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DANIEL JOHNSTON'S HOSPITAL EPISODE - FOUR PRESS RELEASES

Saturday, December 24th, 2005 - WALLER, TX - Song writer / singer / artist Daniel Johnston was released from Methodist Hospital in Houston on Friday.   The artist had been rushed to the hospital by emergency vehicle the day before Thanksgiving unable to speak or walk, and had family members and fans fearing the worse.

The Texas musician has received increasing attention in the last few years as a artist / songwriter struggling with mental illness between bouts with fame from his songs of love and pain, and his compelling art.

While in the hospital (and unknown to Daniel) the Whitney Museum of American Art announced that his art would be featured in the prestigious 2006 Biennial, giving him a permanent place in the American Art world.   Daniel shares this honor along with six other Texans: photographer Amy Blakemore of Houston; the four-member Otabenga Jones group (Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Robert Pruitt and Kenya Evans), also of Houston; and photographer and draftsman Troy Brauntuch from Austin.

Starting with humble beginnings on the streets of Austin, Texas handing out cassette tapes to passers-by, Daniel Johnston gained increasing attention as an ingenious songwriter.  His bouts with notoriety included several MTV appearances. 

Over the years, Daniel had acquired an impressive list of supporters, including Kurt Cobain (who frequently wore Daniel's now-famous "Hi How Are You" t-shirt), Matt Groening of "The Simpsons" fame, and countless musicians.  Last year, eighteen musicians honored the songwriter with a 2-CD album covering his songs, "Discovered Covered" by Gammon Records.

In January of this year, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" by film director Jeff Feuerzeig premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.  The feature length documentary used interviews and astounding archive video and audio in a portrayal of the artist's genius and struggle with manic depression.  The film has been licensed by Sony Pictures Classic and slated for release in North America March 31, 2006.

Daniel's sudden illness was something of a mystery and produced broad speculation.  The artist is a borderline diabetic, but he also takes a regiment of medications to stabilize the manic-depression.  It was feared that the medications that allowed him to live productively could prove fatal.   First reports indicated the problem was lithium poisoning..

Lithium is the prescription medication used to stabilize patients like Daniel who struggle with bi-polar disorder.  Daniel's behavioral episodes with the illness have resulted in a total of five years in mental institutions.  He has been living at home with his parents in Waller, Texas for fifteen years because new medications had stabilized his condition.

As recently as last week, family members were advised that Daniel would require long-term medical care and permanent dialysis for kidney failure.  But early this week that prognosis changed drastically and the artist is now at home with functioning kidneys and a renewed zeal for pursuing his songwriting and art.

Family members describe the episode as a serious infection that caused kidney failure and resulted in dangerous distortion of prescription medications in his system.   The infection proved to be highly resistant to antibiotics and prolonged the uncertainty of the cause and his recovery.

In the hospital, Daniel had a wall covered with cards, pictures, letters, and emails from supportive fans, which he reportedly packed up to take home with him on Friday.   "I didn't know where I was or how I got there," Daniel is reported to say after weeks of semi-conscious state.  "But this has happened to me plenty of times before".

This is a both a reference to memories of waking up in a mental institutions and that he sometimes wakes up in some part of the world performing on tour and is uncertain where he is, his brother explained.

On the ride home, Daniel was exuberant. "Hallelujah!  Freedom!  I feel like an escaped mental patient."

Sunday, December 11th, 2005 - WALLER, TX - Daniel Johnston is reported to remain in critical care eighteen days after emergency medical teams transported him to the Tomball Regional hospital in Waller, Texas.  Family members summoned emergency crews the day before Thanksgiving when the acclaimed songwriter / artist became incoherent and unable to stand.   His condition is now described as improved and stable, although he had been moved to another hospital and remains in critical care.

The Texas song-writer / artist was know for his lo-fidelity cassette recordings handed out in Austin in the 80's and bouts with mental illness that dogged his songwriting career.   Daniel acquired a respectable following around the world for his music and art, but increasing attention has been seen in just the last few years.

In 2004, Gammon Records released a tribute album "Discovered Covered - the Late Great Daniel Johnston", which had eighteen prominent artist cover Daniel's music, including Tom Waits, Beck, and The Eels.  

Then this year a major documentary film has made the rounds of film festivals, beginning with award-winning recognition at Sundance Film Festival in January.   "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" chronicles the songwriter's career and struggle with manic depression or bi-polar disorder.  It is slated for release by Sony Pictures Classic in March 2006.

