Johnny Thunders, the flamboyant and edgy guitarist of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers, passed away 23 years ago, on April 23, 1991.
At the time, Thunders' death was reported as that of another rock junkie who succumbed to his own drug habit, but enough conflicting information exists to make such an easy—albeit dramatic—explanation difficult to nail down. When he was found lifeless at the St. Peter House hotel in New Orleans, Thunders' room was ransacked and several personal items stolen. The official autopsy by the New Orleans coroner reportedly found a less-than-fatal level of drugs in his system, and allegedly also discovered the guitarist had suffered from an advanced stage of leukemia. No criminal investigation was mounted, and Thunders' passing remains shrouded in mystery to this day.
But whatever caused his death, in life Thunders' cool, dangerous, and druggy vibe inspired the look and demeanor of far more than a few guitar players, and his explosions of near off-the-rails flailing was as desperate and energetic as it was a statement against dispassionate technique.
Here's to a wild rocker and true original on the 23rd anniversary of his passing...
Johnny Thunders and the New York Dolls on The Midnight Special, 1973