48. Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

This is it–the final post here at the “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog! While I have admittedly hit the pause button on the project before, I really do intend for this to be the concluding entry–and I think today’s topic of conversation, suggested to me by a friend and reader of the blog, is a good one to go out on.

Our entry today focuses on the religious affiliations of cult singer and songwriter Daniel Johnston (1961-2019). Despite his serious, long-term struggles with mental illness, Johnston became an accomplished recording and visual artist over the course of his career, influencing numerous other musicians like Kurt Cobain (who himself played a major role in bringing Johnston into the spotlight). Much of Johnston’s life story was featured in the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which picked up a major award from the Sundance Film Festival that same year.


(“Daniel Johnston and British Sea Power” by Paul Hudson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

Although my research on previous blog subject Sterling Marlin turned up approximately nothing four weeks ago, and though Elvis’s connections to Churches of Christ were indirect in our previous post, the situation couldn’t have been more different this time around. Johnston’s obituary in Pitchfork noted that he had attended Abilene Christian University (very!) briefly in the late 1970s or early 1980s, (1) while a 2006 profile in the New York Times described his parents as “members of the Church of Christ…” (2)

More directly, TexasMonthly provided the following information in a 2005 extended feature on the singer:

The trouble for Daniel began with the drugs. A devout Church of Christ member when he arrived in Austin, Daniel didn’t even drink, much less get high (he told a prospective girlfriend that he couldn’t have sex before marriage). But for whatever reason, either because he was swept away in the general enthusiasm of the time or to impress a girl or to break further from his parents, he began smoking pot and then taking LSD. His fragile mind began to slip. (3)

Similarly, the Catholic news website Aleteia confirmed in its obituary for Johnston that he was “Born the youngest of five children and raised in the Church of Christ family in West Virginia…” (4)

Today’s entry–our last here, at least if I have my druthers–is CONFIRMED, then, a fitting way to bring the blog to its conclusion. Thanks once more for reading and for your support over the last two and a half years!


(1) Braudie Blais-Billie, “Daniel Johnston Dead at 58,” Pitchfork, September 11, 2019, accessed September 16, 2019, https://pitchfork.com/news/daniel-johnston-dead-at-58/.

(2) Randy Kennedy, “Man-Child in the Promised Land,” New York Times, February 19, 2006, accessed September 16, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/arts/design/19kenn.html.

(3) Michael Hall, “He’s Daniel Johnston, And He Was Gonna Be Famous,” TexasMonthly, February 1, 2005, accessed September 16, 2019, https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/hes-daniel-johnston-and-he-was-gonna-be-famous/.

(4) Matthew Becklo, “The Divine and Daniel Johnston,” Aleteia, September 16, 2019, accessed September 16, 2019, https://aleteia.org/2019/09/16/the-divine-and-daniel-johnston/.

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