Original reports on Mr. Johnston's condition said there was apparent lithium poisoning and an infection.   Lithium carbonate is the drug used to stabilize bi-polar patients.   Lithium levels must be monitored to assure they don't get too high.   Daniel's treatments were monitored monthly.

Subsequent statements mentioned infection, partial kidney failure, and possible lithium poisoning.  Rumors of brain damage or coma now appear unfounded since the artist is improved and speaking with family members.

Daniel's father, William Johnston, said Daniel was speaking and drinking coke through a straw, but would be in the hospital for several more weeks at least.   Asked if he would be home for Christmas, Daniel's father said, "That would be nice."

 

Friday, December 2nd, 2005 - WALLER, TX - Texas artist / singer / songwriter Daniel Johnston was admitted to Tomball Regional Medical Center in Tomball, Texas on November 23rd.  After ten days in the hospital, his condition is reported as stable but guarded.

Daniel Johnston appeared on the Austin music scene in the mid 80's, issuing his hand-made cassette tapes to any passers-by who would take them.   With this humble beginning and employed at the local McDonalds, Daniel produced his musical creations using whatever music making tools were around, and edged his way into the limelight.  This included an appearance on MTV's "The Cutting Edge" when they arrived in Austin in 1986.   His material was hailed as "genius" by locals, notable musicians and a growing circle of celebrities.

However his career suffered systematic setbacks.  In due course these were attributed to a struggle with mental illness.   Usually labeled "manic depressive" or "bi-polar", the musician / artist was subject to delusional states of high followed by overwhelming depression.   He alternately appeared or disappeared from the music scene and usually with some incident involving a brush with the law or the physical peril of friends or family.   The events only fueled the lore about this mysterious artist. 

But Daniel has paid a high price for his notoriety if because of his mental illness.   Daniel reported he has spent a total of over five years in mental institutions.

In the 90's, his condition stabilized and it appeared that modern medication enabled him to enjoy a period of freedom from depression or manic states.   In the last six years he released four albums and toured the US, Canada, Japan, and Europe.   Two other completed albums are said to have completed production and are awaiting release.

But now it seems the same medications that made Daniel stable may be at the root of his current illness.  His father reported last week that it could be lithium poisoning resulting from a partial kidney failure and a buildup of the prescription medications in his system.   Lithium is regarded as a miracle drug because of it's effect in helping various mental illnesses, but it can be lethal.

His hospitalization precedes the pending release of a major documentary on the cult artist, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston".  The film by director Jeff Feuerzeig chronicles the artist's struggle with mental illness and his tumultuous bouts with fame.  The director used astounding archival material and interviews with family and friends that captures major points of his life with reality-TV presence.  The film has already received awards at this year's Sundance film festival, and continued to show at festivals around the globe where it has received other awards.   Sony Pictures Classic has announced the official release of the feature-length film for March 31, 2006.   Tartan Film has also announced a March 2006 release of the film in the United Kingdom.

In 2004, Gammon Records orchestrated an astounding 2-CD tribute album where eighteen artists covered one of Daniel's songs, and the second CD contained the original recording by Daniel.  The artists performing Daniel's music include Jad Fair and Teen Age Fan Club, Clem Snide, M Ward, Calvin Johnson, T.V. on the Radio, and Tom Waits.  This music has made headway in the industry by commercial use, and by Beck's rendering of "True Love Will Find You In The End" that aired on Fox TV's "The O.C."

Covering Daniel's songs is apparently a popular passion, although it was probably championed in 1994 by another Austin, Texas music legend, songwriter / singer Kathy McCarty.   The 1994 album "Dead Dog's Eyeballs" was re-released this year by Bar-None records along with a new album of original songs by McCarty, "Another Day In The Sun."

Daniel's acclaim had long been predicted by a long list of supporters including well-known names like Davie Bowie, Yo La Tengo, Johnny Depp, Kurt Cobain, and Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons.

A strong fan base and Daniel's increasing renown in the industry has created something of a buzz about this hospitalization and the true condition of the overweight and reclusive 44 year old.   Rumors of brain damage and coma appear premature, and Daniel's father, Bill Johnston, says that neither term describes his state nor has he heard any such thing from any medical staff.

Speculation seems to be the order of the day as no clear word seems to be forthcoming.   "Daniel is physically safe, and we are working with doctors to return Daniel to a productive life," his brother Dick Johnston told us.  "The initial conclusion seems to be holding out", referring to the report of an infection and elevated lithium levels.

