UK biographer Philip Norman’s new book, ‘Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix’ was published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the guitar icon’s death, on September 18. A recent article, focusing on the book and the revelations regarding Hendrix’s death, made me think that, once again, the circumstances surrounding the death of one of our most famous rock stars are murky, unclear, and obstructed by mythological stories.
Hendrix died at 27 in 1970, in a hotel flat he was sharing with his girlfriend Monika Dannemann, in London. The official story says that he had taken 9 sleeping pills and died of suffocation from choking on his vomit. At the time, Eric Burdon (The Animals, War) reported Hendrix had left a ‘suicide note’, a poem long of several pages, and went on BBC TV, spreading misinformation and declaring a few days after Hendrix’s death that he had ‘killed himself.’ The suicide story was dismissed by Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffery, but Hendrix’s death has remained mysterious, while his association with the ’27 Club’ has fueled the myth of rock stars bound to self-destruction.
The night he died, Hendrix was having some trouble sleeping, he asked for something, and Dannemann gave him a powerful sleeping tablet called Vesperax, that should have been cut in half. Dannemann said that, when she woke up, she saw Hendrix sleeping and went to get some cigarettes, before finding out he had taken 9 pills of this same powerful drug.
According to Norman, Dannemann called her friend Alvinia Bridges (who was staying with Burdon) to get a doctor’s number, and Burdon claimed he told her to call an ambulance immediately. However, Dannemann allegedly protested because there were drugs all over the apartment, so she ‘couldn’t have people around.’ Bridges, who claimed that Dannemann was ‘hysterical’ because Hendrix was ‘regurgitating all over the place,’ insisted she should ‘turn him over, turn him over,’ but since Hendrix suffocated, it obviously did not happen. When she called an ambulance, it was already too late.
Unsurprisingly, Dannemann’s account of the dramatic event changed over time and more troubling details were revealed by Kathy Etchingham, who had also been a girlfriend of the late rock star. Etchingham spent 3 years investigating the circumstances surrounding Jimi Hendrix’s death herself, strongly criticizing Dannemann’s account of Jimi’s death for its ‘inconsistencies.’ Her effort and a 34-page dossier pushed Scotland Yard to reopen the case in 1993, although they subsequently dropped it. Etchingham does not believe that Dannemann was really Jimi’s girlfriend and she thinks their involvement lasted just a few days, an opinion shared by Norman who thinks the relationship was in fact ‘just a couple of one-night stands.’
Dannemann has claimed she and Hendrix were secretly engaged at the time, and after Hendrix’s death, she had made a career of being Hendrix’s fiancée, engaging in many newspapers, documentary, and book interviews, even guest appearances at Hendrix conventions. It’s easy to imagine the type. It is also easy to understand why Norman is asking questions about Dannemann’s role in Hendrix’s death and why Etchingham is suspecting foul play.
Furthermore, Dannemann claimed to have ridden in the ambulance to the hospital, where Hendrix was later declared dead, while Etchingham tracked down the ambulance drivers and was told a very different story: when they got to Dannemann’s flat, it was empty and Hendrix was dressed, with red wine spilled all over his shirt and trousers. The fact that he was dressed up is another strange detail if he had just woken up and was vomiting from the pill overdose. Etchingham claimed that a large amount of red wine was found in his lungs, but only a limited amount of alcohol was found in his blood and urine tests. This was confirmed by Hendrix’s brother who said to Norman that Hendrix appeared as if he was ‘soaked in wine,’ while there was very little alcohol in his system. ‘The autopsy showed there was almost no wine in his system,’ says Norman. ‘So it looked like this sort of hurried cleanup operation.’
The ambulance drivers also said that Hendrix had no pulse when they arrived, whereas Dannemann had claimed that he was still breathing and had a pulse when he reached the hospital.
As expected, Etchingham found out that Dannemann and Hendrix had many fights the night before he died which led her to believe that Dannemann had probably a larger role to play in Hendrix’s death. Dannemann wrote her own book, ‘The Inner World of Jimi Hendrix,’ and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1996, an apparent suicide after losing a court case against Etchingham, who was suing her for repeated libel.
50 years later, the circumstances surrounding Jimi Hendrix’s death are still unclear, but we now may have a better idea of what happened. ‘There was wine everywhere. He’d obviously been dead for at least half an hour,’ declared Dr. Bob Brown, who was involved in Hendrix’s treatment, ‘He was dead and had been for some time.’ Jimi Hendrix certainly didn’t commit suicide and it’s doubtful he took all these pills himself. If he was indeed vomiting all over the place, he was certainly awake at one point and didn’t die while sleeping. Then the wine soaking his clothes — why would he have wine while vomiting? — and the fact he was already dead when the ambulance arrived are two obviously very suspicious facts. Once again, it’s a shame the police never really investigated his death.
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