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Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970

Rolling Stone's 1970 obituary remembers the life and music of the guitarist after his untimely death

October 15, 1970
Jimi Hendrix on the cover of 'Rolling Stone.'
Jimi Hendrix on the cover of 'Rolling Stone.'
Jim Marshall

LONDON — Jimi Hendrix is dead at age 27.

The exact nature of the death is still vague, and a coroner's inquest is to be held in London September 30th. Police, however, say it was a drug overdose. They say he took nine sleeping pills and died of suffocation through vomit.

According to Eric Burdon [The Animals, War], Hendrix left behind for the girlfriend in whose apartment he died what Burdon called a "suicide note" which was a poem several pages in length. The poem is now in the possession of Burdon, the last musician with whom Hendrix played before he died.

Said Burdon: "The poem just says the things Hendrix has always been saying, but to which nobody ever listened. It was a note of goodbye and a note of hello. I don't think Jimi committed suicide in the conventional way. He just decided to exit when he wanted to."

Burdon went on BBC television September 21st – three days after Hendrix's death – to say Jimi "killed himself." He made no mention then of the poem he told Rolling Stone about two days earlier. The inquest was to have been held September 23rd, but the day after Burdon appeared on television, it was postponed one week. (Burdon refuses to show the poem to anyone.)

"I don't believe it was suicide," answered Michael Jeffery, Jimi's personal manager. "I just don't believe Jimi Hendrix left Eric Burdon his legacy for him to carry on. Jimi Hendrix was a very unique individual.

"I've been going through a whole stack of papers, poems and songs that Jimi had written, and I could show you 20 of them that could be interpreted as a suicide note," he continued.

Speaking with Jeffery on another phone extension, Michael Goldstein, Jimi's publicity agent, said, "A lot of foolish things will be said in the next few weeks by people who considered themselves close to Jimi Hendrix; they will not be saying them for Jimi; they will be saying them for themselves."

Both Jeffery and Goldstein said that Burdon was never that close to Hendrix, and also noted that Burdon and his current manager, Steve Gold, have a lawsuit in the courts against Jeffery, Burdon's former manager.

Hendrix had spent Thursday evening, September 17th, at the Samarkand Hotel flat of Monika Danneman, a German painter. She found him in a coma Friday morning and called an ambulance. The ambulance rushed to the hotel on Landsdowne Crescent, in London's Nottinghill Gate district, and took him to St. Mary Abbot's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:45 a.m., London time.

Police said the sleeping pills were missing from a bottle in Miss Danneman's flat, which she had rented in mid-August for six weeks, and that Hendrix had taken some when he retired the night before. They took the rest of the pills as evidence.

Hendrix had been in Europe since he played the Isle of Wight Festival August 30th. That was his first British gig in two years, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (with Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) had taken off almost immediately for a tour of the Continent. The tour was supposed to end in Rotterdam on September 14th, but that final date had been cancelled when Cox suffered a nervous breakdown and had to return to the States. Noel Redding, the original Experience bassist, was due to leave New York to join the group in London when word came of the death.

Jimi had been staying at the Cumberland Hotel off Park Lane since he arrived last month. He was due to check out after Wednesday night, but asked the manager instead to book him over one more evening. However, he didn't return Thursday night.

The last time he had appeared before an audience was Wednesday night, when he joined Burdon and War on stage at Ronnie Scott's Club in London for a jam session.

"I know he had been in a bad state for a year," said Burdon. "He came out of his shell on Tuesday and came over to the club and asked if he could play with us the next night, the 16th, which he did. At first he played like an amateur, real bad, using stage tricks to cover up. Then he came on with a solo which was up to scratch, and the audience dug it. He went off stage and came back, playing the background to 'Tobacco Road.'" That song was his last.

Hendrix had been for some time attempting to become more independent in his business affairs. He saw Electric Lady as a step toward that goal. Burdon says that a week before Hendrix died, Jimi told him he was going to get new management.

"Numerous amounts of times he complained about his managers, I'd have to say he did," said Buddy Miles, who played with Hendrix in the Band of Gypsys. "I ain't gonna lie and say I don't know, because I was with him a lot and got to him in ways lots of others didn't.

"The few good things Jimi got, he really deserved. Even more things, as far as I'm concerned. When I left the Band of Gypsys, I know Jimi was extremely unhappy," Miles added.

"He never said to me he wanted to change management," Jeffery replied to these statements. "What happened was, both of us were expanding in areas, and at certain times he needed very close attention. There was a time when he wanted to expand the group, and the thing was, half my energies were in the studio and other things, and I didn't have time to devote energies fully to helping expand the group.

"Both he and I felt that the three-way function of manager – artist – agent was quite likely to fall apart, because the times are different than they once were in show business. People outside the circle mistook this for discontent, but it wasn't, because Jimi was intelligent and bright enough. If he wanted to split, he would have split.

"As far as being artistically frustrated, Jimi had an incredible genius about him, and the common thing with most artists of that caliber is that they are constantly artistically frustrated," Jeffery added.

"He told everybody different things. He was that way. Always changing his mind," Burdon said over the weekend. "Hendrix was in a such a deep well that the only way out was to stop playing music and try to clear up the mess. But he knew that without music he would be destroyed anyway. He realized that the only thing to do was to keep on playing and died anyway because he was being stifled creatively.

"He realized that the only way he could get what he wanted, helping the Panthers, and setting up an anti-ghetto project in Harlem, was to die and hope that someone else would take care of the business for him using the things that he left behind, his music and his last poem, to make the money," stated Burdon.

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