Shane MacGowan, the lead singer and songwriter of Celtic punk band The Pogues, who mashed up Irish folk music with raw rock, has died. He was 65.
A statement from MacGowan’s family said he died at 3.30 am U.K. time on November 30 after a long illness.
Born on December 25, 1957, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England to Irish immigrant parents, MacGowan tapped into the Irish folk music tradition, combining it with poetic lyrics — inspired by the language of the Bible, literature, and mythology — and the raw and raucous rhythms of punk music to create a new sound that brought his band, The Pogues, international fame in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Pogues songs like “Dirty Old Town,” “Streams of Whiskey” and “Pair of Brown Eyes” remain sing-along classics in Irish pubs around the world, something The Wire creator David Simon picked up on. There were frequent needle drops from MacGowan’s back catalog on the HBO series, most famously “The Body of an American” which is played at the cop bar at every wake for a dead officer.
The Pogues — the band’s original name was Pogue Mahone, an anglicization of the Irish Gaelic expression póg mo thóin, meaning “kiss my arse” — had a reputation for fierce live performances, driven by frontman MacGowan with his raspy, inimitable singing voice. MacGowan’s lyrics dealt with child abuse, drug and alcohol use, the plight of the Irish diaspora and many other raw, often political and controversial topics, but the music always had a melody and you could dance to it.
Their highest-charting song was “Fairytale of New York,” a duet between MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl, which recounts the story of a love affair gone sour over the holidays. Despite controversy over its lyrics, which include an anti-gay slur, it became a Christmas classic.
The Pogues released 5 acclaimed albums — 1984’s “Red Roses for Me,” 1985’s “Rum Sodomy & the Lash,” produced by Elvis Costello, 1988’s “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” and “Hell’s Ditch,” released in 1990, before the band fired MacGowan for his out-of-control drug and alcohol abuse problem, which meant he frequently would not turn up for live gigs. In response, he founded a counter band, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, who recorded two studio albums. He would rejoin a full Pogues reunion in 2001, staying with them until 2014.
A prominent Pogues fan was Johnny Depp, who co-produced and made a brief cameo appearance in Julien Temple’s 2020 documentary on the musician: Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan.
Drugs and drink were a constant companion and crunch — MacGowan said he began drinking as a child when his family gave him Guinness to help him sleep — and the source of health issues throughout his life. He fell and fractured his pelvis in 2015, requiring him to use a wheelchair to get around. In December 2022, MacGowan was hospitalized with viral encephalitis and spent several months in intensive care.
MacGowan is survived by Clarke, his sister Siobhan and father Maurice.