Forty years ago, on May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis, the charismatic and deeply troubled frontman of the legendary Mancunian post-punk outfit Joy Division, took his life at age 23. Struggling with the dissolution of his young marriage, new fatherhood, an extramarital emotional affair with Belgian journalist Annik Honoré, and, most of all, his increasingly uncontrollable epilepsy, he hanged himself on the eve of what was supposed to be Joy Division’s first North American tour. His suicide note read, “At this very moment, I wish I were dead. I just can’t cope anymore.”
Curtis left behind a legacy as a tragic cult figure that influenced countless alternative-rock acts. He also left his guilt-ridden bandmates behind to pick up the pieces. They carried on as the arguably equally influential and much more commercially successful New Order — but forever wondered what might have been, and what they could have done.
“With the making of [Joy Division’s sophomore album] Closer, Ian’s illness was degenerative, and it was getting worse,” the band’s bassist, Peter Hook, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “The big problem with Ian was … he was very empathic to other people. He would go out of his way to make sure you felt all right about what he was suffering. … Ian worked very, very hard and was still suffering grand mals right the way through [the recording sessions for Closer]. He managed to hide it from his parents, from the doctors that he was being treated by. The guy wanted success. He wanted to achieve what he felt we deserved. And he hid [his epilepsy]. That was the problem. He would never let you know how poorly he was, so you were in ignorance. Even when you were picking him up off the floor when he smashed his head open on the sink or the toilet, he’d just get up. He’d never stop.
“Suicide of a very close friend or family member always leaves you with the guilt,” Hook continues solemnly. “And that’s the beauty of suicide, isn’t it? It’s not them worrying afterwards. It’s everybody else saying who, when, or why, or ‘Did I do enough?’ I’ve had enough of that in my life to realize that people who are left behind are the ones that suffer. But it was a great LP, and I think one of my greatest regrets when we finished with Joy Division and moved on to New Order was that we never got to play Closer. … It was heartbreaking to put it all away and never promote Closer, never promote [the single] ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ put it in a box, put it in the back of the cupboard. And we went off to New Order.”