Say what you like about Tony Wilson, he was no sentimentalist. “Do I have any problem with any of Happy Mondays dying on me?” he said to The Face in 1989, at the height of Madchester-mania. “I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with any of these guys dying on me! Listen, Ian Curtis dying on me was the greatest thing that’s happened to my life. Death sells!”
The U.K.’s most outrageous music impresario died today of a heart attack, at the age of 57, after a battle with kidney cancer. He founded Factory Records, making legends out of Manchester bands like Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and A Certain Ratio. His club, the Hacienda, was one of the crucibles of rave culture. His gloriously self-aggrandizing life story became 24 Hour Party People, one of the best rock movies ever made, with Steve Coogan playing Wilson; in the climactic scene, Wilson sees God, who says, “Tony, you did a good job. It’s a pity you didn’t sign the Smiths, but you were right about Mick Hucknall.” Just a few months ago, Wilson showed up onstage at the Coachella Festival, introducing the Mondays, and got bigger cheers than the band did. He’ll always be remembered as a wild character who also doubled as a musical visionary. Here’s a clip of his surprise Coachella appearance from April, with the expats in the crowd yelling “Foookin’ Tony Wilson!” in delight. This man did not walk away in silence.