I seriously love the Ramones. I appreciate them not so much for their sound, songs, and energy but also for the lasting impact they have left on music. But as loved as they are, since all the original members have passed away, fans often want to know why are all the Ramones dead?
Here’s what I know, having seen them live (twice) and being a fan for decades:
While Ramones bassist DeeDee Ramone died from a drug overdose, the other original 3 members of the band, Joey, Johnny, and Tommy, all passed away from different forms of cancer. And, the stresses of being in the band may have contributed to that.
If you are just discovering the Ramones, you might be surprised to learn that all 4 of the original members are actually deceased.
The name lives on, but the original band of brothers has all passed away.
So, we know that, but what role did life on the road play in their health? And what about the decades-long rift between Johnny and Joey?
And what about the later members of the band, including drummer Marky who joined in 1978?
Let’s answer all the questions!
20 years ago today, Joey Ramone of the Ramones died at age 49. Now considered among rock’s all-time greats – inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. pic.twitter.com/IaslvZcVIH
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) April 16, 2021
Is Joey Ramone Dead?
Joey Ramone, otherwise known as Jeffrey Hyman, was the first of the original Ramones to pass away on April 15, 2001, from lymphatic cancer. He was only 49 years old.
Even though he had been battling lymphatic cancer for around six years, many fans had no idea that he was so ill. In hindsight, it’s obvious that when the band retired in 1996, it was because of Joey’s health issues.
Joey Ramone was the iconic frontman, the lead singer, and the image that springs to mind when you hear the name “the Ramones”.
Some fans refer to Joey as the soul of the band, and his unexpected death was a shock for many.
Joey Ramone had been sickly his entire life. He suffered from the inherited genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome, which showed itself in his impressively tall and gangly stature.
He was also born with a tumor that has been likened to a parasitic twin, which was removed when he was only a few weeks old.
Throughout his entire life, he was prone to infections and problems with his circulation.
“Johnny was the first guitar player I ever saw play like he was really mad. And I was like, ‘Damn. That’s cool.'” @henryrollins on Johnny Ramone.#JohnnyRamone#Ramones#JohnnyRamoneArmy pic.twitter.com/kQuX4CokuH
— Johnny Ramone (@johnnyramone) April 23, 2021
How Did Johnny Ramone Die?
On September 15, 2004, just shy of his 56th birthday, Johnny Ramone died after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. The cancer had metastasized into his bones, his lungs, and his bladder.
Johnny Ramone was born in 1949 as John Cummings in Long Island, New York.
By the time he was a teenager, he was learning the guitar and in 1974 had started playing with the group of friends that would come to be known as the Ramones.
Interestingly, Johnny Ramone was considered “straight edge” for pretty much his entire career.
He would famously go home immediately after shows and miraculously never got bogged down in the excesses of the era. Interestingly, he was also a staunch Republican and a huge supporter of Ronald Reagan.
It was really surprising for so many that he passed away so young.
Johnny Ramone gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine shortly before his death where he stated, “I’d like to feel better. But I’ve had a great run. I’ve done a lot of stuff and left a mark.”
Now that’s an understatement.
Today marks the 6th anniversary of the passing of The Ramones drummer, songwriter and producer Tommy Ramone, at the age of 65. 🌹 pic.twitter.com/m8MobBzQcs
— Purple Beacon (@BeaconPurple) July 11, 2020
How Did Tommy Ramone Die?
Tommy Ramone was the last of the original Ramones to pass away. He also succumbed to cancer, on July 11, 2014, from cancer in his bile duct located in his liver. He was 65.
Born to Jewish parents in 1949, Tamás Erdélyi immigrated with his family to the US in 1954.
Before joining the Ramones as their drummer, he was supposed to be their manager. He had worked as an engineer at Record Plant studios and had invaluable connections for recording an album and booking gigs.
As the band took shape, it was obvious that Joey Ramone – who was the original drummer – needed to concentrate on his singing.
This created the need for a drummer, which Tommy Ramone stepped in for.
He played drums on the iconic debut album, The Ramones, and also played on Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. He toured incessantly with the band for a few years.
But he opted to step away in 1978, completely exhausted by the schedule and conflict within the band. He was replaced by Marky Ramone who stayed with the band for most of their existence with a brief period out of the band due to issues with alcohol.
Tommy never fully broke up with the band though, and helped produce the albums Road to Ruin and Too Tough to Die.
Douglas Glenn Colvin
Dee Dee Ramone
1951.09.18. – 2002.06.05.#deedeeramone #MusicIsLife #Ramones #punksnotdead pic.twitter.com/s3OccaZ2T7
— Burai László (@Burai_L) September 18, 2020
How Did Dee Dee Ramone Die?
Dee Dee Ramone passed away on June 5, 2002, from an accidental heroin overdose at the age of 50. He had struggled with heroin addiction for most of his life.
He was undeniably the most hardcore member of the band, and his cause of death attests to that. Ironically, I had tickets to see him play the Saturday (in San Francisco) of the week he died.
A show that was never meant to be.
Born Douglas Colvin on September 18, 1952, Dee Dee was originally enlisted as the lead guitarist and singer but switched to bass when everyone realized that he couldn’t sing more than three songs without getting a hoarse voice.
