September 25, 1980: John Bonham Dies

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A dapper Bonham

Led Zeppelin had gathered on September 24, 1980, to rehearse for their first tour of North America in three years – set to begin October 17 in Montreal, Canada – at Bray Studios, a film and TV production facility in Maidenhead, Berkshire, west of London. The band’s assistant, Rex King, had picked up Bonham to drive him to the practice. Bonham asked him to stop for breakfast, during which he began to drink alcohol.

Bonham’s drinking had become problematic. During a tour of Europe in June and July earlier that year, he had collapsed during the third song of a concert in Nuremburg and was taken to a hospital. The band claimed it was due to overeating, but press speculation attributed the incident to substance abuse.

Robert Plant later recalled Bonham’s dour mood that day. The drummer, aka “Bonzo,” had told the singer, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me” – an absurd contention, considering that he was one of the most admired drummers in rock music.

He apparently continued on a binge during the rehearsal through the afternoon into the evening. After the band was driven to Jimmy Page’s nearby home, Bonham fell asleep on a couch. An assistant took him to bed and lay him on his side.

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Bonham’s symbol on the Zosa album cover

Early the next afternoon Zep bassist John Paul Jones and band road manager Benji LeFevre went to check on Bonham and found him dead. He was 32.

“It was terrible,” Jones says. “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.”

It was determined that Bonham had vomited during his sleep, and then breathed it in. That caused a pulmonary edema – an excess of fluid in the lungs – that led to respiratory failure.

On December 4, 1980, Led Zeppelin issued a statement that said: “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” They have since only played one-off performances – such as Live Aid in 1985, Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden, and the 2007 Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London (later released as the album Celebration Day), the latter two with Bonzo’s son Jason Bonham on drums. After the O2 show, Jimmy Page, Jones and the younger Bonham wanted to tour, but Robert Plant did not.

Watch an epic live drum solo on “Moby Dick”

Related: Led Zeppelin’s breakthrough with “Whole Lotta Love”

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  1. Ledhead68
    #1 Ledhead68 25 September, 2019, 15:21

    Thunder always rolls… Hammer of the gods always rocks! R.I.P Bonzo!!

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