Keith Levene, founding member of the Clash, dies at 65

The English musician also formed the post-punk band Public Image Ltd with Sex Pistols singer John Lydon.

Keith Levene, the pioneering guitarist for punk-rock bands the Clash and Public Image Ltd, died on Friday. He was 65. 

His partner, Kate Ransford, and his friend, author Adam Hammond, announced the rock & roll star’s death on social media Saturday. Levene had liver cancer, The Guardian reports.

“RIP Keith Levene, my beloved partner, who passed away at our home on 11/11/22 peacefully, pain-free, cosy, [and] well loved,” Ransford tweeted. “He was an iconic guitarist and composer, my best friend, my love, my everything. I love you to the moon.”

“It is with great sadness [that] I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday 11th November,” Hammond tweeted. “There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious, and influential guitarists of all time. 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.”

Born in London in 1957, Julian Keith Levene got his start in the music industry at age 15 working as a roadie for the prog-rock band Yes during their Close to the Edge tour. At age 16, Levene befriended Mick Jones and the musical duo would go on to create the Clash alongside vocalist Joe Strummer, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Terry Chimes in 1976. 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Graham Harries/Shutterstock (1697758l) Ex Clash Guitarist Keith Levene Laugharne Weekend Festival, Laugharne, Wales, Britain – Apr 2012

Keith Levene, a founding member of the Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died.

| Credit: Graham Harries/Shutterstock

While Levene departed from the rock group before they had a chance to record any music, he is still credited with co-writing one of their songs: the scorching single “What’s My Name,” which appeared on their eponymous debut record in 1977. 

In 1978, Levene teamed up with John Lydon — a.k.a the Sex Pistols’ infamous lead singer Johnny Rotten — to form the post-punk group Public Image Ltd. The band, which also included bassist Jah Wobble and drummer Jim Walker, released their debut album, Public Image: First Issue, that same year. 

Keith Levene seen here with Ex Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten. The pair have teamed up with Jeanette Lee to form Public Image Limited (aka PIL). (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Keith Levene

| Credit: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty

Levene, whose rollicking riffs appear on Public Image Ltd. hits like “Public Image” and “Swan Lake,” was heavily involved in the creation of their first three albums: First Issue, 1979’s Metal Box, and 1981’s The Flowers of Romance. He left the group in 1983 ahead of the release of their fourth album, 1984’s This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get.

Aside from playing in bands, Levene dabbled in his own material, releasing his debut solo album, Violent Opposition, in 1989. His most recent work, Commercial Zone 2014, was released in 2014. 

Following news of his death, Levene’s former bandmates took to Twitter to remember the rocker.

“Thanks for all the messages of condolence re Keith,” Wobble wrote, “but it’s his partner and family who are really impacted by his passing.”

“A sad time to learn of the passing of guitar giant Keith Levene,” added Martin Atkins, another member of Public Image Ltd. “We had our ups and downs that had mellowed over time. My respect for his unique talent never will.”

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