What happens when an icon loved by millions of people dies in mysterious circumstances? Many stories start to emerge trying to solve the mystery. Thats exactly what happened with Jimi Hendrix, one of the best guitarists in history.
The sixties were such an enigmatic and iconic era. It gave us great fashion, alternative lifestyles, and some of the best musicians in history. We had the British Invasion with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and of course the three J's: Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and the Great Jimi Hendrix. I bet no one at the time would have imagined that these three musical giants would have more in common than the fact that their names started with the same letter. All three passed away in a strange coincidence at the age of 27 (also in the same year) starting what would become known as the 27 club. The sixties were also all about experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which was the official cause of death for these three artists, but what if this wasn’t the real reason?
In Joplin's case, the autopsy was very clear. As for Morrison, there have always been doubts about his death, but the medical records state that this was the main cause. But what about Hendrix, one of the most influential musicians in the history of rock? Well, the official story isn’t that convincing because it’s filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. His death and the details surrounding it have led to countless stories that go from logical speculation to incredibly elaborate conspiracy theories that are both hard to verify and debunk. But what really happened during the first hours of that September 18th in 1970?
Just one year after rocking everyone's socks off at Woodstock, Hendrix was found dead in his London apartment by paramedics. As the story goes, he had been partying the night before and had a little fight with his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, who wanted to leave the party. He agreed and went to the apartment, where, according to Dannemann, he asked for some Vesperax, the pill he used for sleeping. A few hours later, she woke up and saw that Jimi was profoundly asleep, so she decided to go get some cigarettes, only to find the musician unconscious in bed when she got back. She called an ambulance, and the paramedics tried to revive him in a futile attempt. They took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead at 12:45 pm. The official reports claim that he had huge amounts of alcohol in his stomach and lungs, making the official cause of death, intoxication, and suffocation with his own vomit.
Now, that sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, this is only Dannemann’s version of the story. According to paramedic Reg Jones, who went to the apartment that morning, when they got there, the door was open, but Dannemann was gone. They saw Jimi's body covered in vomit, not breathing and very still. However, they still tried all the maneuvers to see if they could bring him back, which, as we know, they couldn't. Dr. Martin Seifert, who received him at the hospital, declared that when he arrived at the hospital, it was obvious that he had been dead for some time and that the paramedics' attempts had been mere formalities.
Besides the amount of alcohol found in his body, the autopsy revealed that he had taken nine Vesparax pills, which the doctors said was 18 times the legal dose. Along with Eric Burdon’s (member of the Animals and with whom he had partied the night before) statement about his death being a suicide, everybody started creating their own versions of what happened. But soon after, the theory was debunked with evidence. For starters, the autopsy didn’t reveal any evidence pointing to suicide. Also, the amount of pills he took didn't prove anything since he was found with 42 more pills in his pocket. If it had been a suicide attempt, he would have taken all of them. But, why did he take so many? According to people close to him, Hendrix suffered from chronic insomnia, so a single pill wouldn’t help him, and he used to take many at a time to fall asleep.
However, this isn’t all. Something that has never clicked for a lot of people is the fact that, although there were huge amounts of wine in his stomach and lungs, his blood levels didn’t match the amount. In other words, he would have had to die immediately after drinking all that wine in order for it to make sense. What many believe is that someone (or some people) forced the wine into his system to suffocate him or drown him with it and make it look like a suicide or natural intoxication, which was very common at the time. But who could've done something like that?
The first suspect was, of course, Dannemann, who wasn’t even in the apartment when the paramedics arrived. When she was finally found, her many declarations were contradictory and full of inconsistencies. But there was never any evidence against her, and the investigation didn't do enough to look into the gaps in her story and her suspicious behavior. Others claim that it was his manager, Mike Jeffery, whose controlling and manipulative actions towards the musician were no secret. It’s believed that he also stole money from Hendrix and transfer it to his personal account, not to mention the million-dollar life insurance policy that had him as the only beneficiary. Now, at the time of Jimi's death, Jeffery was in Spain, but, for a lot of people, this doesn’t really change anything. These two versions don’t sound that crazy or far-fetched, right?
Well, the third theory belongs to the wonderful world of conspiracy theories, and it's actually the most popular right now. It’s believed that the COINTELPRO, also known as the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program, had a scheme to get rid off all subversive characters in the country. According to this theory, many musicians were investigated for being dangerous influences for young people. Hendrix’s ability to move and inspire the masses was seen as a threat, since the musician had allegedly made a public statement asking the Black Panthers to go to Washington and shoot members of the government. Because of this, some people believe it was the government who decided to eradicate this threat as soon as possible.
We’ll probably never know what really happened since most of the close witnesses are no longer with us, but what we do know is that even though his life ended tragically, his deeds and mark on history were undeniably great. Just think about the other figures we mentioned before: Joplin was found dead only sixteen days after Hendrix’s death, and Morrison died only some months later, but their legend lives on to this day, just like their genius and their innovative way of making music.
For more stories about the deaths of famous musicians, take a look at these articles: