Shane MacGowan, Lead Singer of the Pogues, Dies at 65

Shane MacGowan, Lead Singer of the Pogues, Dies at 65
Shane MacGowan poses for photographers upon arrival at the Shane MacGowan, The Eternal Buzz & The Crock of Gold Exhibition in London, on Oct. 11, 2022. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

LONDON—Shane MacGowan, lead singer and chief songwriter of the Pogues, died Thursday, his family said. He was 65.

Mr. MacGowan’s songwriting and persona made him an iconic figure in contemporary Irish culture, and some of his compositions have become classics—most notably the bittersweet Christmas ballad “Fairytale of New York,” which Irish President Michael D. Higgins said “will be listened to every Christmas for the next century or more.”

“It is with the deepest sorrow and heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our most beautiful, darling and dearly beloved Shane MacGowan,” his wife Victoria Clarke, his sister Siobhan, and father Maurice said in a statement.

The Irish singer died peacefully with his family by his side, the statement added.

The musician had been hospitalized in Dublin for several months after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis in late 2022. He was discharged last week, ahead of his upcoming birthday on Christmas Day.

Singer-songwriter Nick Cave called Mr. MacGowan “a true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation.”

Mr. Higgins, the Irish president, said “his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams.”

“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways,” Mr. Higgins said.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Mr. MacGowan’s songs “beautifully captured the Irish experience, especially the experience of being Irish abroad.”

Born on Christmas Day 1957 in England to Irish parents, Mr. MacGowan spent his early years in rural Ireland before the family moved back to London. Ireland remained the lifelong center of his imagination and his yearning. He grew up steeped in Irish music absorbed from family and neighbors, along with the sounds of rock, Motown, reggae, and jazz.

He attended the elite Westminster School in London, from which he was expelled, and spent time in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown in his teens.

Mr. MacGowan had years of health problems and used a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis a decade ago. 

Mr. MacGowan received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish president on his 60th birthday. The occasion was marked with a celebratory concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin with performers including Bono, Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor, and Johnny Depp.

Ms. Clarke wrote on Instagram that “there’s no way to describe the loss that I am feeling and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world.”

“I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” she wrote.

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