Dee Dee has been described as the “archetypal f-up” and epitomized everything stereotypically punk.
He started doing drugs when he was just 12, dropped out of school, and at 15 started hitchhiking around the country before eventually making his way back to New York, where he met the rest of his future Ramone ¨brothers.¨
He was known for his intense personality and conflictive nature.
Legs McNeil, the founder of Punk Magazine, is quoted as saying, ¨… Dee Dee Ramone was a greatly disturbed person. I don’t think he had a peaceful day on the planet.¨
It seems only fitting that the one member of the Ramones who truly embodied punk in every sense would die surrounded by drug paraphernalia.
45 years ago, Ramones released their debut studio album. pic.twitter.com/sS3h73TG9J
— Rock N Roll Pictures (@RockNRollPics) April 23, 2021
Did an intense career lead to poor health for the members of the Ramones?
There’s no dispute that stress has been described as a “killer,” and the Ramones’ infighting and intense touring schedule coupled with leader Johnny Ramone’s military-style leading of the band doubtlessly contributed to everyone’s stress level.
A recent study found that “There appears little doubt that psychosocial determinants constitute an important risk factor for cancer”. They went on to define those “psychosocial determinants” as:
- Emotions like anxiety and anger
- Difficulty coping with stress
And they go on to determine that “there exists a cancer-prone (Type C) personality which succumbs more readily to cancer, and dies more quickly after contracting cancer, than other types of personality.”
But what were the stresses that plagued The Ramones?
For starters, there was the fact that they never really achieved the success they so craved and deserved. They played tirelessly for decades, and it was really only after their breakup in 1996 that the band really began to get the credit they deserved.
And arguably, they never got paid what they were worth.
Then there was the huge rift between singer Joey and guitarist and bandleader Johnny. The rift began when Johnny began seeing Joey’s girlfriend, Linda.
Linda eventually married Johnny, and they were together until the end, so obviously, they were meant to be.
But Joey never got over it, and the 2 didn’t speak hardly as all between 1984 and their deaths, and Johnny didn’t even attend Joey’s funeral. Despite that, Joey would send Johnny a Christmas card every year. But Johnny would throw them away every time.
And then there was their intense touring schedule.
The Ramones performed 2,263 concerts over 22 years. That averages 103 shows per year, or 1 concert every 3.5 days.
And bear in mind many of those shows were not done in lavish tour buses with countless roadies and assistants or with the band flying from gig to gig.
Many were done in vans, with the band being very hands-on.
Happy birthday to Marky Ramone!#MarkyRamone #Ramones #drummer #batterista #punkrock #americanpunk #punk #rocknroll #hardrock #punker #music #instarock #instamusic #picoftheday #urmitalia #universorockandmetal pic.twitter.com/FySSl8XZ0K
— Universo Rock & Metal (@URMwebzine) July 15, 2019
Are Any of the Ramones Alive?
There are actually three other Ramones who are alive and well and continue to work in the music industry; Marky Ramone, CJ Ramone, and Ritchie Ramone. Then there is also Elvis Ramone (Clem Burke from Blondie), who played a few shows with the band and is very much alive.
Drummer Marky Ramone played with the band from 1978 until 1983 when he was asked to leave due to heavy drinking.
In 1983, Ritchie Ramone took over the drum kit, playing until Marky’s return in 1987.
Marky played in the band together with another surviving member, CJ Ramone (who replaced Dee Dee on bass in 1989), until the Ramones retired in 1996.
Now, if we want to get technical, as I mentioned, there is a fourth surviving Ramone. Elvis, whose real name is Clem Burke of Blondie.
He was briefly Ramones’ drummer for two gigs in 1987. Interestingly, as he’s a great drummer, he was actually sacked because the Ramones didn’t think he could keep up rhythmically. But I guess he counts as well.
He’s also a heck of a nice guy as I had dinner with him once with his then-girlfriend Kathy Valentine of the Go-Gos.
So, what do you think now that you’ve learned why all the Ramones are dead?
Were you surprised, like me, that nearly all of them died from fairly normal, albeit unfortunate, natural causes?
It’s a shame that we can never look forward to a genuine Ramones reunion concert or comeback tour.
That being said, having seen them in 1980 and 1982, I can attest that recordings of later live performances were nowhere near as good as the early years. So I don’t think I would want a reunion show anyway.
But Marky and CJ both still play live, and their sets are heavy with Ramones songs. So that’s about as close as it gets.
With all of the original members gone, their expansive catalog of material enters into the realm of classic punk history.
It feels really cliche to say that their music lives on, but it does.
With musicians from every genre listing the Ramones as an inspiration to their sound, we can rest assured that the original Ramone’s legacy is a living one, showing up time and again where we least expect it.
Photos that require attribution:
the ramones by jame’s noname noname, Espaldera The Ramones by Sarri-Sarri distro & records, Johnny Ramone – Hollywood Forever Cemetary and Dee Dee Ramone – Hollywood Forever Cemetary both by Sean Russell, and Joey Ramone, Godfather of Punk Rock by Tony Fischer are licensed under CC2.0 and were cropped, edited, and merged.