Ian Curtis (Ian Kevin Curtis)

Ian Curtis

Curtis was born at the Memorial Hospital in Stretford, Lancashire. He grew up in Macclesfield in Cheshire, and from an early age he exhibited talent as a poet. He was awarded a scholarship at the age of 11 by the King’s School, Macclesfield. Despite this, he was not a dedicated pupil and did not further his education beyond O-level.  After leaving school, Curtis focused on the pursuit of art, literature and music. He was employed in a variety of jobs, including being a civil servant in Manchester and, later, Macclesfield.  On 23 August 1975, Curtis married a school friend, Deborah Woodruff at St Thomas’ Church, Henbury. He was 19 and she was 18. Their daughter Natalie was born on 16 April 1979. She is a photographer.  In 1976 at a Sex Pistols gig, Curtis met Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. They were trying to form a band, and Curtis immediately proposed himself as vocalist and lyricist. The trio then unsuccessfully recruited several drummers before selecting Stephen Morris as their final member.

Initially, the band was called Warsaw, but as their name conflicted with that of another group, Warsaw Pakt, the name was changed to Joy Division. The moniker was derived from a 1955 novel The House of Dolls, which featured a Nazi concentration camp with a sexual slavery wing called the “Joy Division”. The cover of the band’s first EP depicted a drawing of a Hitler Youth beating a drum and the A-side contained a song “Warsaw” which was a musical retelling of the life of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess.  After starting Factory Records with Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson signed the band to his label following the band’s appearance on Wilson’s Something Else television programme, itself prompted by an abusive letter sent to Wilson by Curtis.  While performing for Joy Division, Curtis became known for his quiet and awkward demeanour, as well as a unique dancing style reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage. There were several incidents when he collapsed and had to be helped off stage. Although predominantly a vocalist, Curtis also played guitar on a handful of tracks (usually when Sumner was playing synthesizer; “Incubation” and a Peel session version of “Transmission” were rare instances when both played guitar). At first Curtis played Sumner’s Shergold Masquerader, but in September 1979 he acquired his own guitar, a Vox Phantom Special VI (often described incorrectly as a Teardrop or ordinary Phantom model) which had many built-in effects used both live and in studio. After Curtis’s death, Sumner inherited the guitar and used it in several early New Order songs, such as “Everything’s Gone Green”.

Curtis’s last live performance was on 2 May 1980, at High Hall of Birmingham University, a show that included Joy Division’s first and only performance of “Ceremony”, later recorded by New Order and released as their first single. The last song Curtis performed on stage was “Digital”. The recording of this performance is on the Still album.  As described in Deborah Curtis’s Touching from a Distance, Curtis was staying at his parents’ house at this time and attempted to talk his wife into staying with him on 17 May 1980, to no avail. He told her to leave him alone in the house until he caught his train to Manchester the next morning. In the early hours of 18 May 1980, Curtis hanged himself in the kitchen of his house at 77 Barton Street, Macclesfield, at age 23. He had just viewed Werner Herzog’s film Stroszek and listened to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot. At the time of his death, his health was failing as a result of the epilepsy and, attempting to balance his musical ambitions with his marriage, which was foundering in the aftermath of his close relationship with journalist Annik Honoré (who in 2010 stated it was not an “affair” and merely a close and platonic relationship). His wife found Ian’s body the next morning; he had used the kitchen’s washing line to hang himself. Deborah claimed later that he had confided to her on several occasions that he had no desire to live past his 20s. Curtis was cremated at Macclesfield Crematorium and his ashes were buried. His memorial stone, inscribed with “Ian Curtis 18 – 5 – 80” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, was stolen in July 2008 from the grounds of Macclesfield Cemetery. The missing memorial stone was later replaced by a new stone with the same inscription but in a different typeface.  In a 1987 interview with Option, Stephen Morris commented on how he would describe Curtis to those who asked what he was like: “An ordinary bloke just like you or me, liked a bit of a laugh, a bit of a joke.”

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Born

  • July, 15, 1956
  • United Kingdom
  • Stretford, Lancashire, England

Died

  • May, 18, 1980
  • United Kingdom
  • Macclesfield, Cheshire, England

Cause of Death

  • suicide

Cemetery

  • Macclesfield Cemetery
  • Macclesfield, Cheshire, England
  • United Kingdom

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