How Did Roky Erickson Die? New Details On The Tragic Passing Of The Legendary Rock Singer-Songwriter

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How Did Roky Erickson Die? New Details On The Tragic Passing Of The Legendary Rock Singer-Songwriter

He was the legendary, yet troubled, Godfather of Psychedelic Rock whose death shook the rock world to its core. Yet, for much of his career, he remained virtually unknown in the mainstream world. How did Roky Erickson die?

The rock world was stunned when Roger Kynard Erickson, known to the world by his nickname “Roky,” passed away suddenly at the age of 71. It was shocking to a community that is, unfortunately, used to death — especially death at a young age — because there was no word released that he was even sick.

And as Erickson was wont to do in life, he was just as mysterious in death: no cause of death was released, and his family was tight-lipped about any illness that the guitarist for The 13th Floor Elevators suffered before his passing.

Here’s what we know about Roky Erickson.

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1. He was first institutionalized at 21 years old.

According to The New Yorker, Roky Erickson was someone who suffered from a series of health troubles throughout his life. In 1969, when he was just 21 years old, he was institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia. Later, he began undergoing electroshock therapy after he started spouting gibberish onstage. And, throughout his life, Erickson was “furloughed” with various mental illnesses.

Roky Erickson was only 71 when he died.

2. Roky Erickson was known to “self-medicate” with hallucinogenic drugs.

Pitchfork reports that Erickson was someone who seemed to be aware that he was mentally unstable. Our understanding of mental illness was, indeed, different in the 20th century, so our nation as a whole was ill-equipped to deal with mental illness. As a result, Erickson would frequently self-medicate with a host of psychedelic drugs.

“He sang of monsters and mayhem on record after record, his B-movie obsessions providing an effective method of processing his own internal demons—troubles created by a blend of mental illness and self-medication with hallucinogenic drugs. Erickson was sent to a psychiatric hospital as part of his sentence for marijuana possession in 1969. By the time he checked in, the 13th Floor Elevators were in the process of dissolving. The same could be said of his mental health: Roky was starting to show signs of succumbing to heavy, constant doses of LSD,” they wrote.

Roky Erickson was hailed a legendary, but troubled, musician. 

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3. He had his sole chart-topping hit in the 1960s.

Even though Roky Erickson was considered an influential musician, only one song of his hit the Billboard charts: “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which reached #55 in 1966. It first came to the attention of American audiences when he and The 13th Floor Elevators performed it on American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark.

The Fader considered that performance a watershed moment for the band. “Forget that they’re lip-syncing. It doesn’t matter. Shudder at that primordial scream from Erickson, barely 19 years old but possessed by a lost wail that had people beckoning for an exorcism. The guitars and vocals are slathered in reverb, a wall of walloping, gnarled beauty, accentuated by the unsettling thumps of an amplified jug,” they wrote.

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Tributes to Roky Erickson poured in from all over the world.

4. His brother reported Roky Erickson’s death.

According to the New York Times, Roky Erickson’s brother, Mikel, posted news of his brother’s death on Facebook. His announcement didn’t give a cause of death, or any details about any funeral or memorial services. However, several news reports confirmed that Roky died in Austin, Texas.

Roky Erickson's death was reported by his brother, Mikel.

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, and photographer whose work has appeared in People, Teen Vogue, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and more. She is also the author of The Uprising series. Find her online at www.bernadettegiacomazzo.com and www.longlivetheuprising.com.