From The Death of Rock 'n' Roll: Untimely Demises, Morbid Preoccupations, and Premature Forecasts of Doom in Pop Music by Jeff Pike (Faber & Faber): The New York Dolls emerged in the post-rock pre-punk early-'70s welter of glam-rock, championing trash, androgyny, old-fashioned rock'n'roll, drugs, and fun. They were much loved as a live act but somehow the point never quite made it to vinyl. Still, they knew their place and worked it well -- singer David Johansen looked back to Mick Jagger and forward to Axl Rose, while his compadre Johnny Thunders did the same with Keith Richards and Slash. They had that seductive, unruly, swaggering poise about them; that much, anyway, has survived. As with the Glimmer Twins (and as may happen yet with Rose and Slash), it was ultimately the guitar player who earned the most credibility and won the most enduring status as a legend. Of course, that legend has all too often been related as much to heroin addiction as to guitar playing, but still, Johnny Thunders (born John Genzale) was an incredibly ferocious performer when he was on the beam. And he was otherwise about as aimless as it gets. The Replacements' sardonic, hardly prescient "Johnny's Gonna Die" from 1981 covers the main points. In the mid-'70s, after the Dolls broke up, Thunders cemented his reputation with Richard Hell in the Heartbreakers (no relation to Tom Petty's group of the same name), consistently reeling off memorable knockout performances, even through the nod. Punk-rockers everywhere -- particularly British punk-rockers -- loved it and flocked to see him for years. But in the end, his body was found in a New Orleans hotel room, dead of a drug overdose, with alcohol and methadone nearby in the room. It was 1991, and the question was not why he died but how he had lived so long. He was thirty-eight. Billy Murcia, the original drummer for the New York Dolls, didn't last long. On the group's first tour of England in 1972, he mixed alcohol and drugs and suffered an overdose. All night long, reportedly, his girlfriend worked to keep him awake and alive -- evidently she never thought to seek medical assistance -- walking him continually around their hotel flat, putting him into a bathtub of cold water, and forcing black coffee into him. To no avail. The official cause of death was suffocation. He had drowned on the coffee, or choked, more likely, though "drowned," which reportedly appears on the death certificate, tends to dignify just a little the whole sorry episode. He was twenty-one. The Dolls' long-term drummer, Jerry Nolan (a Charlie Watts in his own fashion), who came in to replace Murcia, stayed with the group until the end, then went on to join Thunders and Hell in the Heartbreakers. Nolan died in 1992 of a stroke after undergoing treatment for pneumonia and meningitis, age forty-five.
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