New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain dies aged 69

New York Dolls
(Image credit: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain has passed away at the age of 69.

"As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years," his wife, Wanda O'Kelley Mizrahi, wrote in a statement on his Facebook page (14/1).

"Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away."

A founding member of the legendary Big Apple band, Sylvain was a trailblazing guitarist and songwriter who is cited as an influence on the birth of punk rock in the 70s and the new wave movement that followed. 

His passing leaves frontman David Johansen as the only surviving member from the original lineup that recorded the New York Dolls' 1973 self-titled debut album.

"My best friend for so many years," wrote Johansen on Instagram in tribute. "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," he wrote.

"I'm gonna miss you old pal. I'll keep the home fires burning."

He was born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, on Valentine's Day 1951, then lived in France as a child before moving to New York with his family.

He formed The New York Dolls with Johansen in 1971 , and their urgent, raw sound was a reaction to the rock of the era. They soon gained a reputation for their riotous live shows and an image that would influence glam rock, but tragedy struck early on.

Drummer Billy Murcia died in a drug-related accident when the band were on tour in England in 1972. He was replaced by Jerry Nolan for the band's first recording with Mercury Records alongside Sylvain, guitarist Johnny Thunders and Arthur 'Killer' Kane.

They were dropped following the release of 1974 second album Too Much Too Soon and a national tour after failing to meet Mercury's commercial expectations, but, alongside the previous seminal work of The Stooges and The MC5, their influence was soon heard in then-fledgling punk heroes The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and later The Replacements and Guns N' Roses.

Though the Dolls dissolved in 1977 as punk broke, Sylvain continued to play with Johansen on the latter's solo albums. He formed his own band The Criminals as well as releasing solo albums in 1979 and 1998, and an album with the Teardrops in 1981.

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In 2006 Sylvain and Johansen returned under the New York Dolls name with third album One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This and regular tours, followed by 2009's Cause I Sez So and 2011's Dancing Backwards In High Heels.

Some of the musicians Sylvain helped inspire have paid tribute to him following his passing, as you can read below. 

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Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.