More people remember Johnny Thunders for his "live fast, die young" lifestyle than for his music. His work as a solo artist with the Heartbreakers and in Gang War with the MC5's Wayne Kramer, only reached a cult following; in fact, the band that brought him fame--glitter rockers the New York Dolls--didn't sell loads of records either. His legacy can be found in the junkie rock star cliché he helped mold. This is unfortunate, since his talent for making his pain shoot right through his songs to his listeners hearts is what really made him special.
Born John Anthony Genzale, Jr. on July 15, 1952, Thunders joined the New York Dolls at the age of 19. He left the group in 1975 and formed the Heartbreakers. That same year the Heartbreakers recorded Thunders's most infamous tune, "Chinese Rocks," which--duh!--is about heroin. In and out of the Heartbreakers, Thunders carefully fashioned his decadent persona. He could be sober as a judge off stage (and, in fact, he occasionally was), but once he was in front of an audience he would immediately adopt a mumbling, drugged-out presence. It became a shtick he leaned on--his 1983 album was titled Too Much Junkie Business and one early Heartbreakers poster proclaimed "Catch 'em while they're still alive!"
That would have been a good slogan for Thunders. Predictably, he did die way too young. His body was found in a sleazy New Orleans hotel on April 23, 1991, toxic levels of methadone and cocaine in his system. He was 38 years old. He lives on, however, in the form of various needle-scarred, black-haired wannabe rockers. In the '80s, it was almost de rigeur to borrow Thunders's act, and it's a style that still persists to this day.
This Biography was written by Janiss Garza