40 Years Ago: Johnny Ramone Nearly Dies in a Street Fight
Things nearly turned tragic for Johnny Ramone on Aug. 14, 1983, when a post-concert brawl left him fighting for his life.
The Ramones had spent the early part of the year on the road in support of their seventh studio album, Subterranean Jungle. They returned for a performance on Aug. 13, in their hometown of Queens, N.Y.
In true Ramones fashion, the show didn’t end until early the next morning. Afterward, Johnny – whose real name was John William Cummings – headed back to his apartment in the East Village. Along the way, he spotted Cynthia “Roxy” Whitney, who he’d had an on-and-off relationship with for years. Whitney, who appeared intoxicated, was chatting with another young punk rocker, Seth Macklin of the band Sub-Zero Construction.
Macklin and Whitney were not an item at the time, but Ramone was uneasy about the situation and invited the woman to come inside. That’s when things took a violent turn.
Unaware of Ramone’s history with Whitney, Macklin took exception to his intrusion. “If he had just said, ‘Hey, this is my old lady you’re with,’ I would have moved off easy,” Macklin later told the New York Post. Instead, the two men brawled, and Ramone got the worst of it. Macklin punched him several times and continued kicking Ramone after he reportedly fell to the ground and struck his head on the sidewalk.
Accounts of how the events unfolded varied. Macklin insisted that Ramone instigated the fracas, stating in a police report that he “started the fight by hitting me with a shoulder bag. I defended myself and hit him two or three times. He fell and hit his head on the car door and sidewalk.” He later stated that Ramone had yelled “I’m going to kill you” prior to the brawl.
Meanwhile, detective Dennis Carroll told the Associated Press that Macklin went into “a fit of jealous rage” because he believed he was in a monogamous relationship with Whitney – something she vehemently denied. “She thought it was an open relationship, and she was free to see other people,” Carroll said. “He assumed his relationship with the girl was different than she thought.”
Regardless of the exact circumstances, the fight left Ramone battling for his life. He suffered a fractured skull and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where the guitarist underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain.
Macklin was charged with first-degree assault and eventually served several months in jail for the attack. Ramone recovered after months of rehab. He rarely discussed the incident before going into more detail while writing his memoir. Ramone admitted he fantasized about murdering Macklin in a fit of revenge.
“I was very angry. I wanted him killed,” Ramone said in Commando, which was published eight years after he died. “I’m all for capital punishment. I think it should be televised. I think they could make it a pay-per-view event and give the money to the victims’ families. So then, I started fantasizing about getting a gun. I thought it would be great to have someone mess with me and kill him.”
He called ’80s-era subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz “a hero. He did what everyone else wants to do. He was Charles Bronson. In real life, who the hell would approach Charles Bronson? They go for the Bernhard Goetz’s of the world. In the end, though, I never owned a gun. It was just a fantasy. I was no Charles Bronson.”