Idiosyncratic Singer-Songwriter Daniel Johnston, Subject of Documentary 'The Devil & Daniel Johnston,' Dies at 58
Jeff Feuerzeig's 2005 film on Johnston won documentary directing award at 2005 Sundance Film Festival
Daniel Johnston, the gifted singer-songwriter and visual artist whose talent and mental health struggles were explored in the 2005 documentary The Devil & Daniel Johnston, has died at the age of 58.
His body was found Wednesday at his home outside Houston. Johnston's family said he succumbed to natural causes. As word spread of his passing, tributes from friends, collaborators and admirers filled social media, including a tweet from musician Beck, who covered one of Johnston's songs. Director Judd Apatow also reacted on Twitter, writing. "So sad to hear of the death of the great Daniel Johnston."
Fellow recording artist Jack Antonoff paid tribute to Johnston on Twitter, calling him "a brilliant story teller and songwriter who carried my friends and i through many over night drives in the van. so much to learn from daniel in the way he shared fearlessly."
British documentary filmmaker and journalist Louis Theroux tweeted his admiration for a song written by Johnston:
“Daniel was a singer, songwriter, an artist, and a friend to all. Although he struggled with mental health issues for much of his adult life, Daniel triumphed over his illness through his prolific output of art and songs," his family wrote in a statement. "He inspired countless fans, artists, and songwriters with his message that no matter how dark the day, ‘the sun shines down on me’ and ‘true love will find you in the end.'”
Johnston won acclaim for simple compositions that ached with earnest pleas for love and acceptance. Feuerzeig's film documented the following Johnston attracted from rock stars and other prominent artists, from Kurt Cobain to Matt Groening. The director also chronicled his subject's obsessive focus on the Devil, an expression perhaps of both his mental illness and fundamentalist Christian upbringing.
Feuerzeig won the documentary directing award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival for The Devil & Daniel Johnston. The film is available for streaming on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime and other services.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.