Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist for legendary New York Dolls, dead at age 69

Larry McShane, New York Daily News on

Published in Entertainment News

Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, a founding member of the seminal punk band New York Dolls, has died after a battle with cancer, his wife announced. The Egyptian-born rocker was 69.

Sylvain was diagnosed with cancer 2 1/2 years ago and died Wednesday, according to a Facebook post from spouse Wendy Mizrahi. He was one of the five original members when the Dolls launched in 1971, joined by singer David Johansen, fellow guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Billy Murcia.

The quintet quickly became one of the most prominent and influential bands in the city’s nascent punk movement before imploding in 1976.

“My best friend for so many years,” wrote Johansen on Instagram. “I can still remember the first time I saw him bop into the rehearsal space/bicycle shop with his carpetbag and guitar straight from the plane after having been deported from Amsterdam. I instantly loved him. I’m gonna miss you old pal. I’ll keep the home fires burning.”

The self-titled debut album by the Dolls, with the band in drag on its cover, included the classic “Personality Crisis” and the pop-rock track “Trash.” Rolling Stone magazine cited the LP as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Though the band never managed a hit and disappeared after five tumultuous years, the influence of the Dolls was undeniable. Bands like Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, The Smiths and KISS were among the groups reflecting the sound and style of the Lower East Side quintet.


It was Sylvain who came up with the band’s name after spying a Manhattan doll-repair shop named the New York Doll Hospital.

“His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision,” wrote musician and rock historian Lenny Kaye, a guitarist in Patti Smith’s band.

“Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.”

Sylvain and Johansen reformed the band in 2004, subsequently releasing three new albums and touring. Johansen now remains the sole surviving member of the legendary group.

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