Game of Thrones actor and Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson died at 75

Wilko Johnson, an actor from Game of Thrones and a musician has died after a battle with terminal cancer. He was 75.

Known as the guitarist with the British blues-rock band Dr. Feelgood, Johnson died on Monday in his southeast England home.

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On behalf of Johnson’s family, a statement was shared on Wednesday on the actor’s official social media accounts.

“This is the announcement we never wanted to make and we do so with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died,” the statement began.

“He passed away at home on Monday November 21st. Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Wilko Johnson performs during Planet Rock’s Rocktober event at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on October 18, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns

The family went on to pay tribute to doctor Charlie Chan and surgeon Emmanuel Huguet who gave Johnson “the extra years to enjoy”.

They shared a quote from Huguet who said: “I feel honored to have known Wilko. He was uplifting and life-enhancing for me. Like so many other people, I loved him.”

Born John Wilkinson in 1947, Johnson was raised on Canvey Island, a marshy, industrial oil town in England’s River Thames estuary.

He studied Anglo-Saxon literature at Newcastle University and worked as a schoolteacher before forming Dr. Feel good with other local friends.

At a time of flamboyant glam and indulgent prog rock, they played a then-unfashionable brand of blues and R&B, dressed in cheap suits that made them look, Johnson said later, like “shoddy bank robbers.”

Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood perform ‘She Does It Right’ in 1975

Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood perform ‘She Does It Right’ in 1975

Johnson helped give Dr. Feelgood has a dangerous edge with his choppy, relentless guitar style and thousand-yard glare — a look terrifying enough to earn him a role later in life as silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne on Game of Thrones.

Despite having no lines, the actor left his mark through his cold stare.

The anarchic outfit inspired bands who would soon drive the UK punk explosion, and teetered on the edge of global fame, scoring a UK number one album, tours of the US and a deal with CBS records.

Wilko Johnson as silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne on Game of Thrones. Credit: Supplied

Then in 1977 Johnson walked out amid friction with charismatic lead singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994.

Johnson later said that if the band had been able to follow its managers’ instructions to behave, “I’m pretty sure we’d be multimillionaires. But we didn’t. We were geezers from Canvey Island. We were great friends, and we fell out.”

Johnson went on to perform with Ian Dury’s band, the Blockheads, and spent years playing to a devoted fan base, largely in the UK and Japan.

In 2012, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told it was terminal.

The prospect of death unexpectedly revived his creative energies. He declined chemotherapy, decided to go on one last tour, and recorded a “final” album, Going Back Home, with Roger Daltrey of The Who.

“I suddenly found myself in a position where nothing matters anymore,” he told The Associated Press in 2013.

“I’m a miserable so-and-so normally … I’d be worrying about the taxman or all the things that we worry about that get in the way of the real things. And suddenly it doesn’t matter. All of that doesn’t matter.

“You walk down the street and you feel intensely alive. You’re ‘Oh, look at that leaf!’ You’re looking around, and you think, ‘I’m alive. Ain’t it amazing?’”

Wilko Johnson as silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne beheading the character Ned Stark played by Sean Bean on Game of Thrones. Credit: Supplied

Wilko remembered

In another twist, a fan who was also a cancer specialist offered to help.

After surgery to remove a 3kg tumor, Johnson announced in 2014 that he was cancer-free.

He released another album, Blow Your Mind, in 2018, and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.

Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and grandson Dylan.

Fans have since paid tribute to the star on social media and thanked his doctors, with one tweeting that Johnson’s “indomitable spirit made sure those extra years were used to full advantage”.

“Wilko Johnson was a precursor of punk. His guitar playing was angry and angular, but his presence – twitchy, confrontational, out of control – was something we’d never seen before in UK pop,” one said of his legacy to the music industry.

“Amazing guitarist and terrifying on GOT… your watch has ended Wilko,” another wrote.

“Gutted to hear that legendary Southender Wilko Johnson has passed away. I was a fan of his twice over: Of his music, and of his portrayal of Ser Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones,” added a Twitter user.

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