LOS ANGELES -- Johnny Ramone, guitarist and co-founder of the seminal punk band The Ramones that influenced a generation of rockers, has died. He was 55.
Ramone, who had been fighting a five-year battle with prostate cancer, died in his sleep Wednesday afternoon at his Los Angeles home surrounded by friends and family, said the band's longtime artistic director Arturo Vega.
"He was the guy with a strategy. He was the guy who not only looked after the band's interest but he also was their defender," Vega said in a telephone interview from New York.
Ramone, whose birth name is John Cummings, had been hospitalized in June at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Johnny Ramone was one of the original members of the struggling Ramones, whose hit songs "I wanna be sedated" and "Blitzkrieg Bop," among others, earned them an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Johnny Ramone co-founded "The Ramones" in 1974 in New York along with singer Joey Ramone, bassist DeeDee Ramone and drummer Tommy Ramone, who is the only surviving member of the original band.
All four band members had different last names, but took the common name Ramone.
Joey Ramone, whose real name is Jeff Hyman, died in 2001 of lymphatic cancer. Dee Dee Ramone, whose real name is Douglas Colvin, died from a drug overdose in 2002.
Clad in leather jackets and long black mops of hair, the group started out in legendary New York clubs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City, where they blasted their rapid-fire songs.
Since its debut album in 1976, the band struggled for commercial success, but they left a formidable imprint on the rock genre. Though they never had a Top 40 song, the Ramones influenced scores of followers, including bands such as Green Day and Nirvana.
Even Bruce Springsteen was moved. After seeing the Ramones in Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen wrote "Hungry Heart" for the band. His manager, however, swayed him to keep the song for himself and it became a hit single.
The band had encounters with other big names, including producer Phil Spector, who collaborated with the band in 1980. During the session, the late bassist Dee Dee Ramone said Spector pulled a gun on the band.
"The Ramones had it rough," said Vega, who's worked with the band for 30 years. "The band almost had to be protected from people who were taking advantage of them. There was never any money made."
Johnny Ramone changed that by demanding more money for performances, but still kept a close watch on the band's budget; Vega recalled how Johnny Ramone would insist that the band drive nonstop between Boston and New York for shows instead of spending the night in a hotel.
In addition to his financial conservatism, the guitarist was politically conservative — the late Ronald Reagan was Ramone's favorite president, Vega said.
Fans have remained loyal to the Ramones, and the Ramones over the years have been loyal to their fans. In 1979, while shooting scenes for the film "Rock 'n' Roll High School," the Ramones — ignoring the director's order — played a concert-length session for fans who had paid to be extras, Vega said.
"The Ramones never ever lost their image, their aura of being the ultimate underdog, the voice of the angry young man," Vega said.
A tribute concert and cancer research fund-raiser was held Sunday in Los Angeles to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary. It featured performances from Los Angeles punk band X, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henry Rollins and others.
Along with his wife, Linda Cummings, Johnny Ramone was surrounded at his death by friends, including Pearl Jam rocker Eddie Vedder, singer Rob Zombie and others. Other friends who gathered at his Los Angeles home included Lisa Marie Presley, Pete Yorn, Vincent Gallo and Talia Shire.
He is survived by his wife and his mother, Estelle Cummings. He will be cremated during a private ceremony.