2024-02-08 00:54:16 UTC
The musician, actor, and radio DJ became an underground sensation with novelty hits like "Elvis Is Everywhere" and "Don Henley Must Die"
Mojo Nixon, the unapologetically brash musician, actor, and radio DJ, died of “a cardiac event” on Wednesday, Feb. 7, his family confirmed to Rolling Stone. He was 66. Nixon was aboard the Outlaw Country Cruise, an annual music cruise where he was a co-host and regular performer.
“August 2, 1957 — February 7, 2024 Mojo Nixon. How you live is how you should die. Mojo Nixon was full-tilt, wide-open rock hard, root hog, corner on two wheels + on fire…,” his family shared in a statement to Rolling Stone. “Passing after a blazing show, a raging night, closing the bar, taking no prisoners + a good breakfast with bandmates and friends.
“A cardiac event on the Outlaw Country Cruise is about right… & that’s just how he did it, Mojo has left the building,” his family’s statement continued. “Since Elvis is everywhere, we know he was waiting for him in the alley out back. Heaven help us all.”
Nixon enjoyed a supremely weird yet singular career after he and his former partner, Skid Roper, scored a bizarro breakthrough in 1987 with their novelty hit “Elvis Is Everywhere.” A deranged bit of cowpunk/rockabilliy pastiche that honored (and lightly skewered) the King of Rock and Roll’s diehard fans, “Elvis Is Everywhere” and its charming low-budget video became an unexpected MTV staple.
Nixon and Roper recorded six albums together during the Eighties; after they split, Nixon embarked on a career of his own, releasing a bunch of solo albums and a handful of collaborative LPs (including one with the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra). He also scored work as an actor and radio DJ, eventually becoming a regular presence on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel in the mid-2000s, where he was known as “The Loon in the Afternoon.”
“We are absolutely devastated,” said Jeff Cuellar, CEO of Sixthman, which organized the Outlaw Country Cruise. “Our thoughts and hearts are with Mojo’s family and the Outlaw community.”
Unsurprisingly, for an artist always willing to push a bit as far as possible, Nixon was a deeply committed advocate for free speech and opponent of censorship. He famously debated parental advisory warnings on CDs with Pat Buchanan during an appearance on CNN’s Crossfire in the 1990s.
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Nixon got to the core of his credo, saying, “I firmly believe you can make fun of anything as long as your joke is funny. And I also believe that you can say anything, as long as you’re willing to suffer the consequences. We don’t need a thought police.”
Nixon was born Neill Kirby McMillan Jr. Aug. 2, 1957, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but grew up in Danville, Virginia. The bio on his website fittingly blurs the line between fact and fiction, but, broadly speaking, paints a portrait of a childhood enthralled by music (he cites hearing Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” as the moment “Music claims his soul and Satan crawls up his butt”).
After graduating college in the late Seventies, Nixon briefly moved to London to try to make it in the punk scene, before returning to the States and settling in Denver. There, he played in a band called Zebra 123 that allegedly garnered the attention of the Secret Service for playing a gig called the “Assassination Ball” that featured a poster with the exploding heads of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
Eventually, Nixon moved to San Diego and met his “de-mentor” Country Dick Montana (of the Beat Farmers). During a cross-country bicycle trip, he had a revelation and came up with his stage name, Mojo Nixon, described as: “Mojo=Voodoo Nixon=Bad Politics.”
In 1983, Nixon and Roper teamed up and started making music, releasing their self-titled debut in 1985. The pair steadily garnered a cult following thanks to frequent touring and wild songs like “Burn Down the Malls,” “Jesus at McDonald’s,” and “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin” (about MTV VJ Martha Quinn).
Their breakthrough with “Elvis Is Everywhere” (on 1987’s Bo-Day-Shus!!!) not only earned Nixon and Roper regular play on MTV, but resulted in the network enlisting Nixon to film a bunch of promo spots. Soon, they were appearing on The Arsenio Hall Show and getting Wynona Ryder to star in the video for “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child.” (MTV refused to play it.)
After splitting with Roper, Nixon set out to record his 1990 solo debut, Otis, linking up with Country Dick Montana and X’s John Doe. His ambitions were big, as he told Rolling Stone: “I wanted to have a band and I wanted to compete with the Replacements and the Blasters and Los Lobos.”
The album garnered good attention and the song “Don Henley Must Die” reached Number 20 on the Modern Rock Charts. (The famously prickly Henley even seemed to like it, performing it live with Nixon in 1992). But Otis’ momentum was curtailed after Nixon’s label, Enigma Records, went bankrupt.
Nixon stayed busy with a variety of music projects during the Nineties, while also branching into other realms. His first acting role was the 1989 Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire, in which he played drummer James Van Eaton; his other acting credits included the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. movie and the comedy Car 54, Where Are You?. He later picked up gigs as a radio DJ in Cincinnati and San Diego, before securing his longstanding spot on SiriusXM in the early 2000s.
Nixon was the honorary “captain” of the Team U.S.A.’s Men’s Doubles Luge Team at the 1998 Winter Olympics, recording a theme song, “Luge Team U.S.A.” under the moniker the Arctic Evel Kneivels. The two lugers he backed, Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer, won the the silver medal.
While hosting various SiriusXM shows became his main gig in the 2000s, Nixon occasionally returned to music, issuing an album of previously unreleased tracks, Whiskey Rebellion, in 2009. A long-in-the-works documentary, The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon, finally had its premiere at SXSW 2022 before getting a wide release last year.
“People dismiss me as a novelty artist, or, ‘Oh, he’s a cartoon.’ And that’s fine,” Nixon told Rolling Stone, distilling the essence and appeal of his work. “I don’t want to be taken seriously. I’m a cult artist.”