Behind the Death of Jimi Hendrix

On Sept. 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died. Born James Marshall Hendrix in Seattle on Nov. 27, his childhood was filled with hardship and tragedy, from living with different relatives after his parent’s divorce to the death of his mother when he was just 15. It was around this time that Hendrix picked up his first guitar, an acoustic for $5, and began practicing.

Soon Hendrix was skipping school, moving in and out of bands, stealing cars, and avoiding jail time by enlisting in the army in 1961. Discharged shortly after, Hendrix joined his Army friend bassist Billy Cox and began touring around and playing for a collection of artists, including Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, and was playing with Little Richard and The Isley Brothers by the mid-1960s before forming The Blue Flames as Jimmy James.

By 1966, Hendrix was signed by The Animals’ manager Michael Jeffery, and began piecing together The Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, and released their first single “Hey Joe” and debuted Are You Experienced by 1967.

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Following the last show with The Experience on June 29, 1969, Hendrix regrouped with Cox and formed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (later called Band of Gypsys) as his addiction to heroin was getting stronger. The band played Woodstock and closed the festival with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Hendrix eventually reformed the Experience again without Redding.

Hendrix played his final show with the Experience at Temple University in Philadelphia. At this point, his performances were lacking due to substance abuse, and by the time he played his final show ever on Sept. 6, 1970, at the Open Air Love and Peace Festival in Fehmarn, Germany, the band was booed. Attempting to play between a torrential downpour and high winds, a belligerent audience spurred by Hells Angels were making conditions to perform less than idyllic before he pulled in the crowd with an electrified rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s 1964 anti-love blues song “Killing Floor.” The last song that the band performed in their 13-song set was “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

On Sept. 11, 1970, Hendrix gave his final interview at the Cumberland Hotel in London with the Record Mirror. Already suffering from poor health due to an incessant bout of influenza and exhaustion from work, nearly two weeks after his final show with The Experience, Hendrix was found dead in the apartment of his girlfriend Monika Dannemann at the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill.

The musician died from an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills, according to the police report. An autopsy concluded that “Hendrix aspirated his own vomit and died of asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates.”

At the time of his death, Hendrix was in legal trouble with a recording contract dispute and a paternity case, while he was trying to leave his manager Michael Jeffrey. Rumors began to spread that Hendrix’s death was suspicious, and in 1993 Kathy Etchingham asked to have his case reopened, which was eventually inconclusive.

Hendrix was buried at  Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, Washington. His funeral was attended by his father Al, stepmother June, brother Leon, sister, Janie, and grandmother Nora, along with other extended family and Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell of The Experience, along with a number of other musicians and friends.

His gravestone reads “Forever in our hearts, James M. ‘Jimi’ Hendrix, 1942-1970.”

(Photo by Bob Baker/Redferns)

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