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Sylvain Sylvain, New York Dolls guitarist and 'rock 'n' roll soldier,' has died

Alex Biese
Asbury Park Press

Sylvain Sylvain, one of the founding fathers of punk rock as guitarist of legendary band the New York Dolls, has died.

Born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, Mizrahi died on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at the age of 69, according to a Wednesday night post on his Facebook page. Mizrahi had battled cancer for two and a half years, according to the statement.

Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen of the New York Dolls perform at The Henry Fonda Theatre on May 21, 2009 in Los Angeles.

Sylvain helped permanently change the global cultural landscape nearly 50 years ago with the release of the New York Dolls' 1973 self-titled album. The band challenged musical and gender norms with its rough-and-tumble rock, laying the ground work for everything from punk to hair metal in the process.

The group's original incarnation released a second LP in 1974, "Too Much Too Soon."

After a number of years that saw Sylvain working as a solo artist and driving a taxi in New York City, the Dolls reunited in 2004 for a second wave of activity that included plenty of touring and three studio LPs from a reconstituted lineup that featured Sylvain, singer David Johansen and Matawan native guitarist Steve Conte.

Conte, in a Twitter post Wednesday night, described Sylvain as "my stage-right guitar partner for six of the best years of my musical life, a beautiful soul who deserved way more than he got in this lifetime."

Speaking with the Asbury Park Press in 2008 about the revived Dolls' return to the road, Sylvain said he felt "like a rock 'n' roll soldier."

Love of live crowds, Sylvain told the Press, "is your only reason why you keep on going. That's your paycheck because we still don't make money. We still don't sell records."

In an affectionate remembrance of Sylvain posted with the announcement of his death, Patti Smith Band guitarist Lenny Kaye described him as "the heart and soul of the New York Dolls."

"The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to," Kaye wrote.

Tributes to Sylvain have been pouring in over social media, with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready on Twitter crediting Sylvain with "bringing style and swagger to the original glam-punk gods."

Johansen, in a post on Instagram, described Sylvain as "my best friend for so many years."

"I can still remember the first time I saw him bop into the rehearsal space/bicycle shop with his carpetbag and guitar straight from the plane after having been deported from Amsterdam, I instantly loved him," Johansen wrote. "I’m gonna miss you old pal. I’ll keep the home fires burning."

"Sylvain Sylvain I'm speechless with this loss," tweeted Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's. "He lived so completely and deserved better." 

Jersey Shore native singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins summed the loss up beautifully, tweeting, "Aw man, Syl. Rock ’n’ roll needs more sweet boys like you. You were always so nice to me and generous with your time. Thank you for helping start something badass we could follow and rest easy." 

Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.