Ian Curtis suicide at 23

A Young Man’s Brief Dance of Death

Ian Curtis spoke to a young generation who suffered their own “desolation, emptiness and alienation.”

Room full of people, room for just one,
If I can’t break out now, the time just won’t come.

— Ian Curtis, ‘Something Must Break’

“It wasn’t until after his death that we really listened to Ian’s lyrics and clearly heard the inner turmoil in them.”
—Bernard Sumner, Joy Division guitarist

Ian Curtis suicide at 23

Ian Curtis was a songwriter with the soul of a poet. The lead singer and lyricist of the post-punk band Joy Division. 

He recorded two albums with the group, Unknown Pleasures in 1979 and Closer in 1980. He had all the talent to be a huge star. But fate’s big strike against him was that he had epilepsy.

Several times during concerts he collapsed from epileptic seizures and had to be carried off the stage.

Ian Curtis suicide at 23

His songs were cries for help that touched the souls of his fans who suffered their own “desolation, emptiness and alienation.”

In 1975, Curtis married Deborah Woodruff. He was 19 and she was 18. They had a daughter, Natalie.

Ian Curtis suicide at 23
Ian, Deborah and baby

But as the lives of rock musicians go, Ian began an affair with a Belgian journalist Annik Honoré.

Deborah found out about it and in 1980 filed for divorce.

Annik Honoré

On the evening of May 17, 1980, Ian told the band’s guitarist, Bernard Sumner, that he had to see his wife that night. Ian and Bernard also discussed meeting the rest of the band at Manchester Airport the following day to begin their first American tour, a tour that deeply concerned him.  He had told Deborah he feared American audiences would mock his epilepsy.

When he was with Deborah later that night, he asked her to drop the divorce proceedings. Knowing he was upset and remembering an earlier suicide attempt she offered to spend the night with him.


But he said he needed to be alone, telling her he would drop by her house the next morning on his way to taking off for America.

That night he listened to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album The Idiot, and watched Werner Herzog’s 1977 film Stroszek about a musician who moves to America, is betrayed by his girlfriend and ends up killing himself.

In the early hours of the next morning, May 18, he wound a rope around his neck and hanged himself. He was 23.

He left a note to Deborah, declaring his love for her. She wrote about it in her biography, Touching from a Distance.

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