Shane MacGowan (1957-2023): Visionary and Poet

Photo: Tristan Fewings/ Getty Images

Shane MacGowan just celebrated his release from the hospital and his fifth wedding anniversary. Now the Irish musician and singer of the band The Pogues has died at the age of 65. This was announced by his wife Victoria Mary Clarke on Instagram. "There is no way to describe the loss I feel and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world," she writes.

Just recently, MacGowan was hospitalized for five months due to blood poisoning. Again and again, his wife, journalist Victoria Mary Clarke, shared health updates online and kept his fans informed. MacGowan had been in poor health for a long time – mainly as a result of the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. He had been in a wheelchair since breaking his pelvis in 2015.

»It was like living in a pub«

MacGowan was born on Christmas Day 1957 to Irish parents in the English county of Kent. In his autobiography, he described the summers of his childhood, which he spent with his extended family in an Irish farmhouse, where he drank, smoked and sang traditional songs. "It was like living in a pub," he told the Guardian in 2013. After receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Westminster School in London, MacGowan struggled to fit in and was expelled from school two years later.

In 1981 he formed his band, which was initially called Pogue Mahone after a Gaelic curse and later changed its name to The Pogues. She released her debut album in 1984 and caught the attention of the British music press with her irreverent lyrics about drinking and brawls with destitute Irish immigrants on the streets of London. With The Pogues, MacGowan transformed traditional Irish music by combining it with punk elements. He wrote some of the most haunting ballads of the eighties.

It was "A Pair of Brown Eyes" on their 1985 follow-up album – Elvis Costello's Elvis Costello-produced "Rum, Sodomy & the Lash" – that showcased MacGowan's immense talent as a songwriter. The song paved the way for later classics such as "A Rainy Night in Soho" and "Summer in Siam".

Joe Strummer of The Clash, who later briefly replaced MacGowan as lead singer with the Pogues, described MacGowan at the time as a visionary, poet and "one of the best lyricists of the century".

The peak of the Pogues' success came in 1987 with "Fairytale of New York," which MacGowan sang in duet with Kirsty MacColl and made an instant Christmas classic, despite the radio-unfriendly lyrics in which the estranged couple exchange insults.

After a series of hallucinogenic bouts of drunkenness, including a night in New Zealand in which he stripped naked and painted blue, the Pogues fired MacGowan during a 1991 tour of Japan.

After a decade with a new band, the Popes, MacGowan and the Pogues got back together and toured regularly until 2014. On his 60th birthday, he received a lifetime achievement award from Irish President Michael D. Higgins.