R.I.P. Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls

Music News
Owen Murphy
Sylvain Sylvain on stage in London, 2010 // photo by Barney Britton/Redferns

Sylvain Sylvain, the heart and soul of the New York Dolls, bearer of the Teenage News, passed into his next astral incarnation on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

Those are the words of Lenny Kaye, guitarist and music journalist best known for his work with Patti Smith. New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain died on Wednesday, January 13th of cancer. The news was confirmed on his official Facebook page with a tribute penned by Lenny Kaye. He was 69. In April 2019, Sylvain revealed that he had been battling cancer for the past two-and-a-half-years. 

Born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, he and his family emigrated to New York when he was seven-years-old. In 1972, he joined the New York Dolls, one of the pioneering punk acts of the early '70s. Sylvain contributed guitar, piano, and vocals to the band’s first two albums, 1973’s New York Dolls and 1974‘s Too Much Too Soon.

After the Dolls broke up in '76, Sylvain embarked on a solo career, releasing his eponymous debut album in 1979, and continuing to release new music until the late 1990s. He also supported former Dolls frontman David Johansen on his solo albums, and teamed up with fellow ex-Doll, Tony Machine, to form The Criminals.

The New York Dolls eventually reunited in 2004, featuring three of the original members: Johansen, Sylvain, and bassist Arthur Kane, who tragically died from leukemia a month after their first performance in over 25 years at the Meltdown Festival in London on June 16, 2004. Johansen and Sylvain soldiered on until 2011, releasing the final albums One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006), Cause I Sez So (2009), and Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011).

“My best friend for so many years,” Johansen wrote. “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. I’m gonna miss you old pal. I’ll keep the home fires burning. au revoir Syl mon vieux copain.”

We’ll give the last word to Lenny Kaye: “His corkscrew curls, tireless bounce, exulting in living his dream, asking the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His twin names, mirrored, becomes us. Thank you Sylvain x 2, for your heart, belief, and the way you whacked that E chord. Sleep Baby Doll.”

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