7 Heavy Facts that Prove Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister Was a Rock God
Cancer may have claimed him, but his legend lives on.
Motörhead burst onto the scene in 1975 as a blitzkrieg-fast band of outlaws that bridged early punk and metal with a hopped-up aural ferocity and unrelenting bad attitude. But the English outfit’s ringleader Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister — who named the group in his own image, after a slang term for a speed freak — was even more important than the groundbreaking band he founded.
Even if you never knew the words to “Ace of Spades” or listened to the classic live album No Sleep Til Hammersmith, it was hard to deny the majesty of Lemmy’s unimpeachable rock ‘n roll mojo. Just as every Motörhead song sounded pretty much the same, Lemmy stayed stubbornly on-brand. Dressed head-to-toe in black, with a bullet belt, cowboy hat and his growling mug’s signature moles and mutton chops, the singer-bassist-badass hadn’t bothered to alter his biker warrior persona in decades, and didn’t give a fuck about the world rapidly changing around him.
Content to croak out Motörhead’s uncompromising proto-thrash while living on what we can only assume was a steady diet of Marlboro Reds, Jack Daniel’s, cheap trucker speed and dirty sex with aging groupies, Lemmy was a bonafide scuzz-rock icon who has now ascended to a rarefied musical Valhalla, joining decadent contemporaries Keith Moon, Sid Vicious, and Bon Scott, all of which he far outlived. Lemmy was simply too tough to die, until he finally succumbed to cancer Monday night at age 70.
Here, seven reasons why Lemmy was a rock god to be reckoned with:
1. He roadied for Jimi Hendrix
After moving to London in 1967, Lemmy befriended Hendrix’s bassist Noel Redding and worked as a roadie for the group for eight months, doubling as Hendrix’s acid dealer. When Marc Maron asked Lemmy on his WTF podcast this year if he learned anything from Hendrix, he rasped, “Yeah, I learned to give up guitar and play bass instead.”
2. He was kicked out of Hawkwind
Lemmy first began playing guitar in bands in 1964, joining R&B groups the Rainmakers and the Motown Sect. That was followed by stints in the Rockin’ Vickers and Opal Butterfly before he took up bass to play with the heavy space rockers Hawkwind in 1971. He sang their best-known song, “Silver Machine,” which hit No. 3 on the U.K. charts, before being booted out in 1975 after he was arrested in Canada for possession of—what else?—his beloved speed.
3. He united punks and metalheads
Motörhead served as a missing link between the high-speed punk of the Ramones and the brutal riffage of Black Sabbath. While most longhair metal was deemed unfashionable by the early British punks, Motörhead united the feuding factions, and the band’s iconic “Motörhead-England” t-shirts, patches and pins were worn with pride by all. Lemmy even filled in on bass for punk pioneers The Damned and palled around with Sid Vicious. During the crossover thrash era of the mid-to-late 80s, Motorhead toured with NYC hardcore legends the Cro-Mags.
4. He wrote “Ace of Spades”
Indisputably Motörhead’s most beloved song, the fast-and-loud 1980 anthem rumbles to life like a sinister Harley-Davidson before speeding through two minutes and 49 seconds of biker rock perfection. If there is an essential Motörhead song, this is it.
5. He was a legendary ladies man
Scary moles and sleazy mustache be damned, Lemmy certainly attracted plenty of admirers, as charismatic rock stars often do. In 2005, Lemmy estimated that he had bedded more than 1,000 women. Not Wilt Chamberlain or Mick Jagger numbers, to be sure, but still admirably stratospheric.
6. He shockingly lived to be 70
He chain-smoked, gobbled speed for decades and was said to have drank a bottle of Jack Daniel’s every day since he was 30, before switching to vodka in his later years. And he still made it to the ripe old age of 70.
7. He was the subject of one of the great modern day rock docs
The 2010 documentary Lemmy features accolades from friends like Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Dave Grohl, Slash, and Mick Jones of the Clash, as well as unlikely fans like Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and New Order’s Peter Hook. It also delved into his strange personal life that included a penchant for collecting knives and Nazi memorabilia and his love of hanging out at Hollywood hard rock haunt the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Then 65 and battling diabetes, high blood pressure and other health woes, he was asked about his proudest achievement.
His answer? “Survival.”