A Look At Lemmy’s Last Days And 15 Of His Wildest Escapades
Two weekends before his death, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead was celebrating an unlikely milestone on the Sunset Strip: his coming 70th birthday. He looked frail but regal in his black cavalry jacket and hat, watching from an upstairs balcony at the Whisky a Go Go as Slash, Billy Idol, Sebastian Bach and other famous rock & roll comrades paid tribute to him onstage.
The emailed invitation had called for a night of music, “chit-chat and general all-around merriment” on December 13th. Former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum was the private party’s host and musical director, leading a crowd of prominent performers from hard rock and punk.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich flew in for the event, and sat with Lemmy much of the night. Standing onstage, guitarist Zakk Wylde wore a denim vest over a black Motörhead T-shirt and repeated the old joke about certain ageless and indestructible rockers, lamenting about “what kind of world we’re going to leave for Lemmy and Keith Richards.”
Lemmy himself had just flown in from Europe the day before and was worn out. His right hand trembled and he rested a walking stick across his knees as friends and fans wished him well. Near the end of the night, OFF! guitarist Dimitri Coats leaned in to say hello and remind Lemmy of a 2003 night drinking and gaming together at the Crazy Girls strip club in Hollywood.
Lemmy shook his hand and asked with a smile, “Did I win?”
He was a winner in rock & roll for many of his 70 years, though his sudden death from cancer on Monday was a shock to both fans around the world and those closest to the iconic Motörhead singer-bassist. Two weeks ago, the band finished a winter European tour, closing their final performance in Berlin on December 11th with the crushing hard-rock fan favorite “Overkill.” They planned to be back in Europe in January.
For the last two years, health problems weighed heavily on the trio, beginning with Lemmy abruptly cutting short a 2013 concert in Wacken, Germany. He suffered from diabetes and a heart arrhythmia, and he soon underwent surgery to implant a defibrillator, but he returned to the road as always, with two acclaimed performances at Coachella the next year, followed by tour dates around the world, and a new album,Bad Magic, released this past summer.
There were some modest lifestyle changes: Lemmy cut back from his more than two packs of cigarettes a day to one pack a week. And after at least four decades of a half-gallon of Jack Daniels every day, he switched to vodka and orange juice and just four or five drinks a day. He still enjoyed his daily speed.
In recent weeks, Lemmy began to slow down. “He did no more soundchecks. He wouldn’t do interviews. He couldn’t do anything,” says Todd Singerman, who managed the band for 24 years. But Lemmy performed as scheduled. “To really think of what energy and the balls that took to still play shows for the fans, to do the last fucking show two weeks ago, and then drop. That’s like a Rocky story to me. This is courage at his best. He was dying. He didn’t know it, but his body must have felt it. He had nothing left.”
The death last month of former Motörhead drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor hit Lemmy especially hard. Singerman suspected Lemmy’s reduced energy offstage was related to depression over losing friends and his ongoing health issues. But Lemmy was clearly still looking forward to the birthday party at the Whisky, on the Sunset Strip that he’s called home for decades.
Sorum, who once filled in on 15 dates for Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee on a 2009 U.S. tour, called in the talent for the party, which included current and former members of Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Velvet Revolver and others. Slash performed Motörhead’s “(We Are) the Road Crew” with members of Anthrax, and Steve Vai ripped open a Hendrix lead on “Foxy Lady.” The long night ended with a punk rock set with Idol, Sorum, Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, GN’R bassist Duff McKagan and Cult guitarist Billy Duffy. There were affectionate video messages from Iggy Pop, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Def Leppard, Gene Simmons, Tom Morello and others.
Showgirls danced on the floor between acts, and young women strolled the club to give away free candy, CDs of Lemmy’s rockabilly band the Head Cat and a sex toy called the Motörhead “Pleasure Bullet.” (The sales pitch: “Do it hard, do it fast — do it loud!”)
