30 deaths that rocked the Sunset Strip
From Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin to Jani Lane and Ray Manzarek, Metal Sludge examines 30 deaths that rocked the Sunset Strip.
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
Jimi Hendrix, Sept. 18, 1970 – Considered the most innovative guitar player of all-time and the star of Woodstock, Hendrix died in London after chocking on vomit following a night of drinking and taking pills. One of his last phone calls was a long distance call to Los Angeles to future KISS producer Eddie Kramer. Hendrix was 27.
Janis Joplin, Oct. 4, 1970 – At the time of her death, Joplin was known as the queen of rock, and she remains perhaps the most popular female “hippie” of all-time. She died of a heroin overdose at the old Landmark Motor Hotel. She was 27.
Jim Morrison, July 3, 1971 – The legendary frontman for The Doors got his start on the Sunset Strip as one of the first house bands for the Whisky. He also played at Gazzarri’s and for a time lived at the Alta Cienega Motel just off the Sunset Strip. He died in a Paris hotel bathtub of heart failure, but the cause remains in dispute. Like Hendrix and Joplin, he was 27.
Jim Morrison, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA 1968 Photo by Henry Diltz
Elvis Presley, Aug. 16, 1977 – The King was the world’s first real rock star, and in his prime Presley loved to hang out on the Sunset Strip and pass out $10 bills, as he drove along in his convertible Cadillac. He died of a heart attack in Memphis while on the toilet. He was 42.
Keith Moon, Sept. 7, 1978 – The legendary drummer for The Who was known as much for his sensational precussion skills as for his drinking and partying, particularly at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, his home away from home. He died in London from a pill overdose. He was 32.
John Bonham, Sept. 25, 1980 – The circumstances between Led Zeppelin drummer Bonham’s death and Keith Moon’s death are eerily similar. Both loved to keep the party going long after the final curtain call, and both also had physical confrontations with Rainbow owner Mario Maglieri through the years. Bonham died in London after choking on vomit following a drinking binge. Like Moon, he was 32.
John Bonham (2nd from right) with Led Zepplin frontman Robert Plant and some groupies
at the “Rainbow Bar & Grill” sitting in the infamous corner booth
John Lennon, Dec. 8, 1980 – The Beatles singer spent most of his time in England and New York but for two years after the band broke up, he lived in Los Angeles and often hung out at the Troubadour enjoying Brandy Alexanders. He was shot in New York by a crazed fan. Lennon was 40.
Harry Nilsson & John Lennon getting kicked out of the Troubadour in Hollywood for heckling.
Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Jayne Mansfield and John Lennon (sun glasses)
sit at a booth at the “Whisky-A-Go-Go” on Sunset Strip.
Jayne Mansfield & John Lennon
John Belushi, March 5, 1982 – The beloved actor from the TV hit “Saturday Night Live” and the classic movie “Animal House” was partying at On the Rox above the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard when a few hours later he died of a drug overdose – speedballs contained cocaine and heroin — at the Chateau Marmont hotel on the Strip. He was 33.
Randy Rhoads, March 19, 1982 – The original guitarist in Quiet Riot was raised on the Sunset Strip and eventually joined Ozzy Osbourne, whose popularity was keyed by Rhoads incredible guitar playing. Rhoads died in a plane crash in Leesburg, Florida. He was 25.
Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley, Dec. 9, 1984 – The drummer for Finnish glam stars Hanoi Rocks was influential as much for Hanoi Rocks’ high-volume music as for their androgynous image. He died in a car crash in Redondo Beach, Calif., as a passenger in Motley Crue singer Vince Neil’s Pantera sports car. Neil barely had a scratch but was later jailed. Razzle was 24.
John Holmes, March 13, 1988 – The inspiration for the movie “Boogie Nights,” Holmes’ penis was a lot bigger than his brain. He did more than 2,000 movies including “Deep Throat” and allegedly participating in the home-invasion robbery of Starwood Club own Eddie Nash, a legendary figure on the Sunset Strip. Holmes died of AIDS in Los Angeles. He was 43.
Ron Jeremy with legendary Porn king John Holmes
Bill Gazzarri, March 16, 1991 – Known as the Godfather of Rock, Gazzarri operated Gazzarri’s club on Sunset Boulevard a few doors up from the Rainbow beginning in 1963, where he was among the first to expose The Doors and Van Halen to the rock world, in addition to starting up the Miss Gazzarri’s dance contest. A lifelong bachelor, Gazzarri died in his apartment on Doheny Avenue off the Sunset Strip. He was 66.
Sam Kinison, April 10, 1992 – Among the most beloved stand-up comics of all-time, Kinison greatly enjoyed the nightlife on the Sunset Strip and even occasionally jammed on guitar with Poison’s C.C. DeVille and others. A renowned partier, he died in a head-on car crash in the California desert on his way to Laughlin, Nev., struck by a 17-year-old drunk driver. Kinison was 38.
