Drugs, alcohol, violence
As a teenager, MacGowan got into drugs, particularly LSD, which affected his grip on reality and led him at 17 to a six-month stay at a psychiatric hospital. His loving but permissive parents did little to stop his drug use.
For most of the rest of his life, MacGowan drank large amounts of whatever alcohol happened to be near and consumed large amounts of illicit substances, including heroin. His famously self-destructive behavior led the author of a humorous 2000 book about Irish culture to call it “Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive?”
Even while almost constantly inebriated, he pumped out songs, which drew praise from fans and well-known musicians for their sound, imagery, detail, candor, comedy, and connection.
In his lyrics he often drew on his difficult life, which included illness, inebriation, street beatings, and, as a young man, dabbling in male prostitution.
His friends found him good company but also maddening, with sudden mood swings.
“I can be tender. But there’s a lot of psychotic hatred coming out of me as well,” he told an interviewer.
MacGowan’s faith wasn’t doctrinaire. He explored Eastern religions and philosophies, and he called himself a “free-thinking Catholic.”
But he felt a strong connection to the Church.
“The Sacred Heart of Jesus and a statue of Mary holding Jesus have pride of place on the mantelpiece of his flat in Dublin to this day and he wears a crucifix around his neck,” his biographer wrote in 2021.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
MacGowan’s songs explored degradation and violence, but often with humor and a hint of redemption.
“Lorca’s Novena,” for instance, on the 1990 Pogues album “Hell’s Ditch,” includes a gruesome murder but also a suggestion of resurrection, linked to women in a nearby chapel praying “Mother of all our joys / Mother of all our sorrows / Intercede with him tonight / For all of our tomorrows.”
MacGowan had been in declining health for years. A 2015 fall fractured his pelvis and left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. The time in the hospital helped him stop using heroin, but he continued to drink alcohol.
In 2018 he married his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke, who took care of him in his declining years.
He spent most of the last four months of his life in a hospital.
Clarke, MacGowan’s younger sister Siobhan, and their father (in his 90s) were at MacGowan’s side when he died at a hospital in Dublin, according to the family’s written statement.