Who is ‘Johnny Yen’ on Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’?
Ray Manzarek and Danny Sugerman identify
In 1995, the Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, and biographer, Danny Sugerman, appeared on the Australian music video program rage, smoking rigs on the couch and telling stories about Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop.
In the first clip below, Sugerman describes sharing his home with Iggy in the Seventies (“sort of like staging the Vietnam War at Grauman’s Chinese Theater”), and checking him into the mental hospital after a Quaalude overdose.
He credits the quick thematic transition from “Death Trip” to “Lust for Life” to Iggy’s personal growth under the care of Dr. Murray Zucker.
In the second clip, “Iggy’s Homosexual Ballet Dancing Heroin Dealer,” they reminisce about “Gypsy Johnny,” the real-life heroin dealer immortalized as “Johnny Yen” in “Lust for Life.”
Ray Manzerak & Danny Sugerman "Iggy's Homosexual Ballet Dancing Heroin Dealer!
His black Porsche said “Gypsy” on it, and he wore a scarf around his head. He used to be a ballerina, and he was homosexual, and very hot for Iggy’s parts—body parts—and “yen” is a term that William Burroughs uses a lot describing the craving for heroin. So in “Lust for Life” there’s a line,
“Here comes Johnny Yen again, with the liquor and drugs and a sex machine,” and that’s Gypsy Johnny coming up to Wonderland Avenue with his scarves and his drugs and his motorized dildos and whatever else he had - his balloons full of Mexican heroin that was killing all of us.
Sugerman chronicled his years of debauchery with Iggy and the Doors in the memoir Wonderland Avenue.
R.I.P. Ray, Danny, and Johnny.
by Oliver Hall