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The Drumming Madman – Keith Moon’s Wild and Tragic Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle

Samantha Flaum
Getty Images
Getty Images

Many superstars are known for erratic behavior, especially those in the music industry. If not in the spotlight, members of a band who don’t act as a spokesperson can get away with a lot more shenanigans.

Keith Moon was only 17 years old when he first got on stage with The Who. He would go on to epitomize the stereotype lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll. Being on the road became an obsession for him and lead to childish behavior, which ended up giving him the nickname “Moon the Loon.”

Keith Moon. Photo by Jim Summaria CC BY SA 3.0

Keith Moon. Photo by Jim Summaria CC BY SA 3.0

Following Townshend’s lead, Moon would happily partake in the cathartic art of smashing his drum kit on stage at the end of a show, destroying hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. The Who played five shows per day in March and April 1967, all of which Moon wrecked his kit.

Destruction wasn’t purely limited to his own equipment, however. Whether on tour in hotels or visiting a friend’s home, Moon was known to sabotage residences. Smashing toilets, lighting fires, and throwing furniture out of windows were some of his usual moves.

Moon backstage in Ludwigshafen, Germany, 1967. Photo by Klaus Hiltscher CC BY-SA 2.0

Moon backstage in Ludwigshafen, Germany, 1967. Photo by Klaus Hiltscher CC BY-SA 2.0

He was most interested in the destruction of toilets, primarily by way of explosives. Starting with cherry bombs, Moon upgraded to fireworks and eventually dynamite which he would flush down hotel latrines. According to his biographer Tony Fletcher in Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon, “no toilet in a hotel or changing room was safe.” It’s understandable why the band was kicked out of many hotels.

Such destructive behavior stemmed from his early and eager use of amphetamines. In an interview with New Musical Express, Moon told the magazine that “French Blues” (an anti-depressant in the amphetamine family) were his favorite food. These were regularly paired with excessive amounts of alcohol.

Moon performing at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, October 21, 1976

Moon performing at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, October 21, 1976

Strangely, his consumption of drugs and alcohol seemed to be better controlled on the road, but not flawless. Moon began to regularly pass out on stage during gigs. It first happened in 1973, when some groupies had to carry him offstage. In 1976, he did it again at the Boston Garden. The following night he destroyed his hotel room and passed out, bleeding from a cut. The Who’s manager brought him to the hospital, where, according to Fletcher, doctors said Moon would have bled to death if not for the manager’s help.

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At this point, there was talk of firing Moon, but his band members feared that doing so would just hurl the drummer into a downward spiral. By August 1978, The Who released Who Are You and there was hope that his behavior would begin to calm down, due to Moon’s recent use of Heminevrin, a powerful sedative that helped to curb alcohol cravings.

The Who, original line up, performing in Chicago. Left to right: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend. Photo by Jim Summaria CC BY SA 3.0

The Who, original line up, performing in Chicago. Left to right: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend. Photo by Jim Summaria CC BY SA 3.0

On September 6th, Moon attended a party and film premier in honor of Buddy Holly’s 42nd birthday with his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax. He didn’t drink, but did contact his cocaine dealer. Attendees at the party “all remember Keith being in good spirits and surprisingly sober,” according to a Louder Sound’s “Classic Rock” feature.

The couple left the theater early and returned home, falling asleep watching a movie. Fletcher was told by Walter-Lax that she remembers Moon “taking his usual glass of water and bucket of pills” — he was known to abuse his prescription.

Trade ad for Keith Moon’s single “Don’t Worry Baby”.

Trade ad for Keith Moon’s single “Don’t Worry Baby”.

The couple woke up early in the morning and argued a bit before Moon took more pills and went back to sleep. Walter-Lax fell asleep on the couch.

When she awoke in the late afternoon, she went to check on him — he wasn’t breathing and she panicked. She called Moon’s doctor who in turn called an ambulance, but to no avail: he had already been dead for hours.

Moon’s commemorative blue plaque at the site of the former Marquee Club in Soho, London

Moon’s commemorative blue plaque at the site of the former Marquee Club in Soho, London

The body was brought to Middlesex Hospital and legendary drummer Keith Moon was pronounced officially dead at 5:50 pm on September 7, 1978. The official cause of death was listed as a Heminevrin overdose, without suicidal intention.

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During the autopsy, a total 26 undissolved pills were found inside his stomach. Despite his abuse of the prescription drug, it had been taken with good intention. His death came as a terrible shock, as it was clear that Moon had been working on getting better. He was only 32 years old.

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