Keith Levene, Co-Founder Of The Clash And Public Image Ltd, Dies At 65

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Keith Levene seen here with Ex Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten. The pair have teamed up with Jeanette Lee to form Public Image Limited (aka PIL). (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Keith Levene, the British guitarist who was a founding member of both The Clash and Public Image Ltd died in Norfolk, England Nov. 11 at 65. He had been battling liver cancer, according to the Guardian.

Levene formed The Clash with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, and invited Joe Strummer to join the band early on. He left in 1978 to join PiL with his friend John Lydon, formerly of the Sex Pistols.

Friend and author Adam Hammond confirmed Levene’s death via Twitter: “It is with great sadness I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday, 11th November. 

“As well as helping to make PiL the most important band of the age, Keith also founded The Clash with Mick Jones and had a major influence on their early sound. So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not. … Our thoughts and love go out to his partner Kate, sister Jill, and all of Keith’s family and friends. The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate.”

Hammond was working with Levene on a book about Public Image Ltd at the time of his death.

As a teenager, Levene worked briefly as a roadie with Yes – he was enamored with the prog-rock band and its guitarist, Steve Howe – until keyboardist Rick Wakeman suggested he try playing music instead. 

Levene met Mick Jones and the two formed a band when he was 16, and eventually convinced Strummer to come on board. In late 1976, Levene would leave the band to start PiL with Lydon, along with bassist Jah Wobble and drummer Jim Walker.

PiL would go on to be one of the more influential post-punk bands of the era, with its debut, Public Image: First Issue released in 1978 following the classic single “Public Image.” While the band went through a succession of drummers, it found chart success with its second album, 1979’s Metal Box, and Levene was lauded for for his innovation as a guitarist.

PiL followed that with The Flowers of Romance in 1981. Levene left the band over reported creative differences in 1983. He went on to collaborate with artists including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice-T and Tone Loc as well as releasing solo albums.