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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May 2005, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Remembering Joy Division singer Curtis
By Chris Leggett
BBC News website entertainment reporter

Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis left a wife and young daughter when he died in 1980
Fans of rock band Joy Division will be remembering the band's late singer Ian Curtis on Wednesday - the 25th anniversary of his death.

Curtis was just 23 when he hanged himself in the kitchen at his Macclesfield home, shortly before the band were due to go on tour in the US.

His band recorded around 50 songs and released just two studio albums, but they remain highly acclaimed for their powerful post punk sound.

Curtis's baritone voice and lyrics about existential dread and pessimism, combined with his intense, wide-eyed stage presence, endeared him to fans.

He has been cited as an influence by the likes of U2 frontman Bono, the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and The Cure's Robert Smith.

Still acclaimed

Joy Division - Curtis, guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris - formed on the Manchester music scene in the late 1970s.

They released first album Unknown Pleasures in 1979, with follow-up Closer being released after Curtis's death.

Their most famous single, Love Will Tear Us Apart, only reached number 13 a month after Curtis died yet it was among five finalists in the Brit Awards poll this year to find the best British song of the past 25 years.

Joy Division
Joy Division (from left) Stephen Morris, Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook

Continued interest in Curtis and his life has led to a biopic being made, based on his widow Deborah's book, Touching From A Distance.

The biography paints a picture of her husband as a gifted but tortured man who had an ongoing extra-marital affair and was prone to jealousy and manipulation.

Curtis also suffered from epilepsy, which caused problems when performing on stage with strobe lights.

Anthony Wilson, who was in charge of Joy Division's label Factory Records, is producing the film - provisionally titled Control.

He says Curtis was "quite special".

"For all the hype in the music business, it is about the songs, and Joy Division wrote some wonderful, wonderful songs," he says.

Group leader

"The artwork designer Peter Saville says that when working with a band, he soon finds out who the leader is. With Joy Division it was Ian.

"For me, he was a very nice, quiet boy."

Wilson admits the singer's death still mystifies him. "I used to think that he thought he was making everyone's life tough so he would help them by going," he says.

Tony Wilson
Tony Wilson was in charge of Joy Division's record label, Factory Records

"But I now think it is more complex than that."

Jude Law and Paddy Considine have been touted as possible actors to play Curtis.

But Wilson - whose own life was depicted in 2002's part-fantasy biopic 24 Hour Party People - says: "I have met the person we want to play Ian."

"He is one of the hottest young things in Hollywood. He's Irish, but it's not Colin Farrell."

Troubled character

Manchester rock writer Mick Middles wrote From Joy Division to New Order, an account of the Factory Records story.

Middles says Curtis was a troubled character towards the end of his life.

"He was getting more ill and more intense so going on stage was becoming more traumatic," he says.

"He was very personable towards me. I've spoken to hundreds of people who encountered him and no-one has a bad word to say.

"Ian was being pulled in different directions by his personal life and his music.

New Order
The surviving members of Joy Division were joined by Gillian Gilbert for New Order

"The last album Closer is the sound of somebody in desperation.

"Yet I've seen letters written shortly before his death and he doesn't sound like someone about to commit suicide. I think it was more spontaneous."

BBC digital radio station 6 Music is playing Curtis's music all day and staging an event called Transmission in Manchester.

6 Music presenter and ex-member of The Fall Marc Riley crossed paths with Joy Division on the late 1970s Manchester music scene.

"I met Ian a couple of times and off stage he wasn't different to anyone else," says Riley.

"But on stage, he performed in a slightly strange and almost psychotic way.

"The myth of the death of a rock star at a very young age is very influential. You can't really say whether people would consider them as important if they were still around today."

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