It was 35 years ago today that Led Zeppelin's almost larger-than-life drummer, virtuoso John Bonham, the greatest of all-time, as chosen by readers of Rolling Stone, died, tragically, at the age of 32. In Through The Out Door was the last new album released, in 1979, while Bonham was still alive and Coda, from 1982, was the last new album Led Zeppelin would ever put out.
Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, ranked No. 2 and Rush's Neil Peart came in at No. 3 in the Rolling Stone poll. Like Bonham, Moon also died young and suffered from problems with alcohol. Neil Peart, the best living drummer in the world today, considers Bonham's drumming to have been "fantastic," as reported by Music Radar.
Rolling Stone reported that Bonham had consumed the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka in the hours leading up to his death. Ultimate Classic Rock reports that the drummer began drinking quadruple vodkas early on September 24, 1980 and then practiced with his Led Zeppelin band mates at Jimmy Page's house for their upcoming North American tour. Bonham reportedly kept drinking into the evening. After the band finished rehearsing he passed out in a drunken stupor, never to wake again.
Bonham's assistant, Alex King, and Page's assistant, Albert Hobbs, told an inquest following the rock legend's death how they put him to bed. John Bonham fan site JohnBonham.co.uk describes King's statements that he had made sure that Bonham was laid on his side, supported by pillows.Sometime during the night, as best as anyone can surmise, John Bonham inhaled his own vomit, resulting in a pulmonary edema, and his untimely death.
"He inhaled the vomit but didn't die immediately as the result of that," Pathologist Edmund Hemstead reportedly stated, "He died some hours later due to the shocked state on inhaling vomit, during which time the alcohol in his blood would have broken down."
Ben Lefevre, Led Zeppelin's road manager was reportedly the first to attempt to rouse John Bonham. When Bonham would not wake, he checked for a pulse and then called an ambulance, but it was too late, the greatest drummer of all-time was already gone. Police attended the scene and no suspicious circumstances were noted."We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were," was the statement released by Led Zeppelin on December 4, 1980. Apart from select charity events, and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the group has not played together again since.
The legacy left behind by Bonham and Led Zeppelin as trailblazers in rock is possibly unsurpassed. Led Zeppelin were some of the first to fine tune the harmony between distorted electric guitar riffs accompanied by pounding, complex drum beats that remains a staple right up until today. The band's album output was as impressive as their talent, both as composers and performers.From the first self-titled Led Zeppelin studio album in 1969 through their sixth, Physical Graffiti, in 1975, fans could not get enough. Each album of the first six has received an average of five out of five stars with over 4,000 ratings by All Music listeners. The last three Led Zeppelin albums received average ratings between three-and-a-half and four stars. Coda was the band's last album comprised of new material. A compilation album, Celebration Day, was released in 2012; that album received an average rating of four-and-a-half stars.
The story of John Bonham is undoubtedly tragic, as is anyone's who dies at 32-years-of-age. His reputation among fans, and other drummers, spanning musical genres, was unprecedented and bordered on mythical. He is sorely missed, but fondly remembered among the rock community, not only for his talent, but for his humility, passion and commitment to drumming, rock music, and, perhaps most of all, his fans.
[John Bonham Screenshot Courtesy TheSpartacus47 / YouTube -- John Bonham Photo by Evening Standard / Getty Images -- Led Zeppelin Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images]