Ian Curtis

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Ian Kevin Curtis (July 15, 1956 – May 18, 1980

Lead singer of Joy Division till his suicide at 23

Ian Kevin Curtis (July 15, 1956 – May 18, 1980) was the vocalist, lyricist and occasional guitarist of the band Joy Division, which he helped form in 1977 in Manchester, England.

Curtis was born in the Memorial Hospital, Old Trafford, Manchester, in 1956. He grew up in the Hurdsfield area of Macclesfield. It was apparent from a young age that Curtis was a talented poet and songwriter. Although being awarded a scholarship to attend the The King's School, Macclesfield at the age of 11, Curtis was never interested in pursuing academic success as his ambitions and hopes lay in the music industry. His passion for music led him to work in a record shop for a short time. Curtis also worked as a civil servant in Manchester and later, Macclesfield.

Curtis's fate was said to have been set after attending a Sex Pistols concert in 1976, where he convinced himself his destiny lay as a performer rather than just a fan. One thing led to another and Curtis got to know a young Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. Sumner and Hook told Curtis that they were trying to form a band and he simultaneously put himself forward as a vocalist and lyricist, an offer they accepted. The three of them recruited (and sacked) a succession of drummers before settling on Stephen Morris as their final member. The band was called Warsaw for a short while before changing their name to Joy Division in 1978 due to conflicts with the name of another band. Curtis's persistence is said to have eventually secured the band a record deal with Tony Wilson's now legendary Factory Records. He convinced Wilson to allow them to perform "Shadowplay" on his television show and after setting up Factory Records with Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson signed the band to his label.

While performing for Joy Division, Curtis developed a unique dancing style reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage. The resemblance was such that audience members were occasionally uncertain whether he was dancing or having a seizure. He sometimes collapsed and had to be helped off stage as his health suffered due to Joy Division's intense touring.

Many of the songs he wrote were filled with images of emotional pain, death, violence, alienation and urban degeneration. These recurring subjects led fans and Curtis's wife, Deborah, to believe he was singing about his own life. Curtis once commented in an interview that he wrote about "the different ways different people can cope with certain problems and how they can adapt." He sang in an eerie bass-baritone voice, which made him sound much older than he actually was.

Curtis was greatly influenced by the writers William Burroughs, J G Ballard and Joseph Conrad. (the song titles "Interzone", "Atrocity Exhibition" and "Colony" coming from the three authors respectively), and by the singers Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Curtis's last live performance on May 2, 1980 at Birmingham University was held in the same month as his death and included Joy Division's first and last performance of the song "Ceremony", which was later used by New Order. The last song Curtis ever performed in front of an audience was "Digital". The recording of this performance can be found on the compilation album Still.

The effects of his epilepsy and personal problems, such as an impending divorce from his wife, may have contributed to Curtis's suicide by hanging at the age of 23. According to the book Touching From A Distance, Curtis had taken an overdose of his epilepsy medication and ended up in hospital only a few months before his death. The overdose was believed to be a 'cry for help' but Curtis himself was said to have told his bandmates that he hadn't meant to overdose. The book states that Bernard Sumner took him to a graveyard after he had left hospital to show him where he would have ended up had the overdose killed him. The night Curtis died, days before Joy Division was to begin its first American tour, he watched one of his favourite movies, Stroszek by Werner Herzog. He later hanged himself in his kitchen while reportedly listening to Iggy Pop's The Idiot. On top of the LP cover was a small cut out photograph of a grey sky taken by artist David Horvitz. Curtis's viewing and listening choices continue to generate speculation as to the true reasons why he took his life. Some commentators hold that he simply wished to die young, being "in love with the myth of the rock'n'roll star who dies young".

Curtis was cremated and his ashes were buried in Macclesfield, with the inscription on his memorial stone reading, "Love Will Tear Us Apart". The epitaph, chosen by Deborah Curtis, is a reference to Joy Division's best-known song.

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