Keith Levene dead: The Clash and Public Image Ltd co-founder dies aged 65

His close friend, the author Adam Hammond, confirmed Levene died from liver cancer after receiving a terminal diagnosis in recent weeks

Published

Guitarist Keith Levene, who was a founding member of both The Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65.

His close friend, the author Adam Hammond, confirmed Levene died from liver cancer in the early hours of Friday after receiving a terminal diagnosis in recent weeks.

He paid tribute in a statement on social media at the request of Levene’s family and described the late musician as “one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time”.

“Keith sought to create a new paradigm in music and with willing collaborators John Lydon and Jah Wobble succeeded in doing just that,” he said.

“His guitar work over the nine minutes of Theme, the first track on the first PiL album, defined what alternative music should be.

“As well as helping to make PiL the most important band of the age, Keith also founded The Clash with Mick Jones and had a major influence on their early sound.

“So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not.

“Our thoughts and love go out to his partner Kate, sister Jill and all of Keith’s family and friends. The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate.”

The Clash band memorabilia on display at the Black Market Clash pop-up exhibition and store in Soho to mark the release of the group's remastered collected works Sound System box set and new best of collection, Hits Back.
The Clash band memorabilia on display at the Black Market Clash pop-up exhibition and store in Soho to mark the release of the group's remastered collected works Sound System box set and new best of collection, Hits Back.

Levene had also recently completed a book about his time in Public Image Ltd, co-written with Mr Hammond.

The guitarist formed the Clash with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon while still a teenager.

He played a central role in persuading frontman Joe Strummer to leave his then band, The 101ers, and join with them.

His close friend, the author Adam Hammond, confirmed Levene died from liver cancer after receiving a terminal diagnosis in recent weeks
His close friend, the author Adam Hammond, confirmed Levene died from liver cancer after receiving a terminal diagnosis in recent weeks

However, he himself would leave the band before they found wider success, later founding Public Image Ltd with John Lydon, then known as Johnny Rotten, following the break-up of the Sex Pistols.

He was involved in the creation of the band’s early albums including the influential 1979 release Metal Box, and helped pioneer an angular post-punk sound that is still regularly cited.

In his later career he worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a number of hip hop acts.

Tributes came from Andy Bell of the band Ride, who tweeted: “RIP Keith Levene – a guitar tone like ground up diamonds fired at you through a high pressure hose.”

Mike Scott of The Waterboys said: “Travel on well Keith Levene.

“You innovated, you chimed, you Clashed, you soundtracked Johnny Rotten’s last great moments and you once trounced me at Space Invaders.”