Miami Herald (Sunday)

Mojo Nixon, rock ‘n’ roll wild man, Sirius XM radio host and former MTV mainstay, dies at 66


Mojo Nixon, the rootsrocki­ng wild man and former San Diegan who was an MTV mainstay in the 1980s and later became a longtime Sirius XM radio host, died Wednesday. He was 66. The cause of death was a “cardiac event,” according to a statement posted by his family on his Mojo Nixon World Empire Facebook page.

Nixon died while at sea on the weeklong 2024 Outlaw Country Cruise, which set sail Sunday from Miami. He was a regular performer and host on the cruise, which debuted eight years ago and whose extensive lineup this year also includes Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Los Straitjack­ets and Rosie Flores.

Nixon’s final performanc­e took place Tuesday evening on the cruise when he performed with his band, the Toadliquor­s. The Wednesday post on his Facebook page indicates he was in good spirits before his death.

It reads: “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.”

A larger-than-life figure, on stage and off, Nixon rose to prominence in the 1980s as one half of the San Diego duo Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper. Nixon sang and banged on an empty water jug. Roper played guitar and other stringed instrument­s. Together,

they recorded such proudly left-of-center songs as “Burn Down the Malls,” “Jesus at McDonald’s,” “Destroy All Lawyers” and “Elvis is Everywhere,” for which Nixon and Roper made a video that became a hit of sorts on MTV.

“Mojo wanted to create something that could not be denied, and he did,” said San Diego music mainstay Joey Harris, who shared numerous bandstands with Nixon, including on last year’s Outlaw Country Cruise.

“He made a fabulous career and helped a lot of musicians along the way. And as a pal, he was wonderfull­y generous and loved to turn his friends on to books and records.”

In 1988, Nixon served as

MTV’s “official sports reporter” when the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins played at Super Bowl XXII in San Diego. He and Roper released six albums together between 1985 and 1990.

The duo’s 1989 song, “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child,” was made into a video that featured actress Winona Ryder in the title role. She and Nixon had become friends while filming the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic “Great Balls of Fire.” MTV — which had featured Nixon and Roper in a series of quirky promotiona­l clips for the video music network — refused to air it.

Nixon’s other film credits included “Super Mario

Brothers,” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and the directto-video “Butt-Crack: The Movie.” He and Roper split up in 1989 when Nixon decided he wanted to be a solo artist leading a full band.

“Knowing Mojo, I knew he always wanted to be Bruce Springstee­n and couldn’t really take a bigger step as [half of] a duo,” Roper said in a 2012 Union-Tribune interview. “I don’t have a whole lot of animosity, but I was kind of ‘Pete Best-ed’ out of the picture.”

“Skid’s correct about that,” Nixon said in the same interview. “He did know I wanted to be Bruce Springstee­n. I also desperatel­y wanted to stand up [onstage, instead of remaining seated while singing and playing guitar]. And I wanted to stop being in a duo and have a drummer and bassist, and rock as much as Dwight Yoakam, the Beat Farmers,

Los Lobos, all our contempora­ries.

“I said to Skid: ‘Why don’t we do a trio tour, and you play bass?’ He didn’t want to do that. But, where other bands starved — because they had a tour bus and five roadies [to pay for] — we made money, because it was just Skid and me and our manager.”

Nixon and Roper reunited for a performanc­e at the 2012 Adams Avenue Street Fair. Nixon was the subject of the film documentar­y “The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon,” which premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival in Austin. It was accompanie­d by a 10-CD box set of his work.

Nixon was born Neill Kirby McMillan on Aug. 2., 1957, in the North Carolina college town of Chapel Hill. He grew up in Danville, Virginia, where his love of earthy American roots music was born. His first band was called Godzilla’s Revenge.

He went on to earn degrees in political science and history at Ohio’s Miami University in 1979, then moved to San Diego in late 1980.

He soon thereafter heard a performanc­e here by the Snuggle Bunnies, the band led by Country Dick Montana, perhaps the only San Diego musician with a larger-thanlife stage persona even larger than the one Nixon would develop.

“I desperatel­y wanted to be in the Snuggle Bunnies and in Dick’s next band, the Beat Farmers,” Nixon recalled in a 2019 San Diego Union-Tribune. “Dick told me: ‘There’s only room for one monkey in this band, and I’m it’!”

Nixon’s day job, until 1986, was as a bicycle mechanic at Bicycles Unlimited in Ocean Beach. He and his wife, Adaire, married in 1989, at a gocart track in Chula Vista, with Country Dick Montana presiding over the ceremony.

Nixon lived in Coronado until moving to Ohio less than a decade ago to focus on his work for Sirius XM. He hosted three shows for the network — “Outlaw County,” the NASCAR-celebratin­g “Manifold Destiny” and an outspoken political talk show called “Lying (Expletives).” He also appeared as a character on Howard Stern’s Howard 100 channel.

One of Nixon’s closest friends was bestsellin­g author and former Texas gubernator­ial candidate Kinky Friedman, with whom he performed concerts, including a 2010 double-bill at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.

“Mojo is much to the left of me,” Friedman said fondly in a joint 2010 Union-Tribune interview with Nixon.

A gregarious man with an uproarious laugh, Nixon once described himself to the Union-Tribune as a musical version of the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn — albeit one far more prone to using profanity.

“I have a degree in political science, but — like many politician­s — I really got a degree in B.S.” he said. “That’s where my talent lies. I’m not a great singer or songwriter, but I can entertain.”

Nixon’s survivors include his wife, Adaire, their adult sons Ruben and Rafe, and a granddaugh­ter. There is no word yet on a funeral.

 ?? RICK KERN TNS ?? Mojo Nixon attends the world premiere of ‘The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon’ during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festival at Stateside Theater in Austin on March 16, 2022.
RICK KERN TNS Mojo Nixon attends the world premiere of ‘The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon’ during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festival at Stateside Theater in Austin on March 16, 2022.

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