The renowned artist and playwright John Byrne, whose parallel careers spanned the acclaimed BBC television series Tutti Frutti, the Slab Boys theatre trilogy and an album cover for the Beatles, has died at the age of 83.
He died peacefully on Thursday with his wife, Jeanine, by his side, the Fine Art Society announced in a statement on Friday morning, describing Byrne as “one of the most inventive and versatile of all Scotland’s modern artists”.
Byrne was born in Paisley and trained at the Glasgow School of Art. His first play, Slab Boys, debuted in 1978 and was inspired by his experiences working in the colour rooms of a carpet factory. It was later performed on Broadway in New York City, with Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn and Val Kilmer among the cast.
His much-loved BBC series Tutti Frutti, about an ageing rock’n’roll band attempting a tour of Scotland, starred Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson and won six Baftas.
Byrne was also a masterful painter, known for his self-portraits, as well as designing theatre sets and album covers, often for his friends, including Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly.
His most recent mural work appears on the ceiling of the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, with another in Glasgow to mark Connolly’s 75th birthday, while his paintings are displayed in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
Humza Yousaf said Byrne was “an extraordinary playwright, artist and designer”. The Scottish first minister said: “Scotland has lost a cultural icon, and the world is less brighter with his passing.”
Nicola Sturgeon said on X that Byrne, who designed her first Christmas card during her time as first minister, was a “supremely talented playwright and artist, one of Scotland’s most important cultural voices of modern times, and the loveliest of men”.
The Scottish contemporary artist Alison Watt posted: “So very sad to hear of the death of the brilliant John Byrne. Supremely gifted as an artist and playwright, generous, funny and the most stylish man I’ve ever met.”
Byrne lived in the Highlands with the Oscar-winning actor Tilda Swinton for many years, where they raised twins, including the actor Honor Byrne-Swinton, who recently starred alongside her mother in the Joanna Hogg film The Souvenir.