Singer/bassist Lemmy Kilmister, who immortalized Motorhead as the English group’s founder, singer, bassist and chief songwriter, died Monday night, leaving behind four decades of loud and heavy songs and a legacy that resonated rapidly within the metal community upon news of his passing.
Born Ian Fraser Kilmister, the iconic frontman with the one-of-a-kind raspy voice had turned 70 four days earlier, on Christmas Eve. Guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee announced via the band’s website and Facebook page:
“There is no easy way to say this . . . our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. He had learnt (sic) of the disease on December 26th and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from The Rainbow, which had recently made it’s (sic) way down the street, with his family. We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words. We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please . . . play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself. HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT. Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister: 1945-2015. Born to lose, lived to win. Please feel free to post your condolences, well wishes and memories on our official tribute page.”
Formed 40 years ago and known for songs such as “Ace of Spades,” “Iron Fist,” “Overkill,” “Bomber” “Motorhead” and “Eat the Rich” to name a few, Motorhead was one of the stalwarts of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The band was scheduled to headline the Aztec Theater on Sept. 2, four days after having released 22nd studio album Bad Magic, with Saxon and Crobot providing support. However, Kilmister’s health problems forced the show to be reconfigured as a last-minute Saxon headlining gig that was moved to Sam’s Burger Joint, with vocalist Biff Byford beginning the concert by announcing that Kilmister apologized for having to miss the performance (more here). The night before, Motorhead walked off the stage at Emo’s East in Austin after Kilmister told the crowd following the third song, “I can’t do it anymore.” One of Motorhead’s most recent San Antonio visits was Aug. 24, 2008, as part of the Metal Masters tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater with headliners Judas Priest plus Heaven and Hell and opening act Testament.
Reaction to Kilmister’s death poured in swiftly via social media. Lita Ford, who spoke with the SAMME in September 2012 about her collaboration with Kilmister that resulted in 1988 song “Can’t Catch Me” (watch here), tweeted: “A great human & a man who changed the face of rock. You will never be forgotten! RIP I love you my big brother. Lita.” But reaction wasn’t limited to Kilmister’s metal peers or fans. Former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar and current WWE Chief Operating Officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque, who entered the ring via Motorhead’s theme song “The Game,” tweeted: “Occasionally people come along in your life that you always want there . . . #RIPLemmy.”
Kilmister, who was also known for his distinctive style of singing upward into a mic pointed straight down at his face as well as for his unmatched love for drinking Jack and Cokes, took to the stage with his patented declaration: “We are Motorhead. And we play Rock N’ Roll!” Since that 2008 Metal Masters show, Motorhead made frequent appearances in Austin, including the 2011 unveiling of the “Lemmy” documentary at South By Southwest. In 2012, Motorhead was revealed as the “special main-stage guest” for the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival (from which the slideshow above was taken at The Woodlands near Houston). But in true Kilmister style and humor, he leaked the news a week earlier. Earlier that month, Motorhead concluded its participation on Megadeth’s Gigantour, a trek that ended in Austin but with Motorhead unable to play the final three dates due to Kilmister having lost his voice.
The coming year will mark the 30th anniversary of Motorhead’s Orgasmatron, but the band’s impact was felt long before and has been ever since. German metal queen Doro Pesch, in an exclusive 2011 interview with the SAMME, credited Kilmister with saving her life when discussing their collaboration on “Love Me Forever” and “Alone Again:”
“With Lemmy, I was so down,” Pesch recalled. “My dad had just died. And I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ And one day later, Lemmy called me. I had written a letter earlier. But he called and said, ‘Let’s do something together.’ That probably saved my life. So we started talking and working. And Lemmy has a really dark sense of humor.”
Not to be outdone, Huntress vocalist Jill Janus referred to Kilmister as “the godfather of heavy metal” when she discussed with the SAMME in 2013 his having penned “I Want to F— You to Death” for her band (watch here).
