It’s been 42 years since Ian Curtis, the frontman of the legendary post-punk rock band Joy Division, committed suicide.
Curtis died on May 18, 1980, after battling epilepsy and depression. He is only 23 years old.
In the years since his death, Curtis’ bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris have been trying to raise awareness about suicide prevention through the music of the New Order — their band’s later reincarnation — and now to pay tribute to his life.
Both gave CNN interviews to discuss their friend’s legacy and reflect on signs that they didn’t notice his struggles.
According to Sumner, Curtis’s lyrics partly reflect his real-life pain — pain that isn’t always visible.
“The problem is there are two characters, Ian who hangs out with us and has a good laugh and a good time. And then there are the characters through his lyrics who, you know, polarize, really, two that don’t add up, which is confusing,” Sumner said.
Morris said he regretted that he only understood the significance of what Curtis had written after his death.
“Ian’s lyrics are great, you’re lucky someone has written such wonderful lyrics, but we thought, ‘It’s really smart, he’s writing someone else, and it’s great that he can get into another person’s head.’ And then after he dies, you look at it and think, ‘Oh, it’s all about him,'” he said.
At the end of his life, Morris and Sumner said they tried to use music to help Curtis because they started noticing that he was struggling.
“We wrote two songs, I think, two weeks before Ian died, trying to heal him through music,” Sumner said.
Sumner said one of the songs was “Ritual,” describing it as their attempt to get Curtis “to be in the band and in the music and to remind him…he has a great future.”
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work,” Sumner added.
The New Order still plays the song to celebrate Curtis.
Morris and Sumner attended an event at the British Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday to honour Curtis and work with charity Against Miserable Lives (CALM) to promote mental health.
Sumner said the band hopes to raise public awareness and help increase funding for mental health, especially for young people.
In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, killing 18 people a day, according to CALM.
“Anything you can do to stop people from committing suicide has to be a good thing,” Morris said, describing the mental health challenges facing young people as a “crisis”.
Despite the numbers, Morris said there is an increased awareness of mental health struggles today compared to when Curtis died.
“In the ’70s, there was a stigma that you didn’t want to admit there was something wrong with you. You were really manly…to say you had a problem was a sign of weakness.”
“Especially with young people, you should be able to talk about issues like this, which is one of the big things about mental health these days, and young people are becoming more aware of it,” Morris said.
While Sumner and Morris regret the untimely death of their friend, they say Curtis has achieved the kind of lasting impact he desired while he was alive.
“He was like an arrow going to the target, and the goal was to make a mark on the music, and he did that,” Sumner said.
Morris said Ian Curtis’ ultimate legacy is that the band’s music has helped people around the world.
“When you get people to come up to you and say, ‘I just want to thank Joy Division for the music because it really helped me through some tough times,’ it shows that there must be something in the music and the lyrics that people like that can be Agree,” he said.