New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain has died, aged 69

The guitarist had been battling cancer

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New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain has died, aged 69. The news was confirmed in a Facebook post by his wife, Wanda O’Kelley Mizrahi, who said he had passed away on Wednesday (January 13).

“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years,” she wrote. “Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way.”

Cairo-born Sylvain Mizrahi co-founded the New York Dolls in lower Manhattan in the early-1970s, giving the band their name. They soon achieved notoriety for their androgynous style and dissolute behaviour, eventually signing to Mercury for 1973’s self-titled debut, for which Sylvain Sylvain co-wrote a couple of songs with singer David Johansen.


After New York Dolls inevitably fell apart a few years later, Sylvain Sylvain embarked on an intermittent solo career as well as continuing to work with Johansen. New York Dolls reformed for Morrissey’s Meltdown festival in 2004 and went on to record another three albums.

“His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision,” wrote Lenny Kaye, in a fulsome tribute. “Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.

“The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to. From the time I first saw their poster appear on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, advertising a residency at the Mercer Hotel up the street, throughout their meteoric ascent and shooting star flame-out, the New York Dolls were the heated core of this music we hail, the band that makes you want to form a band.

“Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he was welcomed all over the world, from England to Japan, but most of all the rock dens of New York City, which is where I caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Bowery Electric. Still Syl. His corkscrew curls, tireless bounce, exulting in living his dream, asking the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His twin names, mirrored, becomes us. Thank you Sylvain x 2, for your heart, belief, and the way you whacked that E chord. Sleep Baby Doll.”

“My best friend for so many years,” wrote David Johansen on Instagram. “I can still remember the first time I saw him bop into the rehearsal space/bicycle shop with his carpetbag and guitar straight from the plane after having been deported from Amsterdam, I instantly loved him. I’m gonna miss you old pal. I’ll keep the home fires burning. au revoir Syl mon vieux copain.”


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