Daniel Johnston was born in 1961 in Sacramento, California, the youngest of five children in a Christian fundamentalist household.
He and his family soon moved to New Cumberland, West Virginia, where his father, an engineer and World War II fighter pilot, landed a job with Quaker State. Drawing for a long time before he took up music, Daniel grew to appreciate such artists John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Queen, Neil Young, the Sex Pistols, and especially the Beatles.
Throughout his career, Daniel’s songs and drawings have been informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression – lending an added poignancy to his soul-searching times. His five-month stint with the carney left him in Austin, where he decided to stay. In the midst of that city’s mid-eighties music scene, Johnston was a definite iconoclast. While he continued to hand out his tapes for free, Austin record stores started selling them; in fact, the became best-selling local releases. Soon, a camera crew from MTV’s seminal Cutting Edge show came to town and all the Austin bands suggested they feature Daniel.
He signed with Atlantic Records in 1992 and released FUN which sold 12,000 copies. But his mental stability and productivity didn’t produce another album until 1999 with Brian Beatties production Rejected Unknown.
In January, 2005, the feature-length documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston premiered at Sundance Film Festival and at film festivals around the world that year.
In July 2017, Johnston announced that he would be retiring from live performance and would embark on a final five-date tour that fall.
On September 11, 2019, Johnston was found dead from a suspected heart attack at his home in Waller, Texas.