Tom Verlaine, the legendary guitarist, songwriter, and frontman of Television, has died. The news was confirmed by Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of Patti Smith, who said he died following a “brief illness” on Saturday. “He died peacefully in New York City, surrounded by close friends,” Smith wrote. “His vision and his imagination will be missed.” Verlaine was 73 years old.
Born Thomas Miller in Denville, New Jersey in 1949, Verlaine grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, where he moved with his family at the age of six. He was trained as a classical pianist before switching to saxophone and eventually took up guitar after being inspired by the Rolling Stones’ ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’. During high school, he became friends with Richard Meyers, who would later adopt the stage name Richard Hell, and the two ran off and eventually settled in New York City at the dawn of punk. It was that there that Miller changed his last name, a reference to the French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.
In 1972, Verlaine and Hell formed a band called The Neon Boys with drummer Billy Ficca. Within a year, they rebranded themselves as Television after recruiting guitarist Richard Lloyd, and spent the next couple of years honing their sound at downtown clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. Hell left the band in 1975 and was replaced by Fred Smith, and the group released their debut album, 1977’s classic Marquee Moon, via Elektra. They followed it up with the more reflective Adventure in 1978 before disbanding that same year, though they reunited in 1992 for a self-titled album.
After Television broke up, Verlaine would embark on a fruitful solo career, releasing his eponymous debut in 1979. He released a total of ten studio albums, including 1981’s Dreamtime, 1982’s Words from the Front, and 1984’s Cover. He also collaborated with a number of artists, including his one-time girlfriend Patti Smith, contributing to her albums Horses (1975), Gone Again (1996), Gung Ho (2000), and Banga (2012).
Verlaine was part of the supergroup the Million Dollar Bashers, which featured Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, guitarist Smokey Hormel, and keyboardist John Medeski. In the mid-’90s, sessions Verlaine produced for Jeff Buckley were scrapped, although the material was later released as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. In 2012, Verlaine worked with Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha on his second solo LP, Look to the Sky.
Countless artists have paid tribute to Verlaine in the wake of his death, including Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Flea, Jason Isbell, Real Estate, Ryley Walker, and the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, among others.
“I have lost a hero,” Michael Stipe wrote. “Bless you Tom Verlaine for the songs, the lyrics, the voice! And later, the laughs, the inspiration, the stories, and the rigorous belief that music and art can alter and change matter, lives, experience. You introduced me to a world that flipped my life upside down. I am forever grateful.”
“This is a time when all seemed possible,” Patti Smith wrote in a tribute on Instagram, where she posted a photo of her and Verlaine. “Farewell Tom, aloft the Omega.”