Ian Curtis was born on July 15, 1956, in Stretford, Lancashire, England. He grew up in a working-class household with his parents, as well as a younger sister. Growing up he won many awards in school, and took up an interest in poetry. At age 11, he was granted a scholarship into Macclesfield’s Independent King School. After graduating from the school, Curtis’ family moved to New Moston.
As a teenager, Curtis would visit the elderly as part of a school program. While visiting, Ian and his friends would steal prescription drugs and take them afterwards. In one instance, his father discovered Ian unconscious in his room after a large dosage of the drug Largactil. He had to be taken to the hospital and have his stomach pumped.
During his teenage years, Ian took a strong interest in music. His favorite artists were Jim Morrison and David Bowie. Due to his lack of funds, Ian would steal records from his local record stores. As Ian grew older, he decided to quit college to find employment. After going through a few different jobs, he was eventually placed at Macclesfield’s Employment Exchange.
Shortly after on August 23, 1975, Ian married Deborah Woodruff at just 19 and 18 years old respectively after dating for two years. They had one child, Natalie, on April 16, 1979. Eventually they moved into their own home in Macclesfield, where Ian would write his music.
At a July 1976 Sex Pistols gig, Ian ran into three of his childhood friends: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Terry Mason. Both Ian and his group of friends wanted to make music, so they began practicing together. Initially, Terry was the band’s drummer, but they recruited Stephen Morris as the band’s drummer and moved Terry to manager. The first name for the band was “Warsaw”, but they settled on “Joy Division” in 1978. TV host and Factory Records owner Tony Wilson signed the band in September of 1978. During this time, Ian began to experience epileptic seizures, which he would be diagnosed with the following year. Doctors described his case as so severe that “his life would be ruled to obsolescence by his severe epilepsy” without the various dosages of medications that he was prescribed.
Over the course of 1979, Curtis’ condition worsened. Between his rigorous touring schedule and unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking, he began experiencing more side effects like mood swings. During this time the band would put out one of the most influential pieces of music of all-time: Unknown Pleasures. It’s regarded as one of the greatest musical statements of all-time due to its unique atmosphere and dark lyrics of desolation and despair, all written by Ian himself.
While on tour, Ian had an affair with a Belgian journalist, Annik Honore, who he met at a gig. Ian was overcome with guilt due his controlling nature over his wife, while also being unfaithful to her. Honore claimed that her and Ian’s relationship was platonic, though it’s unknown for sure. On April 6, 1980, Ian attempted suicide, but failed. Tony Wilson invited him to stay at his cottage while he recuperated.
In early 1980, Ian’s wife Deborah commenced divorce proceedings due to Ian keeping in contact with Honore. Joy Division was about to go on tour in America, further worrying Ian due to his fear of planes as well as his worsening condition. On the morning of May 18, 1980, Ian was found dead by Deborah in their home. He had written a letter for her, and The Idiot by Iggy Pop was finished on the record player.
Following his death, the band’s highest-charting song to date, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, was released on June 27, 1980. Their sophomore album was released on July 18, 1980, two months after his death. The remaining members went on to start New Order, a pop rock band that gained lots of popularity throughout the 80s, most notably with their hit single “Blue Monday”. The electronic track is still currently the best-selling 12” single of all-time, with over 1.16 million sales just in the United Kingdom.