The passing of the Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson was a profound shock back in February and one I have found as hard to get over as the accidental death of James Horner back in 2015. From a purely selfish perspective, the sudden loss of these two composers has meant that a wealth of future music I would have enjoyed will no longer happen- while that’s a petty thing to come out and say, its true, in just the same way as losing Prince or Chris Whitley or Jerry Goldsmith. And while I have continued to listen to Johannsson’s and Horner’s music that had become such a soundtrack to my daily life over the years, it is always now tinged with a sense of regret and loss.
While Horner’s passing was tragic it was at least in the service of a hobby and pastime that he dearly loved, so there has always been a little comfort/understanding from that. But the cause of Johannsson’s death was something of a mystery, and although recently revealed results from a toxicological report have cleared things up, it nonetheless has actually made it even more difficult to reconcile.
The report confirms that the Icelandic composer died of an overdose caused by his use of cocaine. Johannsson was taking prescribed medication for an illness- the cocaine combined with that medication caused him to die of the accidental overdose.
So on the one hand, its reassuring that he wasn’t so troubled somehow (success etc doesn’t make anyone impervious to feelings of depression or anxiety) that he had felt compelled to take his own life, but on the other, its just tragic that his passing was accidental and that his life was so cruelly taken from him. Natural causes such as heart attack, though, would be bad enough, but the fact that it was drug related, well, it seems to happen so often these days, doesn’t it?
Heath Ledger, Prince, Tom Petty, to name just three who passed recently from drug-related complications, and now the unlikely addition of Johann Johannsson to the list. Well, I don’t feel at all qualified to comment as I’ve never even smoked let alone took drugs (and I don’t drink much either), and I haven’t lived in the limelight with all the pressures that might put on actors or musicians but all the same, everyone seems to know these days that there’s nothing glamorous about drug use.
So while I continue to feel so sad about Johannsson’s passing, maybe I feel a little angry and uncomprehending about it too. Its an anger that we are living in this world where a soul as gifted and sensitive as Johannsson, who could write such dark and fragile music, could perish in such an accidental way, or self-inflicted way through weakness or mistake or addiction. How are such things possible in this world and how do such tragic losses of such gifted people occur? Why was Johannsson taking cocaine, was it something he had done for years, was it an addiction getting out of hand, was he driven to it or was it something he was trying new? Were his freinds and colleagues aware? Of course we will likely never know, Johannsson’s family deserve privacy and no disparaging comments on my part. In any case I am not qualified to be judgmental about it- but the tragedy of it remains and oddly its now perhaps intensified somehow. Its a terrible and sad world sometimes and I’m certain we’re never going to make any sense of it in events such as this.