The punk outfit’s founding guitarist, one of only two members to appear in all its lineups, died in 2004 surrounded by his closest friends. His wife Linda Cummings Ramone recently helped publish a book made out of his final recorded conversations, when he knew he wasn’t going to survive his illness.
She tells Fuse: “The day Johnny died, he still knew exactly what was going on. Eddie Vedder was sating at the house and Johnny said to me that morning: ‘I don’t want you and Eddie to go to lunch. I want you to be here.’
“He spoke to Lisa Marie Presley on the phone and said: ‘I want you to come over today,’ and he went to sleep. Everybody else started piling in and sitting around him, but nobody really spoke to Johnny again. He was just asleep with all of us, and then passed away. So Johnny knew – he decided that was the day.”
Cummings Ramone started out as co-founder Joey’s girlfriend before dating and later marrying Johnny. But she insists she’s not responsible for the musicians growing apart. She says: “When I left Joey to go with Johnny it was intense. Nobody wanted the band to break up. The band was always first. After I left Joey the musical differences were there. Johnny didn’t care about having a hit single any more – he realised it was over but Joey never did. Johnny wanted to be in a punk band the rest of his life and Joey didn’t.”
The guitarist’s own views are made clear in Commando, the book co-edited with Henry Rollins. Cummings Ramone says: “Johnny was wound tightly. But he put most of his anger towards his guitar playing, and that’s why the Ramones sound the way they sound.”
And she says her husband was looking forward to a long happy retirement after the Ramones played at Lollapalooza in 1996. “There wasn’t really much more to do,” she reflects. “It was time for them to retire and move on. You don’t want to be a dinosaur in rock and roll and that was the whole thing with Johnny: “Everybody was going to retire and enjoy their life – and then, unfortunately, Johnny got sick.”