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Shane MacGowan, frontman of the Pogues, dies aged 65

Shane MacGowan
Shane MacGowan performing in 1989 - Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

Shane MacGowan, the hellraising frontman of the Pogues who was best known for the Christmas favourite Fairytale of New York, has died aged 65.

The singer had suffered a long period of ill health, including spells in intensive care, and had been using a wheelchair after a series of falls, including one in 2015 which broke his pelvis.

MacGowan, who was born in Kent to Irish parents, was discharged from St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin last week after lengthy treatment for viral encephalitis, a rare condition that causes the brain to swell.

His wife Victoria Mary Clarke said the “love of her life” and “measure of her dreams” had died.

“I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” she wrote on Instagram.

She added: “You gave so much joy to so many people with your heart and soul and your music.

“You will live in my heart forever. Rave on in the garden all wet with rain that you loved so much. You meant the world to me.”

MacGowan married the Irish journalist in Copenhagen in 2018 after 32 years together, including an 11-year engagement.

Movie star Johnny Depp, a longtime friend and occasional collaborator, serenaded the couple on the guitar during the wedding.

Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in Pembury, Kent, in 1957, before moving three months later to rural Tipperary, where he was immersed in an Irish musical culture of ceili bands and showbands.

He later moved back to England and he earned a literature scholarship to the Westminster School in London.

Punk rocker

MacGowan became involved with the burgeoning punk movement in 1970s England.

He formed his own punk band the Nipple Erectors, later named the Nips, after seeing the Sex Pistols supporting rock group the 101′ers.

The singer went on to co-found the Pogues, whose members were heavily influenced by traditional Irish music, in 1982. The band’s name is a play on the Irish for “kiss my a---”.

The group reached their critical peak with the 1985 album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. The record was produced by Elvis Costello and showcased MacGowan’s talents as a songwriter.

Christmas classic

However, the Pogues’s greatest commercial success was 1988’s If I Should Fall from Grace with God, which included their biggest hit Fairytale of New York.

The duet with Kirsty MacColl, who was killed by a speedboat at the aged 41 in 2000, reached number two in the 1987 UK Christmas charts, and was also a number one in Ireland.

While the song remains hugely popular to this day, its lyrics have attracted controversy in recent years.

In 2020, the BBC edited out derogatory terms for homosexuals and women used in the song, with the band’s apparent backing.

Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan
Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan - Tim Roney

Ill health

MacGowan, who struggled with mental health issues and had a fear of being sectioned, was sacked from the Pogues in 1991 because of his heavy drinking and unreliability.

“What took you so long, tsscchh?” he replied when given the news during a tour of Japan.

He formed Shane MacGowan and The Popes before rejoining the Pogues. The singer toured with the group until 2014, when they broke up again.

(left) A recent picture of MacGowan in hospital. (right) MacGowan with his wife
(left) A recent picture of MacGowan in hospital. (right) MacGowan with his wife Victoria Mary Clarke

MacGowan was revered as one of the finest Irish songwriters of his generation, despite not having released any original material for 25 years at the time of his death.

One of his final public appearances was in 2018 at a special 60th birthday celebration at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland.

Guests including Depp, U2’s Bono and singer Nick Cave performed his songs during the event, which was held just a few months before he was awarded an Ivor Novello inspiration award in London.

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