The legendary musician was in poor health and had been recently hospitalized. MacGowan was receiving treatment for a diagnosis of encephalitis, a dangerous infection that causes swelling of the brain.
MacGowan’s wife, Irish writer Victoria Mary Clarke, announced his death on Instagram Thursday morning.
“I don’t know how to say this so I am just going to say it,” Clarke wrote. “Shane who will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love of my life.”
Clarke wrote that MacGowan “has gone to be with Jesus and Mary and his beautiful mother Therese.”
She said she was “blessed” to have loved MacGowan and to have been loved by him in return.
“There’s no way to describe the loss that I am feeling and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world,” she continued. “You gave so much joy to so many people with your heart and soul and your music.”
“You will live in my heart forever. Rave on in the garden all wet with rain that you loved so much,” Clarke concluded. “You meant the world to me.”
A spokesperson for MacGowan confirmed news of his death on his social media account and said the musician “died peacefully” around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 30, with his wife and sister at his side. The spokesperson said prayers and last rites were read during MacGowan’s death.
MacGowan breathed new life into the Celtic music scene in the 1980s, and with The Pogues, created rousing, emotionally charged folk tunes about Irish life.
Originally named Pogue Mahone (a jab at the Gaelic phrase “póg mo thóin” meaning “kiss my arse”), the band later became simply The Pogues and released seven studio albums.
Fairytale Of New York, a sombre tale of alcoholism, went on to become one of the band’s biggest hits, and a seminal, moody Christmas classic.
MacGowan was the frontman of The Pogues from 1982 until he was removed from the band in 2014. (The band earlier split up in 1996 but reformed in 2001.)
His struggles with alcohol and drugs have been well-documented throughout his career, earning MacGowan a reputation as a rowdy, often difficult-to-control star.
During his years away from The Pogues, he formed the band Shane MacGowan & the Popes, which played Irish folk and rock music together until 2005.
Since 2015, as his health gradually declined, MacGowan was working on an album of cover songs in collaboration with the Irish band Cronin.
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He is survived by Clarke, who he married in 2018, his sister Siobhan and his father Maurice.
MacGowan reportedly also fathered a child around 1991, but later told British tabloid The Telegraph he “wouldn’t wish myself on any kid as a father.” (It’s unclear if he did actually have any children.)
Tributes to MacGowan have flooded social media, with many high-profile admirers paying their respects to the late musician.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins called MacGowan one of “music’s greatest lyricists.”
“The genius of Shane’s contribution includes the fact that his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams – of so many worlds, and particularly those of love, of the emigrant experience and of facing the challenges of that experience with authenticity and courage, and of living and seeing the sides of life that so many turn away from,” Higgins wrote.
“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways.”
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