“They were there for him,” says Sorum of the musicians and audience. “He really appreciated that in true Lemmy style — he wasn’t the kind of guy to jump up and down. If you saw a smile on his face, you knew you were getting somewhere with him. Down deep inside, he’s a very sweet, kind, gentle soul.”
Late in the evening, Lemmy’s bass rig was rolled out as the Head Cat set up for a couple of songs, but Lemmy never made it down the catwalk to the stage. Sorum went up to say hello. “I said, ‘I hope you’re enjoying yourself,’ and he said, ‘Oh, it’s fucking great.'”
Two days later, Lemmy complained of chest pains and went to the emergency room, but was released the next day. Doctors found no heart trouble. Singerman and others decided he needed a brain scan “because his speech was getting bad,” he says. There were concerns that he’d had a stroke.
“Why is he not talking much? He was slurring really bad,” says Singerman. “We took him for the X-rays and they said, ‘Oh, my God, there’s stuff all over his brain and his neck.’ On Saturday, two days ago, the doctor came by the house, brought the results and told us all that he has two to six months to live.”
It was cancer, and Lemmy reacted calmly. “He took it better than all of us. His only comment was, ‘Oh, only two months, huh?’ The doctor goes, ‘Yeah, Lem, I don’t want to bullshit you. It’s bad, and there’s nothing anyone can do. I would be lying to you if I told you there was a chance.'”
Singerman was inclined to keep the diagnosis private and announce only that Lemmy was gravely ill and needed to be left alone. “He was like, ‘No, no. You go ahead and put out a press release. I want people to know it was cancer. It’s a bad thing and they should know it.’ That’s how he felt.”
Plans were to put out a press release after informing close friends and family. Nurses were hired to be at his condo in shifts. A morphine kit arrived in preparation of coming pain. A favorite video-game console at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Strip that Lemmy loved to play at the corner of the bar was brought over.
Singerman and others began calling friends and family. Lemmy told his partners in Motörhead on Sunday night, and travel plans were being made for them to visit immediately.
“Here’s the shocker for me and everyone else: He’s been to a thousand doctors and hospitals throughout the world, but nobody caught this,” says Singerman. “To be told you have terminal cancer with all the blood tests he’s taken in his life and everything else? It’s very hard to grasp that. It’s not like he had a fucking chance here. This was outright: ‘You got no more than six months.'”
A doctor visited early Monday. Ozzy Osbourne would be coming by that day or the next. Lemmy spent hours on the video-game console, as Rainbow owner Mikael Maglieri paid a visit. Then Lemmy nodded off and never woke up again.
“Mikael called to say, ‘My God, he just died right in front of me,'” Singerman says.
The reaction was immediate on social media from Lemmy’s many friends across generations of rock. Kiss singer-bassist Gene Simmons emailed Rolling Stone a cell-phone snapshot of him and Lemmy backstage somewhere in the recent past: “Behind the Man and the Legend was a kind man who went out of his way to make you feel special,” Simmons wrote. “The Lemmy I knew and loved always held out his hand to help new bands. I will miss him.”
“I can’t say I was really that surprised when the doctor told me I needed a defibrillator inserted in my chest,” Lemmy Kilmister told Revolver in 2013. “When you’ve lived the life that I have, you should always expect something like that to crop up. I was not a good boy. I’ve had too much fun.”
Gambling is for fools, but that’s the way he liked it: The late Motörhead frontman was always willing to deal with the effects of an extreme lifestyle if it meant living his way. He did just that until he became too ill to party like a rock star, and even then continued making music and playing shows nearly right up until the end. Here are 15 of Lemmy’s wildest, strangest and most fascinating experiences, most of which he experienced between the Sixties and Nineties — the time when the Motörhead frontman seemed unstoppable and invincible.
While in one of his early Sixties ensembles, the Rocking Vicars, Lemmy hadn’t discovered the thrills of self-indulgence – but that didn’t stop him from having a few out-of-this-world experiences. “In 1966 we were coming back over the Yorkshire Moors which, incidentally, was before I even drank beer, so it couldn’t have been some acid flashback,” he told Inked. “This thing came over the horizon and stopped dead in the middle of the sky. Then it went from a standstill to top speed, immediately. We don’t even have aircraft that do that now, never mind then. So that was pretty eye-opening for me.”
