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Johnny Ramone Has Cancer

Guitarist was diagnosed four years ago

June 16, 2004 12:00 AM ET
Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone is in a Los Angeles hospital battling prostate cancer, according to his longtime bandmate, drummer Marky Ramone. "Johnny's been a champ in confronting this, but at this point I think the chances are slim," says Marky, who joined the Ramones in 1977 when Tommy Ramone left the band.

"John never smoked cigarettes, he wasn't a heavy drinker and he was always into his health," Marky continues. "It just proves when cancer seeks a body to penetrate, it doesn't matter how healthy you are or how unhealthy you are. It just seeps in and there's nothing you can do."

The fifty-five-year-old guitarist, born John Cummings, first learned of his condition four years ago and has undergone extensive chemotherapy.

"I've been getting so much email from people and from papers and magazines wanting to know what was up I had to take it upon myself to say something, because eventually John won't be in any condition to say or do anything," Marky says. "He went through many chemotherapy treatments. Some of it worked better than others. At this point [the cancer] has started to go into other areas of the body."

Widely acknowledged as the world's first punk band, the Ramones have lost two members in the last three years, with singer Joey Ramone's death in 2001 of lymphatic cancer and bassist Dee Dee Ramone's death from a drug overdose the following year.

Johnny Ramone retired from music following the Ramones' final tour in 1996, and, after more than two decades spent on the road, the Ramones leader felt little temptation to continue playing.

"I was ninety-nine percent sure I was not going to come back and play," Johnny told Rolling Stone in 2001. "I was always open, but I didn't want to go back on tour under any circumstances. If they could have come up with an offer that I couldn't refuse for one week of jobs, somewhere in the world, I would have thought about it."

Despite a poor prognosis, Johnny remains upbeat. "He seemed in good spirits the last time I saw him," says Marky. "He was talking about the positive things the Ramones accomplished: getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [in 2002], how our music is being accepted at this point. It put a smile on his face. Knowing John, he'll fight this horrible disease to the end. Everybody is wishing the best and hoping the best. We'll stand by him."

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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