Guitarist Keith Levene, Founding Member of The Clash, Dies Aged 65

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Levene’s partner, Kate Ransford, who, with his sister, Jill Bennett, and her husband was with him in his final hours, said he had died “peacefully, settled, cosy and loved”. The family has asked for privacy.

Keith Levene, a founding member of The Clash and later guitarist for Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65.

Levene, who had liver cancer, died at his home in Norfolk on Friday, leaving behind a lasting legacy of influence on British rock music.

Levene founded The Clash in the 1970s with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon at the age of 18. He remained in the band long enough to appear in early gigs and to contribute to songs, including What’s My Name, on their 1977 debut album.

During his time with them, he played a central role in persuading frontman Joe Strummer to leave his then-band, The 101ers, and join The Clash.

Growing apart from the Clash’s increasingly political direction, he left before they became successful, going on to greater success with Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk band set up by John Lydon after he left the Sex Pistols.

While with PiL, Levene, born Julian Levene in Muswell Hill, north London, is credited with helping to pioneer an angular post-punk sound that is still regularly cited.

Their first album, Public Image: First Issue, reached No 22 in 1978 and was preceded by the classic single Public Image, which reached the Top 10. Their second album, 1979’s Metal Box, is regarded as a post-punk classic. With various drummers, the lineup took inventive new forms of post-punk, dub, freeform jazz and classical music into the Top 20.

Levene said in 2012, “People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks. I knew the E chord and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon. He was very hip at the time and did really good work.”

The guitarist left PiL in 1983, before the band’s wave of success in the mid-1980s that saw them return twice to the top 10, but continued co-writing with the band.

He then moved to Los Angeles and in his later career worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a number of hip-hop acts.

Levene’s close friend, Author Adam Hammond, said the guitarist had been living with liver cancer for two years, but his death had been unexpected.

“He had so many plans, there were so many things he was doing,” the writer said.

Levene had just completed a book about PiL, co-written with Hammond, and had been working on music to accompany it.

Hammond, paying an emotional tribute to his friend, tweeted: “There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious, and influential guitarists of all time. Keith sought to create a new paradigm in music and with willing collaborators, John Lydon and Jah Wobble, succeeded in doing just that.

“His guitar work over the nine minutes of Theme, the first track on the first PiL album, defined what alternative music should be.”