Jimi Hendrix:
Death, Drugs and Rock-n-roll

(from Uncle John's "UNSTOPPABLE" Bathroom Reader)

Hours before Jimi Hendrix died he was working on a song titled “The Story of Life.” The last lines were:
The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye.
The story of love is hello and goodbye,
Until we meet again.

No rock musician is more emblematic of the psychedelic 60s than Jimi Hendrix. The flamboyant guitarist became famous not only for such on-stage antics as lighting his guitar on fire, but blistering performances that earned him a reputation as a musical genius. Only five albums were released during his lifetime but he was recognized as one of the greatest rock guitarists ever.

Jimi Hendrix died in the squalid flat of a German girlfriend in London September 18, 1970, after a long night of drinking and partying. After indulging in a smorgasbord of drugs and alcohol, he and the girlfriend returned to her apartment in the early hours of the morning where, according to the girlfriend, they both took some barbiturate pills to help them sleep.

A normal dose of the downers would have been just half a pill. The girlfriend claimed she took one pill; after Hendrix’s death an autopsy showed he had swallowed nine, 18 times more than recommended. The autopsy also revealed “massive” quantities of red wine not only in his stomach, but in his lungs. The quantity and combination likely would have proved fatal had he not first suffocated on the wine and his own vomit.

There is little mystery as to what killed Jimi Hendrix. But how did it happen? Was it suicide, an accident, or murder? Ever since Hendrix’s death there have been those who think there may have been more to it than just another rock star done in by his own wretched excess. Some things don’t quite add up.

Friends of Hendrix rule out suicide, in spite of his many personal and professional problems. According to them Hendrix believed the soul of a person who committed suicide would never rest.
It could have been an accident. Hendrix was known for being able to take larger quantities of drugs than anyone else. He may have mistaken the potent barbiturates for regular sleeping pills and grabbed the usual handful. On the other hand, as experienced a drug-taker as Hendrix was it wasn’t a mistake he was likely to make. And it was common knowledge that drinking alcohol with downers was asking for serious trouble.

But the quantity of wine found inside him, and around him on the bed where he was found, raises the intriguing question, did he drink that much or was it poured down him by someone? How did so much get into his lungs? Oddly, the autopsy showed a relatively low blood-alcohol level in his body, leading some to speculate that Hendrix drowned in the wine before much of it was absorbed into his body.

Who had reason to want Jimi Hendrix dead? It may be impossible to know now, more than 30 years after his death. But here are some possibilities.

According to the girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, who committed suicide in 1996, she woke up the morning of the 18th, saw that Hendrix was sleeping normally and went out for cigarettes. When she returned she saw Hendrix had been sick and was having trouble breathing. She tried to wake him, but when she couldn’t she began to panic and called a friend, musician Eric Burdon who they had partied with the night before, to ask what to do. After first hanging up on her, Burdon called back and insisted Dannemann call an ambulance. Dannemann claimed Hendrix was alive when the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, about 11:30 a.m., and that she rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital. According to Dannemann Hendrix was propped upright on the trip and suffocated on the way.

The ambulance attendants tell a different story. The two men, according to an article in Guitar World by James Rotondi, arrived at the apartment to find it empty except for Hendrix lying in a mess on the bed, quite dead already. They say they went through the motions of trying to revive Hendrix because that was standard procedure. Then they wrapped up the body, carried it to the ambulance and drove to the hospital. Hendrix was pronounced dead on arrival. The autopsy cautiously concludes that the exact cause and time of death are unknown, but evidence points to a time of death possibly several hours before the ambulance arrived.
Was Monika Dannemann trying to cover-up something? If so, what and why?

Rock music has long been associated with rebellion, revolution and social change, ideas that appeal to youthful fans, but are a cause for concern for the Establishment. It is well-known that during the Hoover era, and perhaps even more recently, the FBI kept dossiers not only on political activists, but actors, authors and a wide variety of other potential “threats.” It is not surprising that influential musicians such as Jimi Hendrix would draw the interest of the government—and perhaps more.

In his book The Covert War Against Rock,” author Alex Constantine says Hendrix’s FBI file, released in 1979 to a student newspaper in Santa Barbara, reveals that Hendrix was on a list of “subversives” to be placed in detainment camps in the event of national emergency. Hendrix was an icon of not only rock-n-roll rebellion, but the Black Power and anti-war movements of the 60s. Did the US intelligence agencies consider Hendrix not only subversive, but dangerous?

There are those who believe that Hendrix and other musicians, including Jim Morrison of The Doors, ex-Beatle John Lennon, and more recently rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.—all who died under suspicious circumstances—may have been killed by the government. It would be remarkably easy to make the murder of musicians who live life close to the edge anyway look like an accident, or to blame a killing on a “lone nut” or “gang violence.” Paranoid fantasy, or could there be some truth to these fears?

Government agents may not have been the only ones with an eye on Hendrix. Organized crime figures were involved with the music industry long before Hendrix. To the Mob the industry wasn’t about music—it was about money and drugs. And around Hendrix there was plenty of both.

According to author Alex Constantine, Hendrix was muscled by the Mob after declining an invitation to play at the Salvation, a New York club controlled by the Gambino crime family. Hendrix had been a regular at the club, but after the proprietor was murdered following an attempt to break free of Mob control Hendrix evidently felt uncomfortable playing there. Shortly after, Constantine says, a stranger approached Hendrix on the street, and while chatting pulled out a .38 pistol and casually hit a target 25 feet away. Hendrix got the message and decided to play the club after all.

Another time Hendrix was kidnapped from the Salvation by some thugs claiming to be Mafia. They took him to a Manhattan apartment and told him to call his manager, Michael Jeffery, and relay a demand to transfer his contract to the Mafia—or else. Hendrix was rescued from the thugs by men sent by Jeffery, but Hendrix later told people he thought Jeffery arranged the whole thing. Hendrix may have had good reason not to trust his manager.

Those seeking to tie together the loose ends of government agencies, the Mob and enormous amounts of money need look no further than Michael Jeffery. Jeffery served in the British Intelligence Corps in the 50s, and years later boasted of underworld connections. As Hendrix’s manager Jeffery had control of millions of dollars earned by Hendrix, much of which was diverted by Jeffery to offshore bank accounts.

Hendrix became increasingly aware that Jeffery was cheating him, and just before his death made arrangements to cancel his contract with Jeffery. The manager understandably could have been upset at the prospect of losing his lucrative client, but why kill Hendrix? The answer could lie in the rumor that Jeffery had taken out a million-dollar life insurance policy on Hendrix. Additionally Jeffery could have made much more from the scores of Hendrix albums released after the musician’s death.
Whatever involvement the former intelligence agent may have had in Hendrix’s death was indirect; he was vacationing in Spain when Hendrix died. To some Jeffrey was further implicated when he himself died under unusual circumstances less than three years later, in a plane crash.

A number of times in the weeks before his death the 27-year-old Jimi Hendrix asked friends “Do you think I will live to be 28?” Did he have a premonition of what was coming? Friends say he was becoming increasingly paranoid, perhaps with good reason. Whatever the truth of the death of Jimi Hendrix, his life, as he wrote in his final song, was indeed “quicker than the wink of an eye.”

copyright©Jim McCluskey 2002-2005
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