Although he is one of the most celebrated musicians the world has ever seen, Jimi Hendrix, unfortunately, left the world way too soon. However, his mysterious death still haunts us today…
Jimi Hendrix rose to fame in a way the world had not ever seen before. The beloved guitarist put out his first major hit in 1967, and nothing has been the same ever since. In fact, even after his death, he remained a total icon.
Hendrix was running the rock scene in America and all over the world, being recognized for his insane guitar talent and ability to light up any stage. However, his life was cut too short when he passed away in 1970 at only 27 years old. Let's take a look back at where it all started - and where it all went wrong…
Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, in the early '40s, Hendrix - or Johnny Allen Hendrix - certainly didn't have the easiest upbringing. Remarkably, his mother, Lucille, was only 17 years old when she gave birth to the future superstar. And things were anything but simple.
Lucielle and Jimi's father, Al, had a pretty rocky relationship, but the couple had two more children, Leon and Joseph. However, during those rougher moments, the boys spent time living with other relatives or friends. Hendrix didn't have much of a relationship with his mother and only saw her here and there before she died in 1958.
Picking Up the Guitar
However, he had a solid relationship with his father, Al, who would eventually be one of the reasons he started playing guitar in the first place. Growing up, Jimi was into rock and roll and blues music - but everything changed when he turned 16, and his father bought him his first acoustic guitar.
A year later, Jimi received his first electric guitar, a right-handed Supro Ozark that, being left-handed, he naturally began playing upside down. After getting comfortable with the guitar, he dropped out of high school and formed a band, the Rocking Kings, in order to pursue his musical dreams.
In the midst of pursuing his musical career, the singer decided to follow in his father's footsteps and do something completely off the traditional path for aspiring musicians. Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961, where he trained to be a paratrooper.
However, he still made sure to make time for his music, so he founded a band named the King Kasuals. Hendrix was discharged a year later due to an injury, began working under the name Jimmy James as a session musician, and played backup for artists like B.B. King and Sam Cooke.
Meeting Chas Chandler
As he shimmied his way into the New York nightlife, Hendrix formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, in 1965. About a year later, he met Chas Chandler, the bass player of the British rock group, The Animals - and his life was about to change forever.
Chandler signed a contract with Hendrix to become his manager and then convinced him to leave NYC and make his way to London. Jimi met bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Chandler linked him up with Michael Jeffery, and the two co-managed the guitarist to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
His Big Break
Around the same time, Hendrix was at the London Polytechnic on Regent Street, where Eric Clapton's band Cream was scheduled to play. Clapton later recalled meeting Hendrix for the first time and him asking if he could play a couple of songs on stage. It was then Clapton grew this "funny feeling about him" and his talent.
"He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean, he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn't in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it… He walked off, and my life was never the same again." That night the special friendship began…
The year was 1967, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first majorly successful songs, Hey Joe and Purple Haze. The UK-based group then put together their first full-length LP, Are You Experienced, and it saw incredible success after peaking at number two on the charts, so the band began their first official tour.
Audiences were simply captivated by Hendrix's stage presence. The most memorable performance, though, was at the Monterey Pop Festival when he ended the gig by setting his guitar on fire, creating one of the most perfect moments in all of rock and roll history. But regardless of all this sudden fame, Jimi was feeling trapped….
Before transitioning into the music industry, Hendrix's manager worked for the Secret Intelligence Service, often known as MI6 - the covert operations unit. The agent eventually left that world behind and got into music management, where he began his career managing the successful rock band, The Animals.
Eric Burdon of The Animals said Mike would often discuss his time during the Cold War, and "like most people of felonious intent," was "charming, attractive and sometimes a riot to be around." So when he scored Jimi as a client, he became a dominant manager, working him to the bone and seemingly defrauding him right under his nose.
Trapped in the Spotlight
Under Jeffery's watch, Jimi was touring relentlessly and living an apparently unhealthy lifestyle. However, he was at the height of his fame, making about $100k per gig. Sadly, it seemed Jeffery was smuggling most of it. Hendrix had hit such a high level of fame in the late 60s but still felt completely alone.
Jimi was a Black artist with a majority white audience, performing a gimmicky stage act - but all he wanted was to be taken seriously by the music community. He was talented beyond belief, sadly, it seemed his manager only saw dollar signs. And he wanted a way out.
Goodbye Jimi Hendrix Experience
Despite the massive success of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, things were not looking good behind the scenes. After a few short years together, bassist Noel Redding quit the band - allegedly after Hendrix said he would "enlarge the band" without consulting with bandmates.
It was after their last concert together in the summer of 1969 when Redding "went up to Jimi that night, said goodbye, and caught the next plane back to London." Noel recalled, "I don't think Jimi believed I'd do it. Later on, he phoned and asked me to come back, but I said stuff it." And just like that, it was all over.
