There are few names in rock ‘n’ roll more iconic than Jimi Hendrix. The extraordinarily gifted guitarist shaped rock music from the 1950s and early ’60s rhythm and blues style championed by Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley into his own heavier and unique style. Not only was Hendrix a true pioneer, but he is widely accepted as the greatest guitarist to ever live.
Hendrix became the greatest guitarist of all time because he stepped outside of convention when teaching himself to play. He grew up under tough circumstances, born when his mother was just 17 years of age. Hendrix’s mother had a turbulent relationship with his father, Al, who eventually left home. As a result, Jimi spent more time with his father, Al, after the couple broke up, rarely visiting his mother before her death in 1958.
Al’s love for blues and rock ‘n’ roll rubbed off on Hendrix as he was encouraged to teach himself to play the guitar by listening to his father’s music and feeling out the notes. Famously, Hendrix’s first electric guitar was a right-handed Supro Ozark that the natural lefty had to flip upside down to play, further demonstrating his brilliance.
Hendrix was deeply affected by the violence and hostility he witnessed between his parents as a child. After his rise to fame with The Jimi Hendrix Experience in the late 1960s, his flirtations with alcohol and drugs began to spiral increasingly further from his grasp. According to Herbie Worthington, one of Hendrix’s friends at the time, the guitarist would turn into a totally different person after becoming intoxicated.
As Worthington said in Charles R. Cross’ Room Full of Mirrors, “[Hendrix] just couldn’t drink. He simply turned into a bastard.” Ultimately, Hendrix met his end through his uncontrolled scoop into the rock ‘n’ roll world of substance abuse.
On September 17th, 1970, Hendrix spent the evening out with some friends in London before heading home with his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann. According to Dannemann, the pair enjoyed the rest of the night together, drinking red wine before Hendrix decided to take some sleeping pills.
The next morning, Dannemann found Hendrix dead, covered in his own vomit. The young rock star had died from asphyxiation, and the autopsy found that he had taken nine sleeping tablets, around 20 times the recommended dosage.
Hendrix’s final known words were recorded on an answering machine he left for his manager and friend Chas Chandler the night before he was found dead. He said, “I need help bad, man.” This naturally led to people speculating what exactly Hendrix needed help with.
Over the years following Hendrix’s untimely demise, as with most premature rock star deaths, conspiracies have popped up here and there, ranging from the believable to the outright barmy. Some suggested that his girlfriend had killed him or that he had intentionally killed himself. The latter seems plausible and aligns with the answering message that was left for Chandler.
On the aforementioned barmy and nonsensical end of the spectrum are theories that Hendrix was perhaps murdered by his own manager. As with the allegations suggesting that Dannemann had been responsible, there was no significant evidence to back any of the claims. The death was most likely an accidental overdose that could well have been a result of suicidal intent in an isolated moment of intoxicated stupor.