Lessons From Hendrix
In his pre-Hawkwind days, Lemmy cut his teeth as part of the road crew for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “Jimi taught me how to find drugs in the most unlikely places because that was part of my job for him,” Lemmy told Revolver. “That’s how I learned to function on five hits of acid. But I also learned about theatrics and performing. Jimi was so effortlessly cool and he would move like an elegant spider. He was always interested in the crowd. He made very bad jokes because he was so out of his mind. People couldn’t figure out what he was talking about by the time he was finished. But he was certainly the best guitar player you’ll ever see, probably ever.”
A Teaspoon of Sugar
In 1969, before Lemmy joined Hawkwind, a friend convinced his nurse girlfriend to sneak them some amphetamine sulfate from the dispensary where she worked. She accidentally brought home a jar of atropine sulfate. Lemmy did a teaspoon full, which he said was “200 times the overdose,” and then everyone “went berserk.” In his memoir White Line Fever he recalled talking to a TV held under his arm, then passing out and waking up in the hospital. “If we got you in another hour you would have been dead,” the doctor told him. Even after being treated, he had sporadic hallucinations for two weeks and recalled, “sitting, reading a book, and I’d turn to page 42 – but there was no book.”
“Noises in E”
Lemmy auditioned for space-rock band Hawkwind in August 1971, hoping to land a slot as their second guitarist. During an open-air concert at Powis Square in Notting Hill Gate, their bassist didn’t show up, so keyboardist Dik Mik, who liked to score speed with Lemmy, suggested Lemmy play bass. “I’d never played bass in my life!” Lemmy said in his memoir. After joining Hawkwind onstage for the show, vocalist and sax player Nik Turner told him, “Make some noises in E. This is called ‘You Shouldn’t Do That.'” Lemmy passed the audition and spent the next four years playing bass with the band.
Greasy Truckers Party Live
After three days spent taking Dexedrine with Dik Mik, Lemmy and his bandmate took Mandrax, a depressant, to lessen the intensity of the high. But Lemmy got bored, so he dropped acid and mescaline, then took more Mandrax. Dik Mak drove to the venue, where they pair partook in cocaine and eight Black Beauties (uppers) each. “Fuckin’ hell, Mik, I can’t move,” Lemmy said. “Can you?” As he explained in his book, the band’s roadies helped them onstage for the show, which was taped for the Greasy Truckers Party live album “That was one of the best gigs we ever taped,” Lemmy enthused. “The jamming between me and [leader Dave] Brock was great. We got ‘Silver Machine,’ our only hit – and Number Two at that – from that gig!”
Pilled by Death
Lemmy and a friend were in a car splitting up 100 blue pills – a mixture of speed and downers – when a police cruiser pulled up to them. The tweakers stuffed the pills into their mouths to get rid of the evidence, and the cops were unable to find any contraband. That night, when Lemmy fell asleep, his heart rate and breathing slowed precipitously. “It looked like I had stopped breathing although I hadn’t,” he said in White Line Fever. “I was lying there with both eyes open [and] having kind of a hard time speaking.” At least two people with him thought had died until they figured out he was still breathing.
Booted From “the Most Cosmic Band in the World”
In May 1975, Lemmy was busted at the Toronto border with a gram of amphetamine sulfate down his pants. He spent a night in jail and then received a combination of good and bad news. “The police charged me for cocaine and I really had amphetamines,” said Lemmy. “It was a wrongful charge so they had to let me go.” However, even though he returned to Hawkwind the next day, the band kicked him out after their next show. “If I was busted for acid, everything would have been fine,” he said. “But they were all about the psychedelic experience. The most cosmic band in the world fired me for getting busted with the wrong kinds of drugs!”
