On this day 50 years ago, rock icon Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27 in London, with the post-mortem revealing that he had vomited in his sleep and choked to death after having overdosed on sleeping pills.
It was September 18, 1970, and was a tragic early end for the rock star that burned bright and faded fast, marking a huge loss for rock’n’roll.
Despite his short time in the spotlight, the effortlessly cool Hendrix quickly establishing a reputation as one of the era’s most prodigious talents, bringing us legendary tracks such as ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Crosstown Traffic’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and much more.
In just three short years, Hendrix changed the sound of rock and roll guitar forever, and five decades on from his death, his decade-defying music continues to embody the same magic that it did and resonate with a whole new generation – a true testament to the psychedelic rocker’s unmatchable talent.
On the 50th anniversary of the rock icon’s death, we take a look at some of the lesser-known facts about one of the 20th century’s most influential artists, Jimi Hendrix.
He wasn’t always ‘Jimi’
Jimi Hendrix was born John Allen Hendrix in Seattle on November 27, 1942. Raised by his mother while his father, James “Al” Hendrix, was fighting in World War II when Al returned to the United States in 1945, he collected his son and renamed him James Marshall Hendrix.
In 1966, Chas Chandler, the bassist for The Animals, and later Jimi’s manager—saw the musician playing at Cafe Wha? in New York City. “This guy didn’t seem anything special, then all of a sudden he started playing with his teeth,” roadie James “Tappy” Wright, who was there, told the BBC in 2016. “People were saying, ‘What the hell?’ and Chas thought, ‘I could do something with this kid.’”
While Hendrix had been performing under the name Jimmy James at the time, it was Chandler who suggested he use the more exotic “Jimi.”
He almost drowned in a jet skiing accident
He ay have shredded on the stage, but apparently the rocker’s water skiing skills left much to be desired. According to Jon Roberts’ American Desperado, the ‘Bold as Love’ rocker almost died in an accident at sea.
“Jimi’s out there – no life vest on – and he falls off the skis. He’s in the water thrashing around… Suddenly, I’m wondering if he can even swim. I had some good times with Jimi, but he was a disaster on water skis.”
He couldn’t read music
In 1969, Dick Cavett asked the musician whether he could read music: “No, not at all,” the self-taught musician said.
Jimi had learned from a young age to play by ear and would often use words or colours to express what he wanted to communicate. “[S]ome feelings make you think of different colours,” he said in an interview with Crawdaddy! magazine.
“Jealousy is purple—‘I’m purple with rage’ or purple with anger—and green is envy and all this.”
This phenomenon is actually called synaesthesia – where Synesthetes — or people who have synesthesia — may see sounds and colours, taste words or feel a sensation on their skin when they smell certain scents.
His musical inspiration often came from dreams
“I dreamt a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” he explained in a 1967 interview with New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Look’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”
Jimi was once kicked out of a bar because they thought he was a clown
Jimi was once refused service in a bar in Liverpool, England because the bartender thought he was dressed as a clown. According to Hendrix biographer, Charles R. Cross, Jimi had believed the barman was racist, asking him, “Is it because I am black?”
“It has nothing to do with your race,” the bartender replied. “We do not want your kind in here. The sign outside is clear about it.”
Noel went outside and read a sign on the door and told Jimi: “It says clowns will not be served.”
He was once kidnapped after a show
In Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Charles R. Cross revealed that Jimi was almost kidnapped following a show at The Salvation, a club in Greenwich Village.
“He left with a stranger to score cocaine but was instead held hostage at an apartment in Manhattan. The kidnappers demanded that [Hendrix’s manager] Michael Jeffrey turn over Jimi’s contract in exchange for his release. Rather than agree to the ransom demand, Jeffrey hired his own goons to search out the extorters. Mysteriously, Jeffrey’s thugs found Jimi two days later … unharmed.”
He added, “It was such a strange incident that Noel Redding suspected that Jeffrey had arranged the kidnapping to discourage Hendrix from seeking other managers; others … argued the kidnapping was authentic.”
He was kicked out of the army
In 1961, Jimi was forced to join the Army because he had twice been caught by the police while joyriding in stolen cars. Having to pick between two years in jail or joining the army, where he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in May of 1961.
Just one year later, however, Hendrix was discharged, telling others it was due to an ankle injury, however, army documents stated that the ‘Hey Joe’ hitmaker was thrown out for being “apprehended masturbating in the platoon area while supposed to be on detail”.
Jimi didn’t think he would live past 28
In a Starting at Zero: His Own Story, which compiled Hendrix’s thoughts, writings and interviews, he commented that without music, he had nothing else to live for, and in an eerie prophecy, wondered if he would live until 28 – with his prediction coming to fruition with his death at the age of 27.
“The moment I feel that I don’t have anything more to give musically, that’s when I won’t be found on this planet, unless I have a wife and children, because if I don’t have anything to communicate through my music, then there is nothing for me to live for,” Jimi said.
“I’m not sure I will live to be 28 years old, but then again, so many beautiful things have happened to me in the last three years. The world owes me nothing.”
“When people fear death, it’s a complete case of insecurity. Your body is only a physical vehicle to carry you from one place to another without getting into a lot of trouble. So you have this body tossed upon you that you have to carry around and cherish and protect and so forth, but even that body exhausts itself.”
“The idea is to get your own self together, see if you can get ready for the next world because there is one. Hope you can dig it.”