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A family statement confirmed MacGowan died “peacefully at 3.30am this morning [November 30] with his wife and sister by his side,” and that prayers and the last rites were read during his passing.
MacGowan’s wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, shared her own separate statement via social media, writing: “Shane will always be the light that I hold before me, and the measure of my dreams, and the love of my life, and the most beautiful soul, and beautiful angel, and the sun and the moon, and the start and end of everything that I hold dear. I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him, and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him.”
MacGowan had been battling a lengthy period of ill-health. In December 2022, he was hospitalised with viral encephalitis, and spent several months of 2023 in intensive care as a result of it. Clarke revealed that he had left hospital on November 22, and that the pair had celebrated their wedding anniversary together a few days later.
Born in Kent to Irish immigrant parents, MacGowan formed The Pogues, initially known for two years as Pogue Mahone (the anglicisation of the Irish Gaelic póg mo thóin, which translates to ‘kiss my arse’), in 1982 together with Peter “Spider” Stacy, Jem Finer and James Fearnley. A number of additional musicians joined the lineup in the years that followed with The Pogues operating an ever-changeable lineup up to their breakup in 2014.
The group built a steady following playing gigs at London pubs and clubs through the first half of the 1980s, releasing their debut album, Red Roses For Me, in 1984. They reached wider attention after appearing on Channel 4’s flagship music show The Tube and enlisting Elvis Costello to produce their second album, 1985’s Rum Sodomy & The Lash. That record saw the band move away from recording cover versions to writing more original material, with MacGowan fully starting to show his poetic abilities as a songwriter.
Having initially refused to work on a third album, with the band functioning increasingly erratically towards the end of the ’80s, If I Should Fall From Grace With God eventually followed in 1988. It featured the band’s best-known hit, ‘Fairytale Of New York’, a duet with Kirsty MacColl which became a Christmas hit when it peaked at No.2 in the UK singles charts during the Christmas period.
Peace And Love followed in 1989, before the release of 1990’s Hell’s Ditch, which was the last to feature MacGowan as a member of the band. Battling ill-health due to struggles with drugs and alcohol, he was ultimately fired from the band in 1991 after failing to turn up for live shows during a tour of Japan.
He later spoke of hating the direction that the band had taken, telling The Telegraph in 1997 that he “didn’t like what we were playing any more,” and simply didn’t want to “knuckle under and become professional.”
Two albums released as Shane MacGowan and The Popes came out in the ’90s, marking his final full-length releases, before he joined a full reunion of The Pogues in 2001, which endured until 2014.
In 2018, MacGowan’s lyrics were honoured with an Ivor Novello songwriting inspiration award. Having grown up in an Irish republican family, his songwriting frequently explored Irish culture and nationalism, as well as the experiences of the Irish diaspora, particularly in England and the US.
MacGowan is survived by his wife, Clarke, as well as his sister, Siobhan, and father, Maurice.