Sylvain Sylvain, a guitarist and member of the New York Dolls who, alongside fellow axeman Johnny Thunders, helped drive the glam rockers’ ’70s albums to cult status, has died at the age of 69.
The musician, diagnosed with cancer over two years ago, died on Wednesday (Jan. 13). Word of his death emerged on his Facebook page the following day. A crowdfunding campaign launched in 2019 raised nearly $80,000 for surgery as part of the New York Dolls guitarist’s cancer treatment.
“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years,” the message from Thursday reads. “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.”
An accompanying note from Patti Smith Group guitarist and rock journalist Lenny Kaye underscored the musical enthusiasm of Sylvain, whose real name was Sylvain Mizrahi. The New York Dolls icon was born in Egypt in 1951 before his family ultimately settled in New York City.
“Syl loved rock and roll,” Kaye said. “His onstage joy, his radiant smile as he chopped at his guitar, revealed the sense of wonder he must have felt at the age of 10, emigrating from his native Cairo with his family in 1961, the ship pulling into New York Harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty.”
Sylvain’s guitar and piano contributions to the New York Doll’s first two albums — 1973’s New York Dolls and 1974’s Too Much Too Soon — cemented his place as a legendary rocker for subsequent string-slingers. Though the androgynous outfit’s early era fizzled out by 1976, the pair of groundbreaking New York Dolls records served as a presciently fertile launch pad for both punk and glam metal in the years to come.
When the New York Dolls reformed in 2004, Sylvain returned alongside original vocalist David Johansen and bassist Arthur Kaye. Fellow guitarist Thunders had died in 1991; Kaye died not long after the comeback in 2004. Sylvain continued performing with the Dolls until 2011.
This week, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready said Sylvain brought “style and swagger to the original Glam-Punk Gods #NewYorkDolls! Heroes to my Heroes… I’m gonna put on ‘Trash’ & ‘Pills’ & ‘(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown’ in honor of Sylvain and the rest of the lipstick killers!”