One tragic morning in the fall of 1970, 27-year-old Jimi Hendrix choked to death on his own vomit after consuming a fatal combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. Many details of the rock star’s last 24 hours are disputed.Was America’s “Black Elvis” just another druggie swallowed whole by the rock and roll revolution? Or was he the victim of malevolent forces beyond his control? Here’s what we know about the Jimi Hendrix death.
How Did Jimi Hendrix Die?
Jimi Hendrix died of complications related to drug consumption. It was not a drug overdose, but the side effects of prescription barbiturates that did it: He had to vomit and the sleeping pills he had taken inhibited his gag reflex, so he asphyxiated on his own upchuck.
But why did it happen?
Did the experimental youth intend to kill himself? Did he simply abuse his own limits with little thought of the consequences? Or worse, was the death a set-up the skullduggery of a mysterious person or group who wanted this legend-in-the-making dead?
Although his death was never ruled a homicide or suicide, there are many who, decades later, believe there is much more to the story. There are a number of reasons to suspect foul play.
Whodunnit? Drug Addiction
There is no doubt many young musicians from the 60s and 70s succumbed to the drug-fueled excesses of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle – Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and more.
But Jimi Hendrix was not a drug addict. He didn’t even have very much alcohol in his system at the time of death – the equivalent of four pints, according to the autopsy.
As for the meds, Hendrix was a chronic insomniac who often used sleeping pills to get enough rest for his grueling touring schedule. The drug that suppressed Jimi’s gag reflex has long since been pulled from the market. Such high-risk barbiturates are no longer used for routine sedative purposes, but in Jimi’s day, the risks were poorly understood.
It is possible that the nine barbiturates found in Hendrix’s lifeless body were nothing more than the restless superstar’s honest attempt to get some shut-eye before an impending trip to the United States.
Whodunnit? J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI
Some people insist that the Hendrix death has all the marks of a homicide, but why? In the weeks before his death, Hendrix indicated that he believed he would not live much longer. He is said to have remarked, “the next time I go to Seattle will be in a pine box” and “I’m not sure I will live to be 28 years old.”
But who would want to murder the shy peacenik guitarist?
How about J. Edgar Hoover? The notorious director of the FBI until 1972 had numerous Black leaders critical of the status quo offed in the name of national interests. We now know that Hoover ordered the Bureau to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize” African-American organizations and leaders as part of the bloody COINTELPRO campaign.
We also know that Hendrix was being investigated by the FBI at the time of his death. Agents had a lengthy dossier on him, along with other high-profile radicals of the civil rights, Black Power and anti-war movements – some of whom died similarly abrupt and weird deaths at the height of their influence.
COINTELPRO tactics were ruthless and highly personalized. It was all part of an attempt to stifle the spread of anti-establishment ideas. Jimi’s meteoric rise to fame and his public affiliation with revolutionaries would have made him an obvious target of COINTELPRO.
Although we can’t say for sure if Jimi’s undoing was political – perhaps involving the forced ingestion of pills? – there are too many suspicious details to dampen enthusiasm for this popular political assassination theory.
Whodunnit? The Road Manager
We reserve the most suspicious character of all for last: Mike Jeffery, Jimi’s money-grubbing mafioso manager.
Allegedly a former MI6 spy for British Intelligence and rich with connections to organized crime, Jeffery’s influence on the young star was, by most accounts, shameful and abusive. It seems he embezzled away most of Hendrix’ fortune to offshore bank accounts, something Jimi was just catching on to at the time of his death.
It has been misreported that Jeffery had an insurance policy taken out on Hendrix prior to his demise. It is true, however, that the opportunistic manager proceeded to cash in on a treasure trove of unreleased Hendrix material as soon as the casket was closed.
We know Jeffery was in Spain the night of the Jimi Hendrix death, so he did not personally kill him. But did he use his Mafia ties to engineer the profitable demise of one of rock’s greatest? Even more disturbing, did he help Hoover’s FBI get rid of one of America’s most inflammatory public figures?
**How did Jimi Hendrix die, really?
We may never know.