Tom Verlaine, the lead singer of rock band Television, whose songwriting and instrumental expertise went on to leave a lasting influence on the punk rock scene, died Saturday at the age of 73.
Verlaine died “after a brief illness,” according to Jesse Paris Smith, the daughter of musician Patti Smith, who announced Verlaine’s death.
Verlaine formed the band in the 1970s alongside Richard Hell, who he had met in school as a teen. The group released two albums—their debut Marquee Moon in 1977 and Adventure in 1978—before disbanding, though Verlaine went on to release several solo albums, and his inventive style left an indelible imprint on future generations.
“He was my guitar hero at a time when I needed one most,” Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate said in a statement late Saturday. “I spent the entire year of 1981 practicing daily to Marquee Moon. … Such an immeasurable influence on me and, of course, on so many of fellow guitarist friends.”
Indie rock band Real Estate tweeted that “this band would probably exist – but would surely not sound the way it does without Tom Verlaine.”
Numerous other artists paid tribute to the music legend on social media.
Born Thomas Miller in Danville, New Jersey, in 1949, the guitar icon actually got his start in music playing the piano and saxophone. He admitted in a 2001 interview with Mojo that he’d initially seen the guitar as a “stupid instrument”—until hearing the Rolling Stones “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
It was not long after he’d taken up the guitar that he met his would-be bandmate Richard Hell, then known as Richard Meyers, at a Wilmington boarding school in 1966. A few years later, he adopted the name Tom Verlaine, in honor of a 19th-century French poet, and Television soon developed a cult following with shows at the legendary NYC punk rock venue CBGB.
Patti Smith, in an early review of the band, wrote that Verlaine, “plays lead guitar with angular inverted passion like a thousand bluebirds screaming.”
Despite the fame Verlaine gained throughout his career, he made clear he was in it for the music and not the spotlight.
“I like thinking of myself as invisible. I find it a very advantageous way to live,” he said in the 2001 interview.