LOS ANGELES – Though they never had a Top 40 song, seminal punk band the Ramones left a formidable imprint on the rock genre.
The quartet's impact was evident Wednesday when guitarist Johnny Ramone (search) died in his sleep at his Los Angeles home surrounded by family members and rocker Eddie Vedder (search) of Pearl Jam and singer Rob Zombie (search).
Ramone, who had been fighting a five-year battle with prostate cancer, was 55.
"In my opinion ... he was the greatest guitar player ever," Marky Ramone told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday. "He was the leader of the band when things got tough. To me, it's like losing a brother. I'll never forget him."
Ramone, whose birth name was John Cummings, had been hospitalized in June at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for cancer treatment.
He was one of the original members of the Ramones, whose songs "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," and "Blitzkrieg Bop," among others, earned them an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
The band's singer, Joey Ramone, whose real name was Jeff Hyman, died in 2001 of lymphatic cancer. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone, whose real name was Douglas Colvin, died from a drug overdose in 2002.
Johnny Ramone co-founded the Ramones in 1974 in New York along with Joey Ramone, DeeDee Ramone and Tommy Ramone, real name Thomas Erdelyi, who is the only surviving member of the original band.
The four band members weren't related, but all took the name of Ramone. Marky Ramone later replaced Tommy Ramone as the group's drummer.
The group, clad in leather jackets and long black mops of hair, started out in New York clubs, including CBGB, where they blasted their rapid-fire songs.
While commercial success eluded them, the band continues to stand tall among fellow musicians.
The Ramones influenced scores of followers, including bands such as Green Day and Nirvana.
Even Bruce Springsteen was moved. After seeing the Ramones in Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen wrote "Hungry Heart" for the band. His manager, however, swayed him to keep the song for himself and it became a hit single.
The band had encounters with other big names, including producer Phil Spector, who collaborated with the band in 1980. During the session, the late bassist Dee Dee Ramone said Spector pulled a gun on the band.
"The Ramones had it rough," said the band's longtime artistic director Arturo Vega (search), who's worked with the band for 30 years. "The band almost had to be protected from people who were taking advantage of them. There was never any money made."
Vega recalled how Johnny Ramone would insist that the band drive nonstop between Boston and New York for shows instead of spending money on a hotel.
In addition to his financial conservatism, the guitarist was politically conservative -- the late Ronald Reagan was Ramone's favorite president, Vega said.
Fans have remained loyal to the Ramones, and the Ramones over the years have been loyal to their fans.
In 1979, while shooting scenes for the film "Rock 'n' Roll High School," the Ramones -- ignoring the director's order -- played a concert-length session for fans who had paid to be extras, Vega said.
"The Ramones never ever lost their image, their aura of being the ultimate underdog, the voice of the angry young man," Vega said.
A tribute concert and cancer research fund-raiser was held Sunday in Los Angeles to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary. It featured performances from Los Angeles punk band X, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henry Rollins and others.
Ramone was too weak to talk and was taking medication to reduce the pain, said Marky Ramone, who saw the guitarist this past weekend.
"It wasn't a surprise considering the severity of his condition," he said.
Proceeds for the sold-out concert went to the Lymphoma Research Foundation and the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Center.
Friends who gathered at Ramone's home after his death included Lisa Marie Presley, Pete Yorn, Vincent Gallo and Talia Shire.
Ramone is survived by his wife, Linda Cummings, and his mother, Estelle Cummings. He will be cremated during a private ceremony.