Enter “Philthy Animal”
When Lemmy first met Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor in the summer of 1975, he never imagined the stoner would wind up in his new band, Motörhead. “I was with the Hell’s Angels at the time, and he used to come and score dope at our house,” Lemmy told Revolver. “Then he’d light up and pass out and we’d wake him up in the morning and send him home. He was always telling us he was a drummer, but we never took him seriously.” When the drummer Lemmy originally hired didn’t vibe with the band in the studio, Lemmy reached out to Taylor. “Phil said, ‘Sure, I’ll fuckin’ come down and do it for you.’ We overdubbed him on our first album except one track. He proved to be the maniac we needed.”
There was a period in the late Seventies when audiences at punk rock shows in England showed their appreciation by spitting at the bands onstage, or “gobbing.” Motörhead, a favorite band of the punkers, were sometimes on the receiving end of phlegm showers. “I never liked it, but we accepted we couldn’t stop it,” Lemmy told Inked. “One time I saw a guy spit a big green thing on my arm and I borrowed a line from Winston Churchill. I pulled it off my arm and rubbed it in my hair and said, ‘See that? Tonight I’ll have a shower and I’ll be clean, but tomorrow you’ll still be a stinking asshole.'”
Public Display of Affection
“One cool thing happened in the Seventies when a chick just climbed up [onstage] and blew me,” Lemmy told Inked. “I was singing — well, I couldn’t stop, could I?”
Head to Head
Shortly before beginning rehearsals for the landmark 1980 Motörhead album Ace of Spades, Lemmy collapsed backstage after a show at Stafford Bingley Hall and had to be revived for the encore. In his memoir, he says he told the press that he was exhausted from receiving three blowjobs earlier that afternoon. “That was true, actually,” he said. “There were chicks all over the place, and there was this really cute Indian bird — she was two of them.”
Figuring that 15 years of regular drinking and drugging had taken a toll on his system, Lemmy decided to have a complete blood transfusion in 1980. He figured it would be like an oil change — out with the old, in with the new. But Lemmy held off after his doctor ran some tests and determined he would react badly to healthy blood. “He told me I didn’t have human blood in my system anymore,” he told Inked. “Apparently, I had become so toxic, mostly from all the speed and alcohol, that fresh blood would have killed me.”
This is Spinal Tap
For Motörhead’s Iron Fist tour in 1982, a team constructed a stage prop of a giant fist with spotlights at the tips of its fingers. The band began the show by descending from the ceiling and by the time they got to the bottom, the fist would be open and they would be performing. “Naturally enough, it didn’t work right the first night,” Lemmy wrote in White Line Fever. “We got stuck going back up as well. The stage rose about halfway and stopped moving and curtains caught on the stage. Philthy nearly stepped from his kit into oblivion.”
Much has been written about Lemmy’s fascination with Nazi Germany and his collection of German war memorabilia. “The Germans had the best uniforms,” he said. “The bad guys always have the best stuff — the Confederates, Napoleon.” In interviews for Al Jourgensen’s biography, the Ministry frontman talked about catching Lemmy in a particularly compromising position after a show in Austin in 1995. “I knocked [on Motörhead’s] bus. No answer. So I open the fuckin’ door and there’s Lemmy in a complete full-in Gestapo uniform spanking a naked chick with a riding crop. She was loving it. So was he. I apologized and closed the door.”
Kind of Blue
When Lemmy was diagnosed with a dangerous arrhythmia in 2011, he underwent surgery to have a miniature cardioverter-defibrillator implanted in his chest, which delivered a jolt of electricity when it detected an irregular heartbeat. After the operation, Lemmy gave up smoking and cut back to one alcoholic drink a day. But there were complications during his recovery. He started retaining fluids and was bedridden for two weeks. Doctors couldn’t figure out why he was gaining so much weight until they examined his diet and found that he was binging on blueberries as a substitute for drinking. “I guess anything in excess is no good for you, even things that are supposed to be healthy,” he told Revolver.