Was Jimi Hendrix’s Death By Overdose An Accident, A Suicide, Or Premeditated Foul Play?

Published October 29, 2018
Updated September 18, 2020
Published October 29, 2018
Updated September 18, 2020

Jimi Hendrix's death has remained a mystery since he was found in a London hotel on September 18, 1970. But how did Jimi Hendrix die?

Jimi Hendrix Performing In Wight

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival in August 1970, weeks before he died. His last performance in England.

A performance by Jimi Hendrix was sure to be frenetic, full of energy, and wild.

He would rip fast on his guitar and oftentimes smash his instrument to pieces at the end of a show. Watching Hendrix play was more than merely observing a performance — it was an experience. But Jimi Hendrix’s untimely death sadly ended his career far too soon.

Half a century after the tragic events of Sept. 18, 1970, confusion still remains as to what actually happened. Inexplicably passing away in his sleep, Jimi Hendrix’s death at age 27 saw him join the so-called “27 Club,” sparking questions and persistent rumors.


  
Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 9: The Death Of Jimi Hendrix, also available on iTunes and Spotify.

Jimi Hendrix spent the night before his death drinking wine and smoking hashish with his girlfriend Monika Dannemann. The pair left her London apartment in the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill to attend a party hosted by the singer’s business associates and returned at around 3 a.m.

Story Of Jimi Hendrix Death

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967.

The next morning, Hendrix was dead — asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking too many sleeping pills, likely an accident. At least, that’s what the autopsy said. Some believe Hendrix, disillusioned with the music industry, committed suicide.

Others claim he was murdered by his manager Michael Jeffery for his lucrative life insurance policy — which was worth millions.

So what really happened?

How Jimi Hendrix Became A Legend

Hendrix was born James Marshall Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. Hendrix took up a fascination with music early, and his father recalled tripping on a broom in Jimi’s room that he had been using as a practice guitar. He received his first guitar at 11. He joined his first band by age 13.

Oddly enough, Hendrix’s early bandmates described him as shy and lacking much stage presence. They were utterly surprised to see him skyrocket as the brash rock star he would later become.

How Did Jimi Hendrix Die

FacebookA 19-year-old Jimi Hendrix during his time in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. 1961.

Hendrix eventually dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Army. He found a way to sustain his love of music in the military by forming a band called the King Casuals.

After an honorable discharge in 1962, Hendrix started to tour and play with such big names as Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, and Wilson Pickett. He would electrify audiences with his raw talent, energy, and pure ability. Among his most famous performances was “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969.

Hendrix performs The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969.

Another famous Hendrix song is “Purple Haze,” a track generally believed to be about drug use that, to some, eerily foreshadows his death.

A year before his untimely death, Hendrix stood trial in Toronto, Canada, for heroin and hashish possession, but was never convicted. While he admitted to using LSD, marijuana, hashish, and cocaine — he firmly denied any heroin use.

Hendrix stated following his trial, “This I really believe: anybody should be able to think or do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.”

How Did Jimi Hendrix Die?

Jimi Hendrix Having Tea With Black Beauty

Monika DannemannHendrix’s girlfriend Monika Dannemann photographed him with the guitar he called Black Beauty on the day before he died.

While some believe somebody else did hurt Hendrix and made it look like an overdose, many of these claims are rooted in speculation. As recounted by author Tony Brown in Jimi Hendrix: The Final Days, the basic sequence of events leading up to his death is rather clear.

In September 1970, Hendrix was exhausted. Not only was he overworked and stressed, but he had enormous trouble sleeping — all while combatting a nasty flu. He and his German girlfriend Monika Dannemann spent the evening before his death at her Samarkand Hotel apartment.

After unwinding with some tea and hashish at Dannemann’s posh Notting Hill residence, the couple had dinner. At one point in the evening, Hendrix made a phone call to discuss getting out of his relationship with his manager Mike Jeffery. He and Dannemann shared a bottle of red wine over the night, after which Hendrix took a reinvigorating bath.

Unfortunately, one of his business associates Pete Kameron was throwing a party that night — and Hendrix felt the need to attend. Brown writes that the musician ingested “at least one amphetamine tablet” known as a “Black Bomber” after Dannemann drove him to the party.

