Sylvain Sylvain, New York Dolls Founding Guitarist, Dies at 69

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The New York Dolls (left to right): Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, and Johnny Thunders.

Sylvain Sylvain, songwriter and founding guitarist with punk icons the New York Dolls, died Wednesday (Jan. 13) following a battle with cancer. He was 69.

Born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, a young Sylvain and his family moved to France then settled in New York. It was in the Big Apple where the rocker would join forces with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Arthur Kane and David Johansen to form the New York Dolls, and set the standard for punk rock swagger and style.

A statement at his official Facebook page reads, “As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years. Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way”.

The Dolls came together in 1971, years before the punk movement and glam set charts alight on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over time, the lineup rotated, substance abuse destroyed band mates, but the Dolls’ reputation grew exponentially. Indeed, following Sylvain’s death, just one member survives of the original lineup for their debut self-titled 1973 album, frontman Johansen. New York Dolls remains their highest-charting album on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 116.

Like their peers The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, the New York Dolls flirted with mass-scale commercial success, but their influence runs deep, with bands from Sex Pistols, to the Ramones, Guns N' Roses, the Damned, and the Smiths all said to take inspiration from the NY outfit.

Sylvain and the NY Dolls cut five studio sets, the final Dancing Backward in High Heels dropping in 2011.

To this day, they’re regarded by rock music aficionados and historians as one of the great snubs of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

"His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision," recounts fellow guitarist Lenny Kaye and long-standing member of the Patti Smith Group. "Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come."

Outside of the Dolls, Sylvain toured and recorded with several bands and led various solo projects.

In 2019, he announced his cancer diagnosis and a GoFundMe was set up to pay his medical bills, raising some $79,500.