Shane MacGowan, frontman for the Anglo-Irish punk band The Pogues, has died at 65, with his cause of death revealed to be pneumonia.
Memorable songwriter and Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, credited with helping reinvigorate interest in Irish music in the 1980s by marrying the genre to punk rock, died in Dublin on Thursday, aged 65. His wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, revealed his cause of death to be pneumonia.
Emerging from London’s budding punk scene in the late 1970s, MacGowan spent nine years with the initial lineup of the Pogues. After getting their start in North London pubs, the band was filling stadiums by the late 1980s. When MacGowan’s drug and alcohol issues led to the band firing him, he later founded Shane MacGowan & The Popes, with whom he would tour in the ‘90s.
MacGowan earned a reputation as a talented songwriter alongside his notorious reputation as a destructive personality. His lyrics painted “vivid portraits of the underbelly of Irish immigrant life.”
“I was good at writing,” he said in his biography, “A Furious Devotion,” written by Richard Balls and released in 2021. “I can write, I can spell, I can make it flow, and when I mixed it with music, it was perfect.”
Born on Christmas in 1957 to Irish parents who had only immigrated to England months earlier, MacGowan spent his childhood in a southeast London suburb, with his family regularly returning to Ireland to visit relatives.
A literary-minded child, his parents had high educational hopes for their son and sent him to a prestigious paid institution instead of a public school. After his family moved to London proper, he earned a scholarship to the Westminster School, known as the educational home of several British prime ministers.
In addition to his lifelong drinking habit — which he revealed started at the age of five — MacGowan began taking and selling drugs in London, which resulted in his expulsion from the Westminster School. MacGowan once revealed that his drinking began at such a young age, when his uncle “would bring him home two bottles of Guinness from a pub to drink each night.”
After spending his 18th birthday in London’s Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital, MacGowan was drawn into the city’s emerging punk scene. The notoriety of his early punk image helped establish his presence in the scene, where he earned the nickname Shane O’Hooligan.
By the 1980s, the Pogues would become a punk mainstay after the high energy of the movement had died down in favor of synthesizers. As London became a refuge for punk enthusiasts, the Pogues earned a devoted following by 1984, and signed to indie label Stiff Records, home of the Damned, Elvis Costello, and Madness.