for his signature. He famously rejected Elektra to sign for Atlantic in 1994 because he considered Metallica, an Elektra act, to be “satanic”.
In 2005, the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’ shone a light on the numerous psychiatric disorders Johnston suffered from during his lifetime. In one memorable scene, the film recounts a major psychotic episode that nearly resulted in the deaths of Johnston and his father in 1990. Believing that he was Casper The Friendly Ghost, Johnston threw the ignition keys to a private plane out of the window while it was in flight, causing a crash landing.
Johnston was institutionalised after this incident, and on several further occasions during his lifetime. In 2018 the city of Austin held it’s first ever ‘Hi, How Are You? Day’, encouraging people to check up on the wellbeing of their neighbours, friends and co-workers.