Sad news for the rock community today, as it’s been revealed that Sylvain Sylvain, the guitarist and pianist for seminal glam rockers New York Dolls, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 69 years old.
Sylvain’s death was announced on a post via his Facebook page, which read as follows:
“Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi
“Rest In Peace
“February 14, 1951 ~ January 13, 2021
“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years. Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way.”
Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi
Rest In Peace
February 14, 1951 ~ January 13, 2021
As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer…
For many, New York Dolls were the defining act in underground music. Their mixture of gender-bending glamor and sleazy, strung-out proto-punk made their albums some of the most creatively fertile to ever emerge out of New York City’s strange, grimy underground during the harrowing ’70s. Sylvain’s guitar tone and piano work were a huge part of that, lending a confrontational edge to their music. Without him, the ’80s hair metal movement as we know it might not exist.
Lenny Kaye, rock journalist and longtime guitarist for Patti Smith, penned a tribute to Sylvain, which can be read below.
“SYL: An Appreciation
“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.
“Syl loved rock and roll. His onstage joy, his radiant smile as he chopped at his guitar, revealed the sense of wonder he must have felt at the age of 10, emigrating from his native Cairo with his family in 1961, the ship pulling into New York Harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
“It was he who looked across Lexington Ave. and saw the sign for the New York Doll hospital. Syl and a high school friend, Billy Murcia, were in the rag trade then, the aptly named Truth and Soul, handknit sweaters with a side of rockattitude. Hooking up with another classmate, John Genzale, and then, as bands will, Arthur Kane, and David Johansen, and Jerry Nolan, they became a quasar in the rock firmament; embodying trash, glam, garage-to-punk, the ambisexual affirmation of music played louder.
“His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision. Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.
“The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to. From the time I first saw their poster appear on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, advertising a residency at the Mercer Hotel up the street, throughout their meteoric ascent and shooting star flame-out, the New York Dolls were the heated core of this music we hail, the band that makes you want to form a band.
“Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he was welcomed all over the world, from England to Japan, but most of all the rock dens of New York City, which is where I caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Bowery Electric. Still Syl. 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.”
Everyone at The Pit sends their heart out to Sylvain’s family, friends, fans and collaborators during this difficult time.
Words by Chris Krovatin