Austin Songwriting Genius Daniel Johnston Dead at 58

Daniel Johnston, the influential singer-songwriter and visual artist who painted Austin’s famous “Hi How Are You” frog mural on the Drag, died at home last night following a presumed heart attack at age 58. The news was confirmed by his former manager Jeff Tartakov

Daniel Johnston at home in Waller in 2015 (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Johnston’s physical health worsened significantly in recent years. Last year, his sister Margy Johnston told the Chronicle that Daniel had recently endured a rough go that included falling, hospitalization, and frequent adjustments to his medication. In January, while famous fans like the Flaming Lips and Yo La Tengo were covering his songs at ACL Live at the Moody Theater for the second annual Hi, How Are You Day, Daniel landed in the hospital again.

Johnston, who was raised in West Virginia and moved to Austin in the early Eighties, counts 17 full-length albums of original music, including an incredible trio of home-recorded tapes from 1983: More Songs of PainYip/Jump Music, and Hi, How Are You. He has at least one more LP of original music that’s yet to be released.

“I’ve been working on a new album with [Austin’s] Brian Beattie for years, and I hope it comes out real soon,” Johnston told the Chronicle in 2018.

Johnston’s songs have been covered by Tom Waits and Yo La Tengo and championed by Kurt Cobain. His ongoing trials with schizophrenia and manic-depression were explored in the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.