Johnny Physical Lives, A Heartfelt Rock and Roll Tribute to a Brother Who Died Way Too Young

In 2000, Joshua Neuman began filming a documentary with and about his younger musician brother Jonathan. The idea came to the brothers after Jonathan, who had just begun treatment for leukemia, performed in hospital concerts as his alter ego Johnny Physical. Sadly after a year and a half Jonathan succumbed to a lung infection June 26, 2002 at the young age of 22. The documentary was only half-finished at the time of Jonathan’s death, but with funds raised through Kickstarter, Joshua combined the existing footage, which included an interview with renowned documentarian Albert Maysles, with incredible animation by The finished film entitled “Johnny Physical Lives” is a truly heartfelt rock and roll tribute to both Jonathan Neuman and Johnny Physical.

Johnny Physical was everything Jonathan was not. Yet when Jonathan was diagnosed with leukemia at age 20, I watched as his rock n’ roll alter ego became only more important to him. Two weeks into his first round of chemotherapy in late 2000, when he was at his most vulnerable, he decided to perform a concert in the hospital as Johnny Physical. It was the single most moving experience of my life. He was making a statement: he wasn’t going to lose his identity and simply become a “cancer guy.” I captured the concert in the hospital on video and afterwards we decided to create a rock n’ roll documentary chronicling Jonathan Neuman’s experiences with cancer as well as Johnny Physical’s improbable new “stage.” When Jonathan passed away a year and a half later, I knew I had to finish the film we started. I aimed to make a film that wouldn’t shy away from the horrible ordeal that Jonathan went through, yet would still communicate his amazing spirit. In cold examining rooms, miserable waiting rooms, lonely hospital rooms, Jonathan was never just a patient. He was a rock star. I tried to capture that and, ultimately, put my own spin on our story.

Thanks Jeff Newelt!

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.