Wilko Johnson: Dr Feelgood and Game of Thrones star has died age 75 - when was he diagnosed with cancer?

The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page led the tributes to the late musician

Wilko Johnson has died aged 75, a statement on an official Facebook page for the musician has said. The Dr Feelgood star had previously been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2013.

The singer-songwriter and guitarist was a member of the rock band Dr Feelgood in the 1970s and also had a successful career with his group The Wilko Johnson Band. In 2014, he collaborated with The Who’s Roger Daltrey on an album called Going Back Home, which went to number three in the UK charts.

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

When did he die?

A statement shared on his Facebook 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.”

When was he diagnosed with cancer?

In January 2013, Johnson was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer and elected not to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

His manager, Robert Hoy, issued a statement at the time which said: “I am very sad to announce that Wilko has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas. He has chosen not to receive any chemotherapy. He is currently in good spirits, is not yet suffering any physical effects and can expect to enjoy at least another few months of reasonable health and activity.

“He has just set off on a trip to Japan; on his return we plan to complete a new CD, make a short tour of France, then give a series of farewell gigs in the UK. There is also a live DVD in the pipeline, filmed on the last UK tour.

“Wilko wishes to offer his sincere thanks for all the support he has had over his long career, from those who have worked with him to, above all, those devoted fans and admirers who have attended his live gigs, bought his recordings and generally made his life such an extraordinarily full and eventful experience. Thank you.”

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 in 2019, Johnson 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.”

Who was Wilko Johnson?

The singer-songwriter and guitarist was a member of the rock band Dr Feelgood in the 1970s and also had a successful career with his group The Wilko Johnson Band. Johnson collaborated with Roger Daltrey of The Who in 2014, on an album called Going Back Home, which went to number three in the UK charts.

He also appeared in Game Of Thrones as the mute Lannister executioner Ser Ilyn Payne.

8th December 1976: Essex-based rhythm and blues band Dr Feelgood performing live at the Hammersmith Odeon, guitarist Wilko Johnson, left, singing, and lead singer Lee Brilleaux standing centre stage. (Photo by Gary Merrin/Keystone/Getty Images)

Born on Canvey Island in Essex in 1947, Johnson 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.

Not long after, he formed Dr Feelgood, hugely influential pub-rock pioneers who paved the way for punk.

Tributes for Wilko Johnson

Daltrey, who recorded an album with Johnson in 2014 called Going Back Home, said he was “lucky” to have known him.

In a statement, he said: “More than anything Wilko wanted to be a poet. 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.”

Referencing a poem by J Milton Hayes, Daltrey added: “So it’s goodnight to Mad Carew, the uncompromising Bard of Canvey.”

Led Zeppelin guitarist Page said he was “sad” to hear the news, and recalled watching the Dr Feelgood star perform at Koko in Camden in May 2013.

“The atmosphere was electric. This show was originally billed as his farewell tour,” he tweeted.

Folk singer Billy Bragg described Johnson as a “precursor of punk”, writing on Twitter: “His guitar playing was angry and angular, but his presence – twitchy, confrontational, out of control – was something we’d never beheld before in UK pop.

“Rotten, Strummer and Weller learned a lot from his edgy demeanour. He does it right RIP.”

Blur guitarist Graham Coxon said Johnson was one of his “all time tele heroes” while Tim Burgess from The Charlatans said: “God speed Wilko.”

Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand reflected on how Johnson had inspired him, writing on Twitter: “Very sad to hear Wilko Johnson has died.

“His unique, wired playing & stage presence thrilled & inspired many guitarists, myself included.

“When I interviewed him a few years ago, he was bright, thoughtful & an astonishing story teller. His presence will be felt for many more years.”

Radio presenter Bob Harris reflected on how Dr Feelgood did their first radio session on his BBC Radio 1 show in 1974.

“Wilko was absolutely unique. His energy and spirit were incredible. We’ll really miss him,” he added.