Daniel receives monthly monitoring of medication levels, and his daily regiment of medications is maintained based on those tests.  An imbalance can occur by sudden change in diet or drinking habits, and by liver or kidney failure.   Daniel had a high temperature shortly after admission last week, and a kidney infection could have triggered a build up of medications.   The infection and imbalances are now corrected and normal.

The wild speculation and a reported stalking of the celebrity by a fan at the hospital has prompted the family to be more restrained in their reports to the public.   As to a timetable for Daniel's return home, no one seemed prepared to predict.

 

 

Friday, November 25th, 2005 - WALLER, TX - Daniel Johnston was taken to the Tomball Regional Medical Center Wednesday by emergency medical vehicle. His family called for emergency help when the acclaimed artist and cult song-writer became incoherent and unable to walk.

His father, Bill Johnston - a WWII veteran "Flying Tigers" fighter pilot - noticed a problem with Daniel shaking in the morning and tested his blood sugar. Daniel is a borderline diabetic and receives extensive medication for treatment of manic depression. He is tested daily to control the blood-sugar levels.

His father found the sugar levels low that morning and gave him candy which seemed to improve things. When he had trouble rousing him from sleep late in the afternoon, Daniel was found to be incoherent with trembling arms and hands, unable to speak coherently or even to walk.Daniel was taken to the area hospital by emergency medical team and is in stable condition in the intensive care unit in Tomball, Texas.

"I thought he was dying," his mother told us.

"We're pretty sure at this point that this is lithium poisoning," his father concluded.

Lithium is the prescription medication used to stabilize patients like Daniel who have a history of mental illness. Daniel was diagnosed as manic-depressive or bi-polar, meaning that your body's chemical state is subject to imbalances resulting in extreme mood swings and even delusional states of mind.

Daniel Johnston gained notoriety in the early 80's first with his hand-made cassette tape albums.  It is these early cassette tapes that has caused some to title Daniel the "father of lo-fi" music.  His exposure grew after an MTV appearance and receiving "Songwriter of the Year" from the Austin Music Awards.  His bouts with success in his music career have always been un-raveled by his manic-depressive extremes, getting him in trouble with the law, and endangering friends and family members, including an incident where he caused the crash of their family plane in 1990.

After many such episodes, Daniel was mis-diagnosed and treated with sedating medications which contained the manic behavior. However, these medications left Daniel listless and unmotivated. Daniel has spent a total of over five years during the last 22 years as a patient in medical institutions.

In the late-1990's lithium carbonate and other medication adjustments brought Daniel to a stable and happy condition. He resumed touring and making albums, including the 1999 "Rejected Unknown" produced by Brian Beatty and "Fear Yourself" with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse in 2003.

Daniel made regular public appearances and participated in making of the feature length documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston". Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig and produced by Henry Rosenthal, the film received accolades at this year's Sundance Film Festival and at film festivals around the world throughout this year. Sony Pictures Classic has announced official release of the movie in March 2006.

In August of this year, Daniel's family made a last-minute decision to cancel over three weeks of performances in Europe when Daniel reported feeling depressed unlike anything he had experienced for the last six to eight years. "There was just no way to stay on top of it if Daniel could not get regular clinical attention," his father said.  The cancellation disappointed fans in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, and the UK.

There is still no official report on the causes of this episode, but his father speaks with seasoned assurance that it is the result of changes in eating and drinking habits that alter the levels of the medications that build up in the body. Daniel takes multiple prescription medications four times a day. The potentially lethal lithium medication is monitored by regular visits to the clinic to assure that they are high enough to be effective, but not so high as to be dangerous.

Daniel's father says that changes in eating and drinking habits can throw things out of balance quickly, and that Daniel is notorious for sneaking in foods that will affect his diabetes.

Compulsive eating habits are yet another trait of manic-depressives. Consumption of liquids - like soft drinks - can wash the medications out of his system to bring the levels down, or too much salt can cause retention and build-up of medication.

Maintaining safe and effective levels is a weary routine, but manageable, Daniel's father tells us. "But what can you do when he refuses to be concerned about the effects [of his eating compulsions or changes in eating habits]?" he explains.

Daniel is thought to be out of immediate danger, and this episode may dramatize what families living with mental illness experience somewhat routinely.

"This one was scary in a different way," his mother said. "It wasn't [his behavior] that was the problem, it was that he couldn't speak or stand up."
 

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