Daniel Johnston, Austin Icon Who Influenced Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, Dead At 58

Daniel Johnston
Gary Miller/FilmMagic
– Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston performs in concert during the final day of Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on November 10, 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Daniel Johnston, an eccentric but influential singer, songwriter and visual artist who made his home in Austin, Texas, died of a heart attack Sept. 10 at age 58, manager Jeff Tartakov confirmed today.

He released his first album, Songs of Pain, in 1980 but it was Hi, How Are You in 1983 that first found audiences. Among the tracks he is best known for are “Life in Vain,” “True Love Will Find You in the End” and “Walking the Cow.” And he’s at least as well known in Austin as the artist behind the “Hi, How Are You” frog painting along the city’s Drag.

He was admired by other “outsider” artists including Tom Waits and Kurt Cobain, and his work was championed by others including Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Half Japanese and Butthole Surfers.

His life and art was exposed to larger audiences in the mid-1980s by MTV’s inclusion of him in a program on Austin’s art scene and in 2005 a documentary, “The Devil And Daniel Johnston” debuted at Sundance Film Festival.

He also suffered from mental illness, and was institutionalized at least once. He is reported to have been in poor health in recent years, with his sister Margy Johnston telling the Austin Chronicle that Johnston had recently fallen and been hospitalized, and was having frequent adjustments to medication.

Despite both mental and physical challenges, he was active on the road as well.  In addition to regular appearances at South By Southwest, he was frequently touring from 2009-13 and again in 2017 – with scattered dates going back to at least 2001, according to Pollstar’s Boxoffice records.

His last reported show was Nov. 11, 2017 at Seattle’s Moore Theater with opener Built To Spill, a show that sold 779 tickets and grossed $28,356. About a month prior, Jeff Tweedy opened two shows for him at Chicago’s Vic Theatre, where they sold 1,487 tickets for a gross of $65,428.

In the shows reported to Pollstar on that 2017 outing, Johnston averaged 1,036 tickets sold and $45,028 grossed.