Daniel Johnston’s enduring muse was Laurie Allen, a woman he met in an art class. One song he wrote about her, “Laurie,” found him singing, “Once I saw the most beautiful girl sitting next to me/I asked her what was her name, she said it was ‘Laurie,'” over a strummed acoustic guitar. Even after they fell out of touch, he still pined and wrote songs about her, and in a rare bonus scene from the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, they reconnected more than 25 years later.
In the clip, Allen tells the crowd at the 2005 South by Southwest festival that she was moved by Johnston’s affection for her, though she wasn’t aware he had written what’s thought to be hundreds of songs about her. “He always made me feel good about myself and the lousy art that I did,” she told the crowd. “I would say, ‘Everybody else’s is great.’ He’d say, ‘No, so is yours.’ He never did anything but draw in my notebooks, follow me around, and sing, and tell me he was going to be famous someday.” She said she saved everything he ever gave her.
“Daniel didn’t know she was going to be there,” the doc’s director, Jeff Feuerzeig, tells Rolling Stone. “During the Q&A, Daniel was freaked out. He ran out the back of the theater, and I think he was quoted as saying, ‘That can’t be her.’ He went running down the streets of Austin and disappeared for an hour and then he was found later at a Schlotzky’s deli. That’s when the after-party at this art gallery began. We were upset because we didn’t want to upset Daniel in that way. It was supposed to be a beautiful surprise because he had asked for her.”
Later, Johnston went to the party and he and Allen saw each other for the first time in 26 years. With cameras rolling, they gave each other multiple hugs and Allen was visibly moved. She said she couldn’t believe the footage Johnston had captured of her, as shown in the film, so many years earlier. “I was so moved [by the film], weren’t you?” she asked him, fixing his hair and hugging him.
The documentary features grainy film of Allen smiling at his camera. “She inspired a thousand songs,” Johnston said in the doc. “And then I knew I was an artist.” When it was released, the documentary won the Critics Awards at the NatFilm Festival and Feuerzeig won the directing award at Sundance.
“What are you gonna do next?” she asked Johnston in the clip.
“Let’s get married,” he said to laughter.
After Allen praised both the film and Johnston’s health status, he told her that he was really lost when he was in the mental hospital. “Once I got out [of the hospital], I made sure I didn’t get back in,” he said. “I love you, Laurie. I always will. I won’t let you go.”
It was a meaningful moment that meant a lot to the singer. “He thanked me and [producer] Henry [Rosenthal] profusely,” Feuerzeig says. “It was one of the greatest things in his life, like a dream come true to get reunited with Laurie.”
So did Johnston and Allen keep in touch after that? “I don’t believe that they ever saw each other again,” Feuerzeig says now. “Daniel didn’t have email, Daniel didn’t have a phone, so I don’t know how they would have kept in touch. I think that was the culmination of that relationship.”