For most of its members, the New York Dolls seemed less like a rock band than a slow-burning terminal disease—though only one of its original members (drummer Billy Murcia) would fall during the band's desperately short lifetime, the lives of most of the remaining members would be spent courting new lows of clichéd rock 'n' roll burnout. There was second drummer Jerry Nolan, whose desperate dependence on heroin plagued him until his fatal stroke in 1992; there was Johnny Thunders, the band's most celebrated junkie cliché, who allegedly died with his guitar in his hands; there was David Johansen, who died an altogether different kind of death—at the hands of that fucking insufferable "Hot Hot Hot" song. And then there was Arthur "Killer" Kane—the most modest member of one of history's most famously ostentatious bands—who all but disappeared immediately following the band's mid-'70s breakup. Turns out Killer had spent much of the time between then and now at the whim of another of rock music's familiar platitudes: going from alcoholism to poverty, and finally to an eventual 15-year-long devotion to the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
In his thoroughly engaging New York Doll, documentarian (and Mormon) Greg Whiteley paints a fittingly conflicted portrait of Kane, the Frankensteinian former Doll, as he prepares to once again take the stage with his surviving bandmates, as part of their celebrated 2004 reunion performance at London's Royal Festival Hall. Featuring reverent, thoughtful commentary by folks like Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones, a surprisingly un-douchebag-y Sir Bob Geldof, and former New York Dolls Fan Club President (and impetus for the reunion) Morrissey. The film also inadvertently documents 50-something Kane's last days—the bassist died just a few weeks after the performance from an undiagnosed case of leukemia.
Throughout, the likeably dopey Kane (who hadn't played music publicly in years) is portrayed with palpable longing for his former glory—despite its polar disparity with his sometimes-oppressive faith. Ultimately, New York Doll is a loving, memorable, and touching portrait of yet another tragically dead Doll.