Ian Curtis was exuberant. His band Joy Division had the wind at their backs and were days away from their first North American tour. On the evening of May 16, 1980, they had a superb rehearsal and crammed into bassist Peter Hook’s car to drop off Curtis at his parents’ house in Failsworth, England. As Hook remembered 32 years later, the boys were on top of the world — especially their legendarily scowly lead singer.
“We were laughing and joking… one of us would go, ‘I can’t believe we’re fucking going to America!’ We were screaming in the car, jumping up and down on the seats, properly shouting, whooping, hollering: ‘Yeah! America!’” Hook wrote in his 2012 memoir Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. “I drove [Ian] home that Friday night and he was cock-a-hoop, full of it.” Curtis exited the vehicle outside his house a quarter of a mile from Hook’s. It was the last time Hook ever saw his bandmate and friend.
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
On Saturday morning, things took a despondent turn. As Hook wrote, Curtis received a letter about his impending divorce proceedings from his wife Deborah. Curtis canceled a water-skiing trip with guitarist Bernard Sumner, and that night, Deborah dropped by Ian’s house to find him drinking whiskey and coffee after watching Stroszek, Werner Herzog’s film about a European émigré to America who kills himself rather than choose between two women.
Deborah offered to stay the night, worried that Curtis, an epilepsy sufferer, would have a fit, but he asked her to leave instead. After listening to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on repeat, he hanged himself to death on a kitchen clothes rack in the early hours of Sunday morning. He was two months shy of his 24th birthday.
Accounts from those close to Curtis vary on his state of mind in the last few weeks of his life. “The week before, we went and bought all these new clothes; he was really happy,” Factory Records co-owner Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. On the other hand, Curtis reportedly told Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge that he’d “rather die” than go on tour. (“Maybe he did say that, but not to us he didn’t,” Hook explained in his book. “No way. With us, Ian was bang into the idea.”)