River Phoenix, Oct. 31, 1993 – Phoenix was a top young movie actor who had the world at this fingertips when he went into drug-induced convulsions against the wall of the Viper Room on the Strip and died a few feet away from Christina Applegate. Phoenix was 23.
Savannah, July 11, 1994 – A talented but troubled young porn actress with a hearty appetite for rock stars like Gregg Allman, Billy Sheehan, Slash and Vince Neil, Savannah was named won an AVN award for best new starlet in 1992. But just two years later, she committed suicide by shooting herself after being in a car accident. She was 23.
George Harrison, Nov. 29, 2001 – The famed guitarist for the Beatles who wrote “Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes The Sun” and other hits died in Los Angeles near the Sunset Strip, stricken by lung cancer. He was 58.
Randy Castillo, March 26, 2002 – Castillo, a star drummer for Ozzy Osbourne who also did a stretch with Motley Crue, was known as a super nice guy who loved the nightlife on the Sunset Strip, and he left many dear friends behind. He died from cancer. He was 51.
Robbin Crosby, June 6, 2002 – The tall, great-looking guitarist was a millionaire in his young prime as a famed guitarist with Ratt but threw it all away because of heroin. He died of an overdose in Los Angeles on the day of the beast. He was 42.
John Entwistle, June 27, 2002 – The legendary bass player for The Who was the ultimate rock star who loved partying at the Rainbow Bar & Grill and for a time lived at the nearby Sunset Marquis Hotel, a noted haven for rockers. Entwistle died in Las Vegas from a cocaine-induced heart attack. He was 57.
Ty Longley, Feb. 20, 2003 – Shortly after rising from the ranks of the unknown to join Great White as the million-selling group’s new guitarist, Longley was among 100 who died tragically in a Rhode Island fire caused by the group’s pyrotechnics at a club show. He was 31.
Rick James, Aug. 6, 2004 – James, a world-famous recording star known for the song “Super Freak,” loved the big table in the back of the Rainbow Bar & Grill. He was famously arrested at the old St. James Hotel on the Sunset Boulevard and convicted for torturing a female companion with a hot crack pipe. After a prison stint, he died of a heart attack in Burbank. He was 56.
Dimebag Darrell Abbott, Dec. 8, 2004 – The beloved guitarist for Pantera was victimed by the ultimate nightmare for any musician – murdered by gunshot on stage while playing for band called Damage Plan in Columbus, Ohio. The shooter was a young fan killed a few minutes later by police. Dimebag Darrell was 38.
“Dimebag” Darrell Abbott of Pantera
Sandy West, Oct. 21, 2006 – The founding drummer for legendary all-girl band Runaways (also featuring Lita Ford and Joan Jett) had a rough time once the band broke up in 1979, including a stint in jail as she struggled to support herself financially. A heavy smoker, West died of lung cancer. She was 47.
Kevin DuBrow, Nov. 19, 2007 – The loud-mouthed lead singer of Quiet Riot proved to have a polarizing effect on the public, but those closest to DuBrow really loved him. Known for such huge rock anthems at “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Metal Heath,” DuBrow lived in Hollywood before most of his life before dying from a cocaine overdose in Las Vegas. He was 52.
Traci Michaelz, July 13, 2008 – Michaelz, best known as the drummer for underground cult favs Peppermint Creeps, spent nearly all of his adult life on the Sunset Strip, one break away from making it big. Ozzy sidemen Phil Soussan and the late Randy Castillo produced one the band’s demo tapes. In local rock circles, no one was more loved. Michaelz died from liver failure after a night of drinking on tour in Forth Worth, Texas. He was 34.
Traci Michaelz of Peppermint Creeps
Michael Jackson, June 25, 2009 – Jackson was the most famous pop singer of all-time whose material sometimes drifted toward rock, such as “Black And White,” featuring Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. His ex-manager, Frank DiLeo, has an office a few doors down from the Rainbow. Jackson died of cardiac arrest in his home up the road from the Strip. He was 50.
Ronne James Dio, May 16, 2010 – Dio sang for Black Sabbath and later achieved massive solo success with a band featuring artists who culled their craft on the Sunset Strip. There was a lot of mourning in Hollywood when he died from stomach cancer in a Houston hospital. He seemed much younger but Dio was 67.
Jani Lane, Aug. 11, 2011 – The charmastic frontman and primary songwriter for Warrant was a tortured soul who suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. He died alone from acute alcohol poisoning in a hotel room in the San Fernando Valley under mysterious circumstances, as he was checked in by an unknown third party with a fake ID. Lane was 47.
Jani Lane of Warrant
Jeff Hanneman, May 2, 2013 – The guitarist for legendary L.A. metal band Slayer battled a drinking problem for 20 years after first climbing the ranks on the local club scene, specifically at the Troubadour. He died in Los Angeles from liver failure. Hanneman was 49.
Ray Manzarek, May 20, 2013 – Manzarek was the keyboardist for The Doors, who got their start at The Whisky on the Sunset Strip before evolving into one of the world’s most famous rock bands of all-time. He died of cancer in Germany. Manzarek was 74.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]