Jimi Hendrix went down in history as one of rock’n’roll’s most influential figures ― a superb songwriter and a virtuoso on guitar, he made his mark playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and becoming the voice of an entire generation that advocated free love and peace on earth.
Despite his musical career spanning over the course of only four years, he was posthumously described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as:
“arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music. Hendrix expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician had ever ventured before.”
When he was pronounced dead in London, on September 18, 1970 it was the final blow to the era of hippy culture and “free love.” Having been 27 years of age at the time of his death, the author of classic hits such as “Hey Joe” and “Crosstown Traffic” was among the first to join the infamous “27 Club,” just a few weeks before Janis Joplin and less than a year prior to the death of Jim Morrison.
The official report read “inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication.” Although the coroner recorded his demise as accidental death, controversy soon arose — partly due to alleged inconsistencies found during the investigation, and fueled by Hendrix’s huge popularity as people just couldn’t bear the fact that such a figure had passed away so young.
Hendrix was found in an apartment in the Samarkand Hotel, located in Notting Hill, London. Reports surrounding his death soon sparked a number of conspiracy theories and independent investigations ― all trying to prove that the rock star was in fact murdered.
Some suggested that the famous singer was murdered by one of his girlfriends, others claimed it was his former manager or even the CIA, and some considered suicide as an explanation, for at the time, Hendrix was disillusioned with the music industry and had grown tired of false friends who tried to use his fame for personal gain.
The coroner who conducted the autopsy noted that Hendrix had ingested a large amount of wine, as well as a number of Vesparax sleeping pills. Incapacitated, the musician had drowned in his own vomit.
The pressure of the public after Jimi Hendrix’s death led to a thorough investigation which reconstructed the last few days of his life, involving all of the people who crossed paths with the musician before his untimely death.
According to the investigation conducted by Scotland Yard, the musician spent the previous night at a party with friends, before retreating to the apartment rented by Monika Dannemann, his then-girlfriend.
This German figure skater and painter was the last person to see Hendrix alive, as she spent the fatal night of September 17th with him. She was also the person who discovered his lifeless body in the morning of the September 18th.
Dannemann herself told the police two different versions of the story. One claimed that Hendrix was still breathing when she woke up next to him, while in another version she said quite the opposite ― that he was already dead when she saw him, with his face covered in vomit.
A number of other inconsistencies were discussed by Tony Brown, who had contacted Dannemann on several occasions, in his book Jimi Hendrix: The Final Days. Brown noted that her version of the event “would change from one call to the next.”
She herself passed away in 1996, one year prior to the publishing of Brown’s book. Her death was recorded as suicide, although some suggest that foul play was involved in her case, too.
According to her story, on the night between the 17th and 18th, she and Hendrix talked until 7 am, discussing various issues, one of them allegedly being his proposition of marriage.
James “Tappy” Wright, a former roadie for the band Animals, claimed that Hendrix was murdered by his manager, Michael Jeffery, with the motive being to cash in on singer’s life insurance.
Allegedly, Jeffery personally confessed to Wright one year after the incident that he had murdered Hendrix using wine and barbiturates to make it look like an accident.
However, Bob Levine, former U.S. manager of the late guitarist, disputed these claims in a 2011 interview for Music Radar:
“Despite the allegations that have recently been made, I need to set the record straight once and for all. Jimi died an accidental death, but he definitely wasn’t murdered – not by Michael Jeffery, his UK manager, and certainly not by anybody connected to him. The whole thing is one giant lie.”
As for Jeffery, he died in an airplane crash in 1973, just three years after Hendrix, while the issue was still in dispute.
The police, the corner, and everybody close to Hendrix concluded that it was an accident, but conspiracy theories were in the air and there was no way of resolving them.
One piece of “evidence” put forward to support for the suicide theory was a poem, several pages long, which was written by Hendrix on the night he died. It was this poem that prompted Eric Burdon, lead singer for the Animals and War, to state for the BBC, just three days after Hendrix passed away, that his friend “killed himself.”
He later explained his view:
“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 a conventional way. He just decided to exit when he wanted to.”
Michael Jeffery immediately dismissed the claims of suicide, supporting the official verdict of accidental death.
Either way, Jimi Hendrix’s death came as an earthquake. Fans around the globe mourned as the media leaked information on the conditions of his departure.
The poem, titled The Story of Life, indeed has an eerie feel ― one that doesn’t suggest suicide, but rather a contemplation on life, love, and happiness always out of reach. The last stanza of the poem might just serve as the singer’s epitaph:
“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye. The story of love is hello and goodbye. Until we meet again.”