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Johnny Thunders Died With $4,000 To His Name

Johnny Bye Bye

Here is something to give you pause: when Johnny Thunders died in 1991, his entire estate was valued at $4,000. Think about that for a second. That’s what one of the most famous musicians of the 20 thcentury left his three children and ex-wife.

The moral might be that drugs suck but how much can you spend on heroin? The real moral is drugs suck and the industry fucks you over so bad that you can be the biggest guitarist around And still not make money.

It is a sad story and as reported in the New York Post yesterday in a story about how Thunders sister invested the 4K and made enough for the family to share a year income till 2009, when his sister died and the money went in limbo. Now the family is fighting over the 250K pot and who is Johnny’s family? Son # 1 is Vito, who has “done stints in the state’s toughest lockups, including Attica and Sing Sing, for drug dealing.” And Son # 2, Dino “has a rap sheet that spans 16 years and four states with charges ranging from marijuana and cocaine offenses to robbery, theft, indecent exposure and assault.”

Writing about pop music is really kinda depressing in 2013, too many people are not making it, great musicians are giving up, people are working a year and taking their savings to record and album that nobody will here, and even by those standards this is a very very depressing story.

Nobody is even collecting thunders royalties. It is just horrible that a guy who is such a huge figure in rock and roll can have his family such a sad sad dire straits. Look, I know you know, but Thunders played lead on New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon, two albums that wiped 70s rocks face clean. Not only is there, literally just about (Malcolm McClaren was the Dolls manager before he turned to the Pistols)  no punk without the Dolls, there isn’t much of a Smiths without the Dolls if you can believe Morrissey’s “Autobiography”.

Steve Crawford just mentioned to me that Joey Ramone’s family took donations to help bury Joey and I think there is a lesson here about what you gain and what you lose by being a great rock and roller. Who made money from punk rock? Band after band didn’t make a damn thing; if money was their reason they should have become a used car salesman.

The spirit of rock and roll, of punk rock, of those 70s icons, was the spirit of rebellion, live fast die young, absolute freedom and the result was bankruptcy and early death. There is a feeling that if you go so far into rock and roll, if you can turn everybody so far on, so deeply on, that you really do change the world, well you get that but you lose this. Yes, you are born to lose, as Thunders once put it, but also you are born to change our concept of what it means to be free –completely, insanely, deadly free. To make music without boundaries in an urban world of besotting dreams, that is not the stuff most people do with their lives.

There are many more financially successful musicians than Johnny Thunders but there aren’t many more important musicians than Johnny Thunder.  To die broke and to leave his sons to a life as career criminals, that’s some price for immortality. Here is the story.


  1. Daniel Nichols on April 22, 2022 at 7:19 am

    Jesus learn to spell before writing an article, and the song was “Born too loose” not born to lose!

  2. Steve Ledesky on December 23, 2022 at 8:25 am

    Sad that Johnny thunders died with very little money, nobody deserves that,

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