Punk pioneer Strummer dies from suspected heart attack


The singer was one of the most revered figures in rock, and his band was one of the most influential, writes Kevin Courtney

Joe Strummer, the former frontman with seminal UK punk band The Clash, died at his home in the west of England of a suspected heart attack early yesterday. The 50-year-old singer was one of the most revered figures in rock, with The Clash having been acknowledged as one of the most influential bands.

His death was "sudden and unexplained", according to Mr Richard Davies, a coroner's officer in Somerset. A post-mortem examination may take place to determine the exact cause of death. Strummer's official website was the first to announce the news, saying that "he died peacefully at his home in Somerset".

Stars from the world of rock paid tribute to the singer, who was still performing and recording with his current band, The Mescaleros. Bono of U2 said, "The Clash was the greatest rock band. They wrote the rule book for U2." Protest singer, Billy Bragg, said, "It was the Clash that struck the strong political stance that really inspired a lot of people, and within the Clash he was the political engine of the band."

Strummer had been scheduled to collaborate with Bono and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics on an AIDS awareness track, in answer to Nelson Mandela's call for funds to combat the pandemic. He was also due to join Macy Gray, Shaggy, Bono, Ms Dynamite, Queen, Nelly Furtado and Coldplay at a special concert on February 2nd, hosted by Nelson Mandela.

Strummer was born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, and formed The Clash in 1976, along with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. The band quickly established themselves as the leading lights of British punk, with such hard-hitting singles as White Riot, Complete Control, Clash City Rockers and White Man In Hammersmith Palais and I Fought the Law.

Their album, London Calling, was voted best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine, even though it was released in 1979. While British punk acts like The Sex Pistols failed to break through in America, The Clash cracked the US Top Ten in 1982 with Rock The Casbah, and also had a Stateside hit with Should I Stay Or Should I Go? In the 1990s, the band reportedly turned down between $5 and $7 million to reform for a US tour, but recently, Strummer and Jones played together for the first time since the Clash split, joining his old songwriting partner onstage at a Mescaleros gig. The pair have been dubbed "the Lennon and McCartney of punk". It was widely believed the much-anticipated Clash reunion would happen next year, when the band is inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame.

Strummer also stood in as lead singer for The Pogues, replacing Shane MacGowan as the frontman for the raucous balladeers, and recorded the lead vocal for the band's single, A Rainy Night In Soho. He wrote music for Alex Cox's film, Sid & Nancy, and had a cameo role in Martin Scorsese's The King Of Comedy.

In recent years, he released two albums with his band, The Mescaleros, and composed music for the film, Black Hawk Down. A whole raft of band have acknowledged the Clash's influence, including Welsh rockers The Manic Street Preachers. "We're shocked and saddened to hear of the sad loss, especially at this time of year," said the Manics' bass player, Nicky Wire.

He is survived by his wife, Lucy, two daughters and one stepdaughter.