Daniel Johnston, Enigmatic Singer-Songwriter, Is Dead at 58

Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter and visual artist whose childlike, haunted songs brought him acclaim as one of America’s most gifted outsider voices, died in his home in Waller, Tex., outside Houston. He was 58.

His brother and manager, Dick, said in an interview that Mr. Johnston was found on Wednesday morning and had probably died overnight.

Mr. Johnston had been released from the hospital on Tuesday, after being treated for kidney issues. “He was still productive, writing songs and drawing, and was just annoyed by his health more than anything,” his brother said. “It was just one thing after another.”

In a career that was filled with stops and starts, Mr. Johnston became something of a man-child celebrity of the artistic underground, earning the admiration of alternative-rock stars like Kurt Cobain and comparisons to William Blake. His cartoon drawings — frequently inspired by characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost — were included in the Whitney Biennial exhibition in 2006.

Yet Mr. Johnston had been dogged by mental health problems that stunted his career and periodically hospitalized him. In recent years he had largely been confined to his family’s home.

He quickly gained the notice of fellow musicians and the music press, with songs like “Speeding Motorcycle” and “Don’t Play Cards With Satan” that had a poignant clarity yet gave glimpses of a fractured mind. He became almost as well known for the strange, cartoonish art that decorated the tapes. One, “Hi, How Are You?,” featured a froglike alien, and the image became his signature.

Throughout the 1980s, Mr. Johnston gradually climbed the rungs of the indie-rock world. He appeared on MTV in 1985. Three years later he came to New York, where he mixed with the bands Sonic Youth and Galaxie 500, but ended up in Bellevue Hospital after he assaulted Steve Shelley, Sonic Youth’s drummer. (Upon his release, Mr. Johnston went straight to CBGB to perform.)

In the music industry’s alternative-rock gold rush of the 1990s, he was briefly signed to Atlantic Records, but his sole major-label album, “Fun,” released in 1994, was a flop.

He was the subject of a 2005 documentary by Jeff Feuerzeig, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” which won the documentary directing award at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Besides his brother Dick, he is survived by three sisters, Margy Johnston, Sally Reid and Cindy Brewer.

Joe Coscarelli contributed reporting.

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