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Pub rocker Wilko Johnson dies aged 75

Wilko Johnson (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Wilko Johnson (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Wilko Johnson, the singer-songwriter and Dr Feelgood guitarist, has died aged 75.

The musician found fame in the 1970s pub-rock band who helped pave the way for British punk, also enjoying a successful solo career.

Johnson was previously diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer in 2013 and was given just 10 months to live.

Wilko Johnson in Concert – London
Wilko Johnson (Yui Mok/PA)

A statement on his Facebook page on Wednesday said: “This is the announcement we never wanted to make, and we do so, on behalf of Wilko’s family and the band, with a very heavy heart:

“Wilko Johnson has died. He passed away at home on Monday evening, 21st November 2022.

“Thank you for respecting Wilko’s family’s privacy at this very sad time, and thank you all for having been such a tremendous support throughout Wilko’s incredible life. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Dr Feelgood performing live on the DOC music show in 1988
Dr Feelgood performing live on the DOC music show for Rai television in Rome 1988 (Theodore Liasi/Alamy/PA)

He initially chose to avoid treatment after being told he was terminal and embarked on a farewell tour, an album called Going Back Home recorded with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, and visited friends around the world to say goodbye.

However, later tests showed his cancer was not as aggressive as had been previously thought and an operation was offered as a chance to save his life.

After undergoing an 11-hour procedure which removed a tumour, his pancreas, spleen, parts of his stomach and intestines, and some blood vessels from around his liver, the musician was declared cancer-free.

In an interview with The Northern Echo newspaper in 2019, he said: “It seems very unjust but I’m in the clear and feeling pretty healthy other than I’m missing a pancreas but apart from that I’m really fit.”

Teenage Cancer Trust concerts 2014 – London
Roger Daltrey (right) and Wilko Johnson performing on stage during the Teenage Cancer Trust series of charity gigs, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London (Yui Mok/PA)

Born on Canvey Island in Essex in 1947, he recalled in his autobiography that he had a tough childhood and at aged 16, he was elated to come home from school one day to find his dad had died.

In the book, he also said he found joy in literature but, after realising he was never going to cut it as a poet, he discovered music.

He graduated from Newcastle University before travelling around India, then returned to Essex to work as an English teacher.

Dr Feelgood album Malpractice on vinyl
Dr Feelgood’s 1975 album Malpractice on vinyl (Rob Wilkinson/Alamy/PA)

Not long after, he formed Dr Feelgood in 1971 alongside Lee Brilleaux and John B. Sparks and went on to play with Ian Dury And The Blockheads for a spell.

He then had a lengthy solo career playing with The Wilko Johnson Band.

Johnson also appeared in TV hit Game Of Thrones as the mute Lannister executioner Ser Ilyn Payne.