Wilko Johnson, an actor from Game of Thrones and a musician has died after a battle with terminal cancer. He was 75.
Known as the guitarist with British blues-rock band Dr. Feelgood, Johnson died on Monday in his southeast England home.
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On behalf of Johnson’s family, a statement was shared on Wednesday on the actor’s official social media accounts.
“This is the announcement we never wanted to make and we do so with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died,” the statement began.
“He passed away at home on Monday 21st November. Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. R.I.P. Wilko Johnson.”
The family went on to tribute doctor Charlie Chan and surgeon Emmanuel Huguet who gave Johnson “the extra years to enjoy”.
They shared a quote from Huguet who said: “I feel honored to have known Wilko. He was uplifting and life-enhancing for me. Like so many other people, I loved him.”
Born John Wilkinson in 1947, Johnson was raised on Canvey Island, a marshy, industrial oil town in England’s River Thames estuary.
He studied Anglo-Saxon literature at Newcastle University and worked as a schoolteacher before forming Dr. Feelgood with other local friends.
At a time of flamboyant glam and indulgent prog rock, they played a then-unfashionable brand of blues and R&B, dressed in cheap suits that made them look, Johnson said later, like “shoddy bank robbers.”
Johnson helped give Dr. Feelgood a dangerous edge with his choppy, relentless guitar style and thousand-yard glare—a look terrifying enough to earn him a role later in life as silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne on Game of Thrones.
Despite having no lines, the actor left his mark through his cold stare.
The anarchic outfit inspired bands who would soon drive the UK punk explosion, and teetered on the edge of global fame, scoring a UK number one album, tours of the US and a deal with CBS records.
Then in 1977 Johnson walked out amid friction with charismatic lead singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994.
Johnson later said that if the band had been able to follow its managers’ instructions to behave, “I’m pretty sure we’d be multimillionaires. But we didn’t. We were geezers from Canvey Island. We were great friends, and we fell out.”
Johnson went on to perform with Ian Dury’s band, the Blockheads, and spent years playing to a devoted fan base, largely in the UK and Japan.
In 2012, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told it was terminal.
The prospect of death unexpectedly revived his creative energies. He declined chemotherapy, decided to go on one last tour, and recorded a “final” album, Going Back Home, with Roger Daltrey of The Who.
“I suddenly found myself in a position where nothing matters anymore,” he told The Associated Press in 2013.
“I’m a miserable so-and-so normally… I’d be worrying about the taxman or all the things that we worry about that get in the way of the real things. And suddenly it doesn’t matter. All of that doesn’t matter.
“You walk down the street and you feel intensely alive. You’re ‘Oh, look at that leaf!’ You’re looking around, and you think, ‘I’m alive. Ain’t it amazing?’”
In another twist, a fan who was also a cancer specialist offered to help.
After surgery to remove a 3kg tumor, Johnson announced in 2014 that he was cancer-free.
He released another album, Blow Your Mind, in 2018, and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.
Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and grandson Dylan.
Fans have since paid tribute to the star on social media and thanked his doctors, with one tweeting that Johnson’s “indomitable spirit made sure those extra years were used to full advantage”.
“Wilko Johnson was a precursor of punk. His guitar playing by him was angry and angular, but his presence by him—twitchy, confrontational, out of control—was something we’d never beheld before in UK pop,” one said of his legacy by him to the music industry.
“Amazing guitarist and terrifying on GOT… your watch has ended Wilko,” another wrote.
Gutted to hear that legendary Southender Wilko Johnson has passed away. I was a fan of his de él twice over: Of his music de él, and of his portrayal of Ser Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones, ”added a Twitter user.
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