Radiohead Thom Yorkes life – depression battle, Spotify row and tragic death

Many happy returns of the day to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who turns 52 on October 7.

He is of course the frontman of rock band Radiohead, who formed in 1985 and are most famous for their debut single Creep, the soundtrack for many an angst-filled teen in the 90s.

But from there – and Thom has said the single’s runaway success almost plagued the band so they avoided performing it for a number of years – Radiohead went on produce both The Bends and OK Computer and to date have sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.

But it’s not all been champagne and rock and roll for Thom. From his battle with depression to losing a girlfriend to cancer to a row with Spotify, his life has been eventful for sure. Here’s all your need to know about the charismatic British singer.

Early life

Thom was born in Wellingborough, Northampton, but due to his dad’s job, moved around a lot and went to school in both Scotland and Oxford.

Thom was born with a paralysed left eye and had to have multiple operations by the age of six, but eventually decided to leave it he liked that “it wasn’t the same” and is a “badge of pride”.

He formed Radiohead with his friends Ed O'Brien, Philip Selway and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood while at school but despite being offered a deal with Island Records the lads decided they wanted to go to university first.

Thom read English and Fine Arts at Exeter – where he also met his future wife Rachel Owen.

Radiohead signed to Parlaphone when Thom was 22 and the success of Creep made him “disappear up his own a***” and become “unbearable”.

Radiohead was one of the seminal bands of the 90s and Thom was known for his unusual appearance, bleached blonde hair and outrageous antics – he once famously almost electrocuted himself by jumping into a swimming pool with a live microphone during a performance for MTV.

In 2019 Radiohead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Thom, now a dad of two, also went on to create some meaningful solo work.

Battle with depression

Thom has had a well-documented battle with depression, said to have started around the time of OK Computer in 1997. He struggled with the pressures that came with success, he said, became very mistrustful and eventually had a nervous breakdown. He could not write new music.

Thom went to Cornwall to recuperate where he spent his time drawing and walking. He told the Uncut about that time: “I was a complete f***** mess when OK Computer finished. I mean, really, really ill.”

He has found solace in producing solo material – which he has always been quick to emphasise does not mean Radiohead has split – particularly moody dance tracks. Help also came from R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, one of Thom’s heroes. He took him under his wing and helped him deal with fame “like a godfather” Thom once told The Guardian.

Yoga, running and meditation are also tools Thom uses to deal with his anxiety and can almost joke nowadays that he is “trying on fun for size” as his persona has always been somewhat tortured and damaged.

He even took up surfing, he said, with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, an activity that taught him patience though he is still “pretty c**p at it”.

Activism

Thom is passionate about climate change, in fact, he became “obsessed with it”, he once said and used to “wake up every night terrified” about it once he had children.

He is an ardent supporter of Friends of the Earth and has put on various concerts to raise awareness about the issue. Thom was also vocally anti-Tony Blair in the 90s and backed the Green party in the 2015 elections.

In 2017 he was criticised by other artists for performing a concert in Israel and defended his decision by telling Rolling Stone: “It's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years.

“They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that.”

Other issues Thom is concerned about are third world debt and vegetarianism. He is anti the meat industry but has admitted that the original reason he gave up eating meat was to impress a girl.

Death of Rachel Owen

Thom met his long-time partner and mother of his children Rachel Owen at the University of Exeter.

She was an artist and lecturer and the pair were in a relationship for 23 years and have two children together, Noah, 20, and Agnes, 17.

Though he has never confirmed if they were married it is believed by some the pair secretly wed in Oxfordshire in 2003. They amicably split in 2015 before Rachel died of cancer in 2016 aged just 48.

Thom told Desert Island Discs: “When the kids’ mum died, it was a very difficult period and we went through a lot. It was very hard.

“She suffered a great deal and my ambition is to make sure that we have come out of it all right, and I hope that’s what’s happening.”

He also told the New York Times that working helped him avoid the “paralysis of grief”.

Thom went on to marry Italian actress Dajana Roncione in Bagheria, Sicily, in 2020.

Speaking before the wedding, he told Vanity Fair: “Despite all the difficulties caused by the global pandemic, we are proud and happy to get married here in Sicily. Sicily is Dajana's native island.”

Row with Spotify

In 2013 Thom called Spotify the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and has loudly attacked the streaming giant’s relationship with artists and major labels. He made the decision around the same time to pull all of his and Radiohead’s music from Spotify.

One of his main gripes was the streaming service becoming a “gatekeeper” meaning that artists cannot set their own prices for downloads. He also complained to Mexicana website Sopitas that emerging artists do not make money from it, only “re-selling old stuff for free” so “the majors make a fortune and don’t die”.

Since then the band's music has slowly returned though NME reports that Thom is still “troubled” by the company.

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