Joe Strummer (real name: John Mellor), former lead singer of the legendary British punk band The Clash, died yesterday (Dec. 22) at his home in Broomfield, England. He was 50. The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) quoted Clash video director Don Letts as saying the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter died of a heart attack.
A statement released by Epitaph Records said Strummer “died peacefully at his home.” It added that Strummer’s wife Lucy, two daughters, and stepdaughter “request privacy at this harrowing time.”
Epitaph managing director Hein van der Rey said he learned of the death this morning. “We do not know the circumstances. It is pretty devastating news,” he said, adding that Strummer had been working on a new album with his band, the Mescaleros, for the label.
Strummer’s death was announced on his official Web site. “Joe Strummer died yesterday,” said the simple statement. “Our condolences to Luce and the kids, family and friends.”
Strummer was born in Ankara, Turkey, the son of a British diplomat. The Clash was known for injecting left-wing politics into punk. The band’s album “London Calling” was named the best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine, despite being released in 1979.
Between 1977 and 1982 Strummer and Clash co-founder Mick Jones composed, performed, and recorded dozens of songs, using musical ideas from reggae and rockabilly, as well as punk. With Jones’s crisp guitar playing and Strummer’s staccato, Cockney voice, the band — which also included Keith Levene, Paul Simonon, Terry Chimes, and Nicky “Topper” Headon — was known for its electrifying stage performances.
In 1980, a fight erupted during a concert in Hamburg, Germany and Strummer was arrested after hitting a fan with his guitar. In 1982, he disappeared for three weeks, forcing the band to cancel its U.K. tour. Strummer later explained that he had doubts about his career, so he went to Paris and had been “living like a bum.”
The Clash signed with CBS Records for $200,000, and the band’s eponymous first album was released in the U.K. in 1977. The record company considered the album too crude for U.S. release, however. It wasn’t until 1979 that a similarly titled compilation album would be released Stateside.
The band split in the early 1980s after a dispute between Strummer and Jones, who subsequently formed the group Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.).
After a few turbulent months and lineup changes, in September 1983, Strummer and Simonon fired Jones from the band. He went on to form Big Audio Dynamite, and the Clash continued with a new lineup, and released “Cut the Crap” in late 1984. The album met with poor reviews and sales, and Strummer disbanded the Clash early in 1986.
Strummer began his solo career with a pair of songs contributed to Alex Cox’ 1986 film “Sid and Nancy”; he later scored Cox’ “Straight to Hell,” in which he also starred. His first solo album was 1989’s “Earthquake Weather” (Epic). Along with a short stint as lead singer of the Pogues, he recorded sparingly throughout the 1990s, until releasing his second solo set, “Rock Art and the X-Ray Style,” his first with the Mescaleros and first for Epitaph, in 1999.
Last year, Strummer and the band released “Global A-Go-Go,” and followed it with European and U.S. tours, all to critical acclaim. In April, he told Billboard.com that his work with the Mescaleros was invigorating.
“I’m enjoying this freedom of being able to do whatever the hell I want,” he admitted. “We sell very few records, and that fact alone makes us the wildest gang in town, because we can afford to be really crazy! We’re free. So many other people aren’t, because of constraints or big companies.”
Strummer recently collaborated with U2 singer Bono and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics on a song honoring of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Titled “48864,” Mandela’s number in prison, the song will be performed at a Feb. 2 AIDS benefit concert Mandela is sponsoring at his former prison on Robben Island.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.