Keith Levene, Co-Founder of the Clash and Public Image Ltd, Dies at 65

Keith Levene, the innovative guitarist who was a founding member of the Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died in Norfolk, U.K. He was 65.

His death was announced through social media on Saturday (Nov. 12) by former Public Image Ltd bandmates Martin Atkins and Jah Wobble. Levene passed away following a battle with liver cancer, The Guardian reports.

Billboard has reached out to Public Image Ltd’s representatives for comment.

“A sad time to learn of the passing of guitar giant Keith Levene,” Atkins wrote on Twitter. “We had our ups and downs that had mellowed over time. My respect for his unique talent never will.”


“RIP KEITH LEVENE,” Wobble said.

Author Adam Hammond, a friend of Levene, wrote on Twitter that he died on Friday (Nov. 11) and noted, “There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time.”

Levene, who was born in London in 1957 and as a teenager was a roadie for Yes, was a co-founder of the Clash but left the band before their first album was even released.

He teamed up with guitarist Mick Jones in the mid-1970s to form an early version of the Clash. Along with the band’s manager Bernard Rhodes, Levene convinced Joe Strummer to join the group. Levene departed before the act started recording, but co-wrote the song “What’s My Name,” which appears on the Clash’s 1977 debut album.

After leaving the Clash, Levene briefly formed the band the Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious, who later left to join the Sex Pistols. When the Sex Pistols disbanded in 1978, Levene and singer John Lydon joined forces with bass player John Wardle (aka Jah Wobble) and drummer Jim Walker to form Public Image Ltd.

Levene contributed to Public Image Ltd’s earliest albums — First Issue (1978), Metal Box (1979) and Flowers of Romance (1981) — and left the group in the mid-1983.

Later in his career, Levene worked on a handful of solo projects, including 1989’s Violent Opposition, featuring members of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Music is important to me because I’m a composer. It turns out that I really am a good musician and composer. I can’t read music, I’m self-taught … I was never really enamoured with punk, it just came at the right time,” Levene said in an interview with the publication Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Zine.

He recalled his early years as a musician: “When I came off tour with Yes I realized I wanted to be in a band. Having a band was a big f—ing thing for a 15-year-old. I’m looking at this cherry red guitar in my little bedroom, I remember like it was yesterday, I’m looking at this thing and thought I had to get a real Gibson. I knew me well enough by then to know that I wasn’t going to allow myself to have a Gibson unless I could play really, really well, proper.”

Ashley Iasimone