It was August of 1969, and Jimi was invited to play Woodstock, presumably as the wild performer everyone knew and loved. However, The Jimi Hendrix Experience had broken up, so the musician put together a group based on the sound that he desired rather than the sound everyone was used to. And A Band of Gypsys was born.
Hendrix was the last performer to take the stage at the three-day festival, and his musical talents simply blew everyone away. Everyone, except for Mike Jeffery, that is. His manager reportedly did everything in his power to compromise the situation and Jimi's vision; he allegedly even sabotaged a future television cameo of the new band.
Behind the Lyrics
However, Jimi's problems didn't stop there. The hype from Woodstock had faded, and he was stuck in an agreement he had signed years prior with his one-time manager, Ed Chalpin. Jimi got together A Band of Gypsys to give Capitol Records the album they were looking for.
But he stirred up some trouble with his managers when he decided to perform a new song, Machine Gun, with an underlying political message. "We'd like to dedicate this one to such a daggy scene that's going on — all the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago and Milwaukee and New York, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam," he sang.
None of this went over well with Jeffery, who did not like the political angle Hendrix was serving. So, in response, he put his client on a tight and rigorous touring schedule that was ultimately too much for him - or perhaps anyone - to handle. But this was only the beginning.
The Purple Haze singer was seemingly put on a "punishment tour" by his manager, and things were not looking good. Onstage the band was struggling to find their groove. And off stage, the festivals became riots, all while Jimi was diving deeper into a dangerous rockstar lifestyle.
Nowhere To Hide
Hendrix's frustration with Jeffery just continued to grow, and the rockstar had reportedly confided in his friends that he was looking for a way out. However, his manager was a joint partner in the recording studio that Hendrix had built in New York, making it close to impossible for Jimi to leave.
At one point, Jimi had a feeling something shady was going on and escaped from New York to London. He told his friend and future biographer, Sharon Lawrence, "Lately, I've been thinking that I'm circled by wolves." And his apparent resentment towards Mike just continued to grow and grow - up to the final weeks of his life.
"Nothing More To Give Musically"
In his last few weeks, Hendrix had been living an unhealthy rockstar lifestyle and could feel himself deteriorating. One afternoon before his final concert, he took a concoction of sleeping medications and was barely functioning during his set.
Following the performance, he told a reporter: "I'm not sure I will live to be 28 years old. I mean, the moment I feel I have nothing more to give musically, I will not be around on the planet anymore unless I have a wife and children; otherwise, I've got nothing to live for."
His Final Moments
Hendrix was dating a German figure skater and painter Monika Dannemann towards the end of his life and living in her apartment in Notting Hill, England. And on the night of his death, everything seemed totally normal. He was out with friends until 3 A.M. when Dannemann picked him up and took him home.
After a late night, the two got back to her apartment, and according to the artist, Hendrix took nine of her prescribed sleeping tablets, and the two fell asleep. However, it wasn't until the morning that Dannemann woke up and noticed something was terribly wrong.
Gone Too Soon
Dannemann had woken up to a sight beyond belief. Jimi was completely unresponsive in his bed, and the ambulance was called to their apartment in the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill. Official records show the ambulance was called at 11:18 A.M on September 18, 1970.
Once the ambulance arrived, Hendrix was taken to the St. Mary Abbots hospital, where the staff wasn't even aware it was him at first. The rockstar was pronounced dead at 12:45 P.M. as the official cause of death was revealed to be an overconsumption of sleeping medications and alcohol.
His Handwritten Note
However, things got tricky when a handwritten note was found in Dannemann's apartment following Jimi's death. The mysterious poem read, "The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye. The story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again." And immediately, the poem raised questions…
These lyrics were part of a poem often referred to as The Story Of Life. However, it was unclear whether these words were lyrics to a song Jimi Hendrix was working on before he died or if it was purposely written down as his final sendoff to the world.
Besides the eerie handwritten note that was found next to his bed after Jimi's death, Hendrix left another message that could have been his final cry for help. It wasn't discovered until later, but Hendrix had called Chas Chandler that night and left this message…
Hendrix called Chandler and left a message in what is believe were his final words, "I need help bad, man," he said on his answering machine. The combination of the handwritten letter and the call for help on Chandler's answering machine led to many inconsistent theories on what really happened that night.
The only person that was with him within the hours before he died was his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann; however, the artist told conflicting stories about what exactly went down. At first, she claimed to have found him unresponsive and that she called for help sometime between 9 and 11 A.M. - but then changed her story.
Dannemann went from one claim to the next, saying he was actually alive when he was put in the ambulance. Things seemingly didn't line up from her end, but there was another key witness involved who was with the duo the night before: Eric Burdon. And he had a different story than Monika's…
An Inside Job?
