Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers:
Where are they now?
Johnny Thunders was a name as much associated with chaotic punk rock as with hard living and self-destruction. Thunders, who took his moniker from a DC comic book hero known for his luck and ability to wield ‘The Thunderbolt’, was a founding father of proto punk as a guitarist and singer-songwriter. Thunders’ was also an infamous drug user and tangled with the demons of fame and substance abuse. His death in 1991 sparked rumors and speculation regarding the American guitarist’s final hours, only to be further muddled when police hesitated to open any real investigation. Whether an overdose, a premeditated murder or a violent robbery gone wrong, Thunders’ death in a dingy New Orleans hotel room marked the passing of punk’s fiercest icon. But now, 20 years after his passing, what has become of The Heartbreakers?
The Heartbreakers were formed from the ashes of the New York Dolls when Thunders and Jerry Nolan split in 1975. The New York Dolls continued the Florida tour and tried to piece the band together while Thunders and Nolan began to plant the seeds of what would become Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. They picked up free-floating Richard Hell of Television to play bass and sing, though his stint with the band was brief. Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers saw a number of musicians come and go during the tumultuous life of the band and while a few have croaked, some are still kicking and screaming.
Iconic drummer for the New York Dolls, Nolan was at the heart of the band from the beginning. The native New Yorker toured and recorded with The Heartbreakers, including the famous and ill-fated British Anarchy Tour (alongside the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned). Even as the band began to dissolve, Nolan remained strongly connected to Johnny Thunders as they both went their separate ways musically. He quit after the release of ‘L.A.M.F’ because the album was mixed properly and never sounded how he envisioned, but continued to play with The Heartbreakers as a hired drummer. Nolan was collaborating with singer-songwriter Greg Allen and bassist Chicago Van Earnshaw when he fell ill. Then in 1992, only a few months after Thunders’ death, Nolan was admitted to St. Vincent’s hospital in New York and suffered a stroke. Jerry Nolan then passed away on January 14th, 1992. Thunders and Nolan are both buried in Queens and Nolan’s legacy still lives on, best captured by David Johansen’s famous phrase, ‘Give me one Jerry!’
A man that needs no introduction, Richard Hell joined The Heartbreakers in May 1975 after playing with The Neon Boys (who later became Television). Hell’s time with The Heartbreakers only lasted about a year, until 1976 when he quit and started Richard Hell and The Voidoids (also known as simply the Voidoids). This project was part of the first wave of punk rock and released two studio albums, ‘Blank Generation’ and ‘Destiny Street,’ and is credited for introducing and developing the classic punk rock look. Hell played bass and sang lead vocals for The Voidoids before releasing ‘R.I.P’ (a collection outtakes and unreleased material) in 1984, which marked his retirement. Hell briefly reentered the music world in the early 90s for Dim Stars, a short-lived super group with Thurston Moore and Steven Shelley of Sonic Youth, Gumball’s Don Flemming and Robert Quine of The Voidoids. Hell has also written a number of novels, non-fiction books, poems, essays and drawings that have been published as well as has appeared in several films. Richard Hell is 62 and lives in the East Village with his wife.
Walter ‘Waldo’ Lure joined forces with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Richard Hell in the early stages of The Heartbreakers as a second guitarist and vocalist. Lure was pulled into The Heartbreakers from his earlier band, The Demons, as a result of mutual friends and a shared rehearsal space. Lure performed and recorded with The Heartbreakers and had a major role in songwriting. He went on to work with The Ramones on ‘Subterranean Jungle’ and ‘Too Tough To Die,’ contributing significant guitar work, though he was confined to studio sessions and did not perform with the band live. Walter Lure played with a number of musicians and bands following his career with The Heartbreakers including The Hurricanes, which later became The Heroes. Lure put out some music with a band that he formed called The Waldos in the mid-80s. The Waldos saw a continually rotating line up because a number of members died in quick succession.
Following Richard Hell’s dramatic departure, Billy Rath jumped aboard The Heartbreakers as the replacement bass player. Rumors circulated that Rath was a former gigolo and though he did not have quite the stage presence that Hell did, he was very musically talented and helped hold The Heartbreakers together. Rath also played with many major names like Iggy Pop, Nico, Lenny Kay, The Muggers and Ronnie Spector. He has also put together a project called ‘Billy Rath’s Street Pirates’ and recently toured with UK with The Broken Hearts, alongside Steve Dior.