Phil Lynott was the first black Irishman to reach the pinnacle of significant musical success, even if it was for a brief time. He started his dream team, Thin Lizzy, in late 1969 with his childhood friend and the band’s official drummer Brian Downey. The rest of the members were shuffled continuously throughout the course of their journey. A bassist, lead vocalist and songwriter, Lynott was the guiding light of the band who succeeded in producing sell-out classics such as ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, ‘Jailbreak’, ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ and so on.
However, Lynott didn’t get to savour the taste of success as the flame of his life was snuffed out by a deadly wind in 1986 at the age of 36. Lynott had a growing reputation due to his persisting drug and alcohol abuse, and it was spiralling out of control. However, Gerry Greg, the director of the documentary Phil Lynott: Scealta On Old Town, claimed that there were early signs of Lynott’s frailty which pushed him down the slippery slope.
Recalling the shooting of the documentary, Greg said, “The hardest location was the Ha’Penny Bridge and that was the first one. We were due there early in the morning, about 8am. We got there and waited for Phil and we waited and we waited…anyway he arrived. He had a brown paper bag and he was regularly nipping out of it. I think it was one of the reasons why he missed his location on the bridge.”
Lynott’s constant struggle to come to terms with his loneliness was a crucial aspect that propelled him into the gyre of heroin addiction. Lynott grew up in Ireland with his grandparents while his mother was away, though in contact, in Britain and his father an absent figure. Thin Lizzy, which meant as much to him as a family, separated in 1983 due to differences in opinion. This was followed by Lynott’s divorce with his wife Caroline Crowther in 1984 due to his addiction problems, taking away his beloved daughters from him and leaving him all alone once again.
To cope with his pain and agony, Lynott formed a new family, a band named Grand Slam. The group was ill-fated from its inception. Fraught with frequent fractionalisation and a series of average songs, no record label wanted to sign them due to their drug dependency.
This was not the end; there were severe blows yet to come. Following fleeting triumph after working with Gary Moore in his single ‘Out in the Fields’, Lynott’s manager Chris left Lynott only to invest his money in the then Grand Slam’s new project.
Lynott, like a hopeful child, continued to dream of bringing Thin Lizzy back together. This tempting possibility was at the brink of being fulfilled during the 1985 Live Aid concert organised by Geldof and Midge Ure, who were friends with Lynott. One of the biggest events in the history of music, the concert failed Lynott as it promoted the Irish band U2 instead of Thin Lizzy.
Darren Wharton, a former member of Thin Lizzy, commented on the disappointment Lynott faced, saying: “It was a tragic decision. It could be a recovery for Phil, who was having drug problems. Despite the problems, he could be fine for the show. I don’t think Phil ever forgave Bob and Midge for that.”
Believing music to be his only therapy, Lynott dismissed other forms of help and embarked on his solo career. However, by that time, Lynott lost all control over his body and allowed the heroin to take over. His solo concert in Spain was a disaster followed by his equally disastrous last single ‘Nineteen.’
Lynott felt so betrayed by the world that he locked himself up in his Richmond house until the time of his death. At this point, Lynott’s mother, Philomela, came to know about her son’s addiction. Her constant effort to help him through the dark phase failed as Lynott procured and consumed drugs defying his mother’s presence and protests. During Christmas in 1986, Lynott went to open gifts with his daughters after ingesting a sizeable dose of heroin. He collapsed in the middle of the activity and was rushed to the hospital by his mortified family members. After being diagnosed with septicemia, Lynott battled with life for ten days before succumbing to death on the 4th of January. The cause of death was certified to be heart failure due to pneumonia and infection in other organs, all aggravated by alcohol and drug use.
It is strange how loneliness and need of company affects an individual. Perhaps, it is rightly said that human beings are social animals. Gone too soon, Phil Lynott outlines nothing a miserable truth.