Eric Burdon and Hendrix shared the same manager, Mike Jeffery, and the two soon became good friends on and off the stage. The night before his death, Hendrix was with his good friend, Burdon, who eventually told a different story than what Dannemann formally reported.
The insider claimed he received a startling phone call from Dannemann, and when he came to the hotel at dawn, he saw the ambulance driving down the street - which also does not align with the time the ambulance was called, per the records. However, Burdon shared later on that he believed his friend had done this all intentionally.
Amongst these different accounts came another one from his good friend, Eric Clapton. According to the musician, the two were supposed to meet that night at the Lyceum to see Sly Stone play. Clapton had brought with him a left-handed Stratocaster that he had found and planned on gifting it to him that evening.
Clapton recalled seeing Jimi that evening, but from afar. "He was in a box over there, and I was in a box over here. I could see him, but I couldn't… we never got together. The next day, whack! He was gone. And I was left with that left-handed Stratocaster."
The conspiracy theories following his death just continued to spiral out of control. Of all the chilling theories around his death that began to form, none were proven true. But the most famous theories all pointed towards his manager, Mike Jeffery, being behind his sudden passing.
Many believe Mike had organized his death to get the reported $2 million dollar insurance policy payout in order to pay off a debt to the mafia. As sad as it may be, many believed, and still do to this day, it was ultimately due to their toxic relationship and the way their last few months together played out.
Before he died, Jimi was reportedly looking for different ways to get out of his contract with Mike. It was later revealed that the Hey Joe singer was in secret negotiations with Miles Davis' manager, Alan Douglas. But when Jeffery found out, he accused Douglas of trying to steal him from him.
The day before the musician died, Douglas had called Hendrix's lawyers, informing them that he would now be taking him on a client, which would just be bad news for Jeffery. Not only would Douglas get Jeffery's prized possession, but he would also find out about his years of alleged mismanagement once he got ahold of Mike's books.
The Red Wine Theory
As more theories emerged, Dr. John Bannister, the physician on duty at St Mary Abbot's hospital the day the ambulance arrived, later testified. "The amount of wine that was over him was just extraordinary," he recalled. "Not only was it saturated right through his hair and shirt but his lungs and stomach… I have never seen so much wine."
According to the doctor, "someone apparently poured red wine down Jimi's throat." But perhaps what made things more bizarre was that almost no alcohol was found in Hendrix's blood - nor did he ever drink red wine, according to his close friends. Was there more to the story here?
But according to the most recent medical evidence, it was simply the combination of substances that led to his passing. The flourishing musician was already in a tough position that year, constantly involved in the rockstar party lifestyle and was seemingly feeling lonely.
As Hendrix's biographer Charles R. Cross stated, "The life he created as a star was as lonely and isolating as his fractured childhood." Although he was constantly surrounded by thousands of people, he still felt alone, which sadly seems to be a running theme in the industry…
So what really happened? Amongst all the running theories, the most famous idea evolves around Mike Jeffery's involvement in Jimi's sudden death. But there was not enough substantial evidence to provide any answers for years. That is, until 2009, when poet James Wright revealed a conversation he had with Jeffery.
In his 2009 book Rock Roadie: Backstage and Confidential with Hendrix, Elvis, The Animals, Tina Turner, and an All-Star Cast, James Wright claimed that Jeffery confessed to the murder a year after Jimi had died. "That son of a ***** was going to leave me," the manager apparently stated. "If I lost him, I'd lose everything."
What Happened to Jeffery?
Despite this alleged confession, there was no further information, and no charges were ever pressed against Jeffery. In fact, he took everything with him to the grave just a few years after Jimi had passed. In 1973, Mike reportedly died in a mysterious plane crash over France. However, his remains were never found.
Chillingly enough, Jeffery was due in court the next day regarding multiple lawsuits over money laundering, fraud, and embezzlement. Eric Burdon, Noel Redding, and more believed he may have checked in his luggage but never boarded the flight to avoid going down for his long list of crimes. Whatever the case may be, he has not been seen since…
Predicting an Early Demise
Regardless of what really happened that tragic night, we lost a legend way too soon. But what's even more unbelievable is that his eerie prediction about an early demise also came true. On multiple occasions, Hendrix was quoted repeating that he would never live past 30.
Besides telling a reporter he would "not be around on the planet anymore," to see 28, he had a similar experience in Morocco the year before he died. Hendrix met with a tarot card reader, and she pulled the death card. It was then he turned to his friend and said, "I'm going to die before I'm 30."
The 27 Club
In his few short years performing, Jimi will always be remembered as one of the most influential musicians the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, he was claimed by the tragic "27 club" way too soon. The 27 club is an informal list of popular musicians, actors, and celebrities that have mysteriously died at 27.
The cultural phenomenon commonly includes artists who have passed away due to substance abuse. Some other famous artists in this unofficial "club" include Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more. While they may have faced untimely deaths, their legacies are all bound to live on forever...