Jimi Hendrix Playing Guitar

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

There, the couple appeared to have an argument after Dannemann demanded to speak with him. According to guests, Hendrix had become quite irritated because she “wouldn’t leave him alone.” Nonetheless, the rockstar acquiesced — and spoke to her privately.

What the pair discussed remains unknown. What’s certain is that the couple unexpectedly left the party afterward, at around 3 a.m.

After arriving back home, the couple wanted to go to bed but the amphetamine Hendrix had taken kept him awake. Dannemann claimed that when he asked if he could take some of her sleeping pills, she refused. By the time 6 a.m. rolled around, she defeatedly took one herself.

Jimi Hendrix In The 1960s

Peter Timm/Ullstein Bild/Getty ImagesHendrix had trouble sleeping in the last few weeks before his death.

Dannemann claimed that when she woke up four hours later, Hendrix was sound asleep with no visible signs of distress. Dannemann said she left the apartment to buy some cigarettes — and that the situation upon her return had dramatically changed.

Hendrix was now unconscious, but still alive. Unable to wake him, she called paramedics in a desperate attempt to save his life. Emergency services arrived at the Notting Hill residence at 11:27 a.m. Unfortunately, not only had Jimi Hendrix’s age at death already been decided — but Dannemann was nowhere to be found.

The paramedics were met only by a wide-open door, drawn curtains, and the lifeless body of Jimi Hendrix. The scene inside the Samarkand Hotel apartment was vile. Paramedic Reg Jones recalled seeing Hendrix covered in vomit.

The singer’s airway had been fully clogged and completely closed all the way down into his lungs. It appeared he had been dead for some time. Once police arrived, Hendrix was transported to St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital in Kensington — where attempts to save his life failed.

Jimi Hendrix Playing Guitar With His Teeth

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesHendrix playing guitar with the pick clenched between his teeth.

“He was cold and he was blue,” said Dr. Martin Seifert. “On admission, he was obviously dead. He had no pulse, no heartbeat, and the attempt to resuscitate him was merely a formality.”

The coroner didn’t find evidence of suicide, however — so what did Jimi Hendrix die of? Dannemann later said she counted nine of her Vesparax pills missing, which would have been 18 times the recommended dose.

Hendrix was pronounced dead at 12:45 a.m. The autopsy concluded Jimi Hendrix’s death was caused by asphyxiation on his own vomit — which contained the same red wine he had shared with his girlfriend the night before.

Conspiracies And Theories About Jimi Hendrix’s Death

Jimi Hendrix Standing In A Garden With His Guitar

Monika DannemannAnother photo from September 17, 1970, the day before Hendrix died.

The autopsy was over, with all requisite police efforts and medical work concluding the death of Jimi Hendrix was accidental. However, some unanswered questions lingering in the aftermath have led to years of speculation, reassessment, and curious revelations.

According to Brown’s book, a poem Hendrix had given Dannemann after his final bath in her London apartment was seen by some as a type of suicide note. Could this poem answer the lingering question of how Jimi Hendrix died?

“I want you to keep this,” he told her. “I don’t want you to forget anything that is written. It’s a story about you and me.”

Jimi Hendrix On Stage At Woodstock

Wikimedia CommonsHendrix performing at Woodstock in 1969.

Later found by his deathbed, the verses certainly alluded to the temporal nature of our existence.

“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye,” it read. “The story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again.”

For close friend and fellow musician Eric Burdon, Hendrix’s supposed suicide note was nothing of the sort. It’s unclear whether Dannemann left it to him, in honor of having been the last musician Hendrix played with before he died, but Burdon has been in possession of the pages-long poem ever since.

“The poem just says the things Hendrix has always been saying, but to which nobody ever listened,” said Burdon. “It was a note of goodbye and a note of hello. I don’t think Jimi committed suicide in the conventional way. He just decided to exit when he wanted to.”

How Did Jimi Hendrix Die

Gunter Zint/K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/RedfernsJimi Hendrix backstage at the Love And Peace Festival on the Isle of Fehmarn, his final official concert appearance, on Sept. 6, 1970 in Germany.

