Wilko Johnson, British Rocker Who Defied Cancer, Dies at 75

Wilko Johnson, British Rocker Who Defied Cancer, Dies at 75
Wilko Johnson at his home in West Cliff on Sea, England, on Jan. 29, 2013. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

LONDON—Wilko Johnson, the guitarist with British blues-rock band Dr. Feelgood who had an unexpected career renaissance after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, has died. He was 75.

A statement posted Wednesday on Johnson’s official social media accounts on behalf of his family said the musician died Monday evening at his home in southeast England.

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 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) tumor, Johnson announced in 2014 he was cancer-free. He released another album, “Blow Your Mind,” in 2018, and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.

Daltrey paid tribute to “the uncompromising Bard of Canvey.”

“More than anything Wilko wanted to be a poet,” he said. “I was lucky to have known him and have him as a friend. His music lives on but there’s no escaping the final curtain this time.”

Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and grandson Dylan.

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