Curtis, who suffered from both epilepsy and depression, took his own life on 18 May 1980, on the eve of Joy Division's first North American tour and shortly before the release of their second album. His suicide resulted in the band's dissolution and the subsequent formation of New Order. Curtis was known for his bass-baritone voice, dance style, and songwriting typically filled with imagery of desolation, emptiness, and alienation.
Curtis was born on 15 July 1956, at the Memorial Hospital in Stretford, Lancashire and grew up in a working-class household in the market town of Macclesfield in Cheshire. He was the first of two children born to Kevin and Doreen Curtis.
From an early age, Curtis was a bookish and intelligent child, displaying a particular flair for poetry. He was awarded a scholarship at the age of eleven at Macclesfield's independent King's School. Here, he would develop his interests in philosophy, literature, and eminent poets such as Thom Gunn. While a student at King's School, he would be awarded several scholastic awards in recognition of his abilities—particularly at the ages of 15 and 16. The year after Ian had graduated from King's School, the Curtis family purchased a house from a relative, and relocated to New Moston.
As a teenager, Curtis chose to perform social service by visiting the elderly as part of a school programme. While visiting these people, he and his friends would steal any prescription drugs that they found and later take them together as a group. On one notable occasion when he was sixteen, after consuming a large dosage of Largactil he and his friends had stolen, Curtis was discovered unconscious in his bedroom by his father, and subsequently taken to a nearby hospital to have his stomach pumped.
Curtis had held a keen interest in music since the age of twelve, and this interest would develop greatly in his teenage years, with artists such as Jim Morrison and David Bowie being particular favourites of his, and thus influencing his poetry and art. Nonetheless, as Curtis hailed from a working-class background, he could seldom afford to purchase records, leading him to frequently resort to stealing them from local shops. By his mid-teens, Curtis had also developed a reputation among his peers as a strong-willed individual, with a keen interest in fashion.