This is the last known photograph of the great rock guitarist and singer Johnny Thunders, famous for being in the New York Dolls and later in his own band, the Heartbreakers, a seminal early punk rock band. In fact, the Heartbreakers were playing what I would call punk rock or proto-punk rock in 1975, before the Sex Pistols even existed! Thunders was a long term heroin addict, a junkie, and also liked to shoot cocaine. Like most junkies, he died young at age 38.
In this photo, he looks like death warmed over. It was taken between April 9-15 in Thailand, where he went to buy some silk suits. He also shot up a lot of heroin while he was there.
There are videos of him playing his last recorded shows in Japan around January 3-6. He looks surprisingly good in that video, but towards the end of his life, he was using a lot of makeup to cover up the yellow spots he had all over his face. One day he would look fine and another day he would look like the walking dead. He went to the famous Henry Wong’s tattoo parlor in Bangkok where he got a tattoo. This is one of the most frightening and deathly photographs I have ever seen of any ambulatory human being.
From April 19-22, he was in Berlin recording songs. His manager relates that they walked around Berlin and Johnny was giving away wads of cash to every bum and street person he saw. Only three days later, he would be dead. It was as if he knew he would be dead soon.
On April 21, his manager saw him leave on a plane for New Orleans where he was going to record some music. His manager said he had a terrible feeling as he watched Johnny departing on the plane. It was as if the manager knew he would be dead soon. In fact, he would be dead two days after the manager saw him on leave on that plane.
He stayed in a hotel there next to Link Wray’s house exactly two days. He was found dead in his room two days after he checked in. He had leukemia and he also had methadone in his system. However the amount of methadone was not fatal and the leukemia had not progressed enough to kill him either. His death was called “death by misadventure.”
He stayed in his room two days after his death and when he found, his body was twisted into a pretzel shape by rigor mortis. Furthermore, his body was found under a closet. In addition, $10,000, all of a huge supply of methadone, his passport and many other personal items were gone. There had been a robbery at some point when he was staying there. A good theory is that he was robbed and then killed by the robbers, possibly by giving him a large shot of methadone. After he died, they shoved his body under a closet. A couple, a man and a woman, both junkies, are suspected in the crime.
However, New Orleans police never investigated the crime as a murder, instead calling it a drug overdose. Broke junkies come into New Orleans all the time and die there, often of overdoses. Johnny Thunders was just one more down and out junkie who came into New Orleans and overdosed on heroin in a cheap hotel. The NOLA police saw this sort of thing all the time and it was considered to be not a matter worth investigating.
These crimes may have been seen as what cops called NHO crimes, for No Humans Involved. The victim(s) and the killer(s) are such scumbags that the police don’t even care to investigate the crime much. Some crimes like this are also called by the police Public Service Killings, when some scumbag or criminal gets killed. No one cares that he is dead and it’s as if the murderer committed a public service by killing this scumbag.
Johnny’s terrible appearance is due to leukemia which only he knew that he had, long term heroin and cocaine abuse. We have recently heard that he also had Hepatitis C and there is a good rumor that he was also HIV-positive. So those two things added to the night of the living dead appearance in that photo.
This is one of the saddest damned photographs I think I have ever seen. It’s heartbreaking to even look at it.
This is a very rare photo. I am glad to have stumbled upon it, as horrible as it is.