Michael Jeffery, meanwhile, who was Hendrix’s personal manager at the time, adamantly rejected the supposed suicide narrative.

“I don’t believe it was suicide,” he said.

“I just don’t believe Jimi Hendrix left Eric Burdon his legacy for him to carry on. Jimi Hendrix was a very unique individual. I’ve been going through a whole stack of papers, poems, and songs that Jimi had written, and I could show you 20 of them that could be interpreted as a suicide note.”

Perhaps most controversial was the claim first uttered in 2009 when James “Tappy” Wright wrote a memoir of his days as a Hendrix roadie. The book contained a bombshell revelation: Jimi Hendrix was not only murdered but killed by Michael Jeffery himself. The manager purportedly even admitted it.

Supposedly, Jeffery said, “I had to do it, Tappy. You understand, don’t you? I had to do it. You know damn well what I’m talking about. . . I was in London the night of Jimi’s death and together with some old friends . . . we went round to Monika’s hotel room, got a handful of pills and stuffed them into his mouth . . . then poured a few bottles of red wine deep into his windpipe. I had to do it. Jimi was worth much more to me dead than alive. That son of a bitch was going to leave me. If I lost him, I’d lose everything.”

While Wright’s claim could very well be a ploy to sell books, Michael Jeffery did take out a $2 million life insurance policy on the rockstar before he died. Perhaps most harrowing about this theory is that John Bannister, the surgeon who tended to Hendrix at the hospital, said he was convinced of the following:

The Jimi Hendrix death cause was drowning in red wine — despite there being extremely little alcohol in his blood.

Samarkand Hotel From Outside

Wikimedia CommonsApartments of the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill, London.

“I recall vividly the very large amounts of red wine that oozed from his stomach and his lungs and in my opinion there was no question that Jimi Hendrix had drowned, if not at home then on the way to the hospital,” he said.

So how did Jimi Hendrix die? If he was killed by Jeffery, he certainly didn’t have enough time to reap the rewards — as he died three years after his client in 1973.

Jimi Hendrix’s Death And The 27 Club

Jimi Hendrix’s age at death was two months shy of being 28. Unfortunately, he found himself relegated to the disquieting group of musicians who passed away before ever reaching it. The 27 Club continues to be one of the most tragic coincidences in rock and roll history — with Amy Winehouse being the latest to join.

Robert Johnson was the first notable singer to die tragically at 27, and arguably started the confounding trend. However, the blues singer’s death in 1938 occurred during a simpler time where the show business spotlight shone much dimmer. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, however, did not.

Jones died after mixing drugs and alcohol and diving into a swimming pool. His band member Keith Richards said “the mystery of his death hasn’t been solved” and that while he doesn’t know what happened, “there was some nasty business going on.”

27 Club Mural

Wikimedia CommonsA 27 Club mural depicting Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and the artist.

Jimi Hendrix’s age of death at 27 was the same as Janis Joplin’s, who followed mere weeks later. Her death appeared to have been one of the most tragically accidental ones of them all — as she died after hitting her face on a hotel room table and was only found dead the next day.

Notable artists that followed were Jim Morrison of The Doors, bassist for The Stooges Dave Alexander, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

The Legacy Continues After Jimi Hendrix’s Death

Hendrix told a reporter just a year before his death, “I tell you when I die I’m going to have a funeral. I’m going to have a jam session. And, knowing me, I’ll probably get busted at my own funeral.”

Jimi Hendrix Funeral Procession

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesJimi Hendrix’s casket is followed from the church by members of his family and childhood friends on Oct. 1, 1970 in Seattle, Washington.

More than five decades later — as some still ponder the question of how did Jimi Hendrix die — he continues to influence and move the music community. Indeed, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, the Black Crows’ Rich Robinson, and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett all say that Hendrix greatly influenced their music.

Despite the odd and eerie circumstances around Jimi Hendrix’s age at death and the cause itself, the spirit of his music simply keeps on rockin’.


After this look at the death of Jimi Hendrix, check out his legendary performance at Woodstock. Then, revel in the British version of Woodstock by reliving the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

William DeLong
William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith. He thanks you for reading his content.