John Bonham was a quarter of one of the most famous bands ever: Led Zeppelin. He, along with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones changed the landscape of rock in the 1970s, but it was only for a short time. John was only 32 years old when he died – but how did he die and what were his last words?
John Bonham died accidentally on September 25, 1980, from what is known as pulmonary asphyxiation.
The drummer was a heavy drinker, with alcohol being a vice which was a problem for much of his adult life.
On September 24, 1980, according to Chris Welch’s book Led Zeppelin, he was reported to have been drinking heavily during rehearsals for the band’s upcoming tour, and fell asleep after a number of drinks.
He was placed in bed but, according to Chris’ telling of events, was found unresponsive the following morning.
John Paul Jones, his bandmate, recalled finding him in Chris Welch’s second book, John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums.
He said: “Benje [Lefevre, a technician for the band] and I found him. It was like, ‘Let’s go up and look at Bonzo, see how he is.’
“We tried to wake him up… It was terrible. Then I had to tell the other two… I had to break the news to Jimmy and Robert.
“It made me feel very angry – at the waste of him… I can’t say he was in good shape, because he wasn’t.
“There were some good moments during the last rehearsals… but then he started on the vodka.
“I think he had been drinking because there were some problems in his personal life. But he died because of an accident.
“He was lying down the wrong way, which could have happened to anybody who drank a lot.”
According to the inquest after his death, John had drank 40 shots of 40 percent ABV vodka, which equals almost one and a half litres of the drink, and then choked on his own vomit.
Following his death, the band chose not to continue, unlike other bands who opted to replace band members who died.
In a statement released in December of 1980, the surviving band members said: “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”
John’s remains were laid at Rushock Parish churchyard, Worcestershire, where fans also left drumsticks in tribute to the performer.
His last words are not known publicly, as his death came as such a surprise to bandmates and others.