A Game Of Thrones Star Has Passed Away

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Wilko Johnson, who portrayed the Game Of Thrones executioner Ser Ilyn Payne, has passed away.

By Charlene Badasie
| Published

Dr. Feelgood guitarist and occasional actor, Wilko Johnson has died at the age of 75. As a musician, he was known for his energetic on-stage persona and influence on the British punk rock movement. The band was formed when prog rock was in the ascendancy and their gigs paved the way for punk. He also earned recognition for his portrayal of executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in HBO’s popular Game of Thrones.

“This is the announcement we never wanted to make, and we do so with a very heavy heart. Wilko Johnson has died,” the statement via Deadline read. “Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. RIP Wilko Johnson.” The guitarist was diagnosed with late-age pancreatic cancer in 2013 and was told he had 10 months to live. While he decided against chemotherapy, the Game of Thrones alum was declared cancer-free after doctors removed a large tumor in an 11-hour operation, a year later.

Filmmaker Julien Temple described Wilko Johnson as one of the great English eccentrics and a great national treasure waiting to be discovered. It was partly due to his 2009 documentary, Oil City Confidential, which traced the history of Dr. Feelgood, that the guitarist enjoyed renewed acclaim towards the end of his life, The Guardian reports. But fans from the 1970s didn’t need a reminder.

Although he was never a virtuoso like Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton, Wilko Johnson was one of the most distinctive British guitarists in history. He perfected a hair-trigger style of playing by not using a pick. Instead, he relied only on his fingers which enabled him to play rhythm guitar, riffs, or solos at the same time which created a highly percussive guitar sound.

Wilko Johnson also added an intimidating stage presence to his performance. Clad in a black suit, with unseeing eyes, he moved around the stage like a remorseless robot. But the 1977 album Sneakin’ Suspicion was his last outing with the band, following several arguments during its recording. His erratic and moody behavior while on tour only made matters worse.

After Dr. Feelgood Wilko Johnson formed a new band called the Solid Senders, which played at the Front Row Festival in London, along with other new punk acts. When Temple’s documentary hit the screens, it had a galvanizing effect on the musician’s profile. He toured with the Stranglers in 2011 and played some sellout shows at the Rhythm and Roots festival in Kilkenny.

Wilko Johnson in Game Of Thrones

Wilko Johnson also published an autobiography called Looking Back on Me in 2012, with the help of co-author Zoe Howe. At that time, he was recruited for the HBO series Game of Thrones. The guitarist appeared in four episodes as the royal executioner Ser Ilyn Payne. For the role, all he had to do was look sinister and kill people, since Payne had no dialogue due to his tongue being cut out in the story.

Wilko Johnson made another film with Temple in 2015 called, The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson which focused on his unexpected cancer survival. This was followed by his memoir Don’t You Leave Me Here in 2016, and a solo album titled Blow Your Mind in 2018. The musician was still performing regularly with his band until September. He is survived by his sons, Matthew and Simon.