Game of Thrones actor and Dr. Feel-good guitarist Wilko Johnson dies at 75

Game of Thrones actor and musician Wilko Johnson has passed away after a battle with terminal cancer. He turned 75.

Johnson, known as the guitarist for the British blues rock band Dr. Feelgood, died Monday at his home in South East England.

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A statement was shared on behalf of Johnson’s family on Wednesday on the actor’s official social media accounts.

“This is the announcement we never wanted to make and it is with a heavy heart that Wilko Johnson has passed away,” the statement began.

“He passed away at home on Monday, November 21. Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Wilko Johnson performs at Planet Rock’s Rocktober event at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on October 18, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Lorne Thomson/Red ferns

The family continued with a tribute to doctor Charlie Chan and surgeon Emmanuel Huguet who gave Johnson “the extra years to enjoy”.

They shared a quote from Huguet who said, “I am honored to have known Wilko. He was uplifting and life enhancing to me. Like so many other people, I loved him.

Born John Wilkinson in 1947, Johnson grew up on Canvey Island, a marshy, industrial oil town in the mouth of the River Thames in England.

He studied Anglo-Saxon literature at Newcastle University and worked as a teacher before joining Dr. Feelgood founded.

In an age of flamboyant glamor and indulgent prog rock, they played a then-out-of-fashion brand of blues and R&B, dressed in cheap suits that made them look, Johnson later said, like “sloppy bank robbers.”

Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood perform “She Does It Right” in 1975

Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood perform “She Does It Right” in 1975

Johnson helped Dr. Giving Feelgood a dangerous edge with his jerky, relentless guitar style and thousand-foot stare—a look terrifying enough to later in life land him a role as silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones.

Despite having no lines, the actor made his mark through his cold look.

Inspiring bands that would soon spark the punk explosion in the UK, the anarchist group teetered on the brink of global stardom, scoring a number one album in the UK, touring the US and landing a deal with CBS Records.

Wilko Johnson as the silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones. Credit: Delivered

Then in 1977, Johnson eloped amid friction with charismatic singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994.

Johnson later said that if the band had been able to follow the managers’ instructions to behave, “I’m pretty sure we’d be multimillionaires. But we didn’t. We were guys from Canvey Island. We were good friends and we got into fights.”

Johnson subsequently performed with Ian Dury’s band, the Blockheads, playing to a devoted fan base for many years, largely in the UK and Japan.

In 2012, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told it was terminal.

The prospect of death unexpectedly revived his creative energy. He refused chemotherapy, decided to go on one last tour and recorded a “final” album, Going Back Home, with The Who’s Roger Daltrey.

“I was suddenly in a position where nothing mattered anymore,” he told The Associated Press in 2013.

“Normally I’m a miserable so-and-so… I’d worry about the IRS or all the things we worry about getting in the way of the real things. And suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore. None of that matters.

“You walk down the street and you feel intensely alive. You’re ‘Oh, look at that leaf!’ You look around and you think, ‘I’m alive. Isn’t it great?’”

Wilko Johnson as the silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne who beheads the character Ned Stark played by Sean Bean in Game of Thrones. Credit: Delivered

Wilko recalled

In another twist, a fan who was also a cancer specialist offered to help.

After surgery to remove a 3 kg tumor, Johnson announced in 2014 that he was cancer free.

He released another album, Blow Your Mind, in 2018 and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.

Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and grandson Dylan.

Since then, fans have paid tribute to the star on social media and thanked his doctors, tweeting that Johnson’s “irresistible spirit made sure those extra years were put to full use”.

Wilko Johnson was a forerunner of punk. His guitar playing was angry and angular, but his presence – nervous, confrontational, out of control – was something we’d never seen before in British pop,” one of them said of his legacy to the music industry.

“Great guitarist and terrifying on GOT… your wait is over Wilko,” wrote another.

“Deeply moved to hear that the legendary Southender Wilko Johnson has passed away. I was a fan of his twice: his music and his portrayal of Ser Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones,” one Twitter user added.

– With NBC

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