Kilmister was also a member of Hawkwind and HeadCat. The latter is a rockabilly blues trio he fronted while occasionally playing the harmonica. HeadCat put its stamp on tunes by The Beatles, Chuck Berry and the like along with original songs. HeadCat guitarist/keyboardist Danny B. Harvey, a former Austin resident who knew Kilmister since 1980, spoke with the SAMME in 2011 about Kilmister’s involvement in that band, their friendship and their penchant for drinking (see “Suggested” link below).
Kilmister’s death follows that of original Motorhead drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on Nov. 11 reportedly due to liver failure.
Here’s an alphabetical sampling of social media reaction to Kilmister’s passing:
- Jason Bonham: “So sad to hear the news about a true #legend #Lemmy #RIPLemmy #Motörhead. I was 15 when I went to see Motörhead.”
- Buckcherry: “Rest In Peace, Lemmy.”
- Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath): “Very sad to hear of Lemmy’s passing. We’ve lost a true, true legend. RIP.”
- Carla Harvey Coates (Butcher Babies): “Legends never really die. They know that the key to living forever is leaving a legacy of work for future generations to fall in love with. Thanks for the inspiration Lemmy ❤️RIP.”
- Taime Downe (Faster Pussycat): “Sad f—— day! Gonna miss you #lemmykilmister It was a pleasure to know you for almost 30 years!”
- Samantha Fox: “RIP to the Godfather of rock and my great friend of 32 years. So sad. Love, Sammy xxx.”
- Godsmack: “RIP to a true legend.”
- Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, ex-Nirvana): “My heart is broken.”
- Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith): “Sorry to hear Lemmy Kilmister has passed away. Grateful for the few brief moments Jay and I spent with him. Condolences to friends and family.”
- Scotti Hill (Skid Row): “Tonight I’m raising my glass to Lemmy.”
- Gary Hoey: “RIP Lemmy from Motörhead God Bless you. GH.”
- Chris Holmes (ex-W.A.S.P.): “Lemmy was and will always be a rock legend and total pioneer of heavy metal . . . Goodbye my friend.”
- Glenn Hughes: “RIP my dear Staffordshire friend Lemmy . . . A beautiful soul. I tried many times to keep up with him at the bar or after hours~back in ’80s.”
- Scott Ian (Anthrax): “He lived a life of dreams, and he went out on top. He was Motörhead and HE PLAYED ROCK & ROLL!!!”
- Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed, Kingdom Of Sorrow, Jasta): “Gonna f’n crank this right now (live record No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith). RIP, Lemmy.”
- Judas Priest: “Words about Lemmy can never be enough so we will simply say farewell Lord Lemmy. Thank you for the music, the shows, the tours we did and the laughs and stories we shared. All of these and more will be cherished. Love: Rob, Glenn, Ian, Richie, Scott.”
- Krisiun: “RIP Master Lemmy.”
- Jeff LaBar (Cinderella): “RIP Lemmy. I’ll never forget the time we spent together planning this tattoo. Long live Motörhead.”
- Geddy Lee (Rush): “Lemmy was a true original who lived to rock.”
- Lizzy Borden: “Motorhead was the first to take us on tour in ’86; Lemmy took us under his wing and showed us this R&R life; forever grateful. #RIPlemmy”
- Dave Lombardo (Philm, ex-Slayer): “I was 16 when I bought this album (live record No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith). Thank you for your friendship and the inspiration. RIP #lemmykilmister #Legend.”
- Jill Meniketti (Y&T manager): “RIP Lemmy Kilmister. So sad to lose a legend. He will be missed.”
- Metallica: “Lemmy, you are one of the primary reasons this band exists. We’re forever grateful for all of your inspiration. RIP.”
- Darrell “Dwarf” Millar (Killer Dwarfs): “RIP Lemmy. A real loss to my generation.”
- Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine): “Lemmy was a true rock icon, singular in voice and spirit.”
- Vince Neil (Motley Crue): “Wow! Just heard. Lemmy was a friend and legend. #RipLemmy.”
- Ozzy Osbourne: “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.”
- Joe Perry (Aerosmith): “Lemmy was a true rocker from beginning to end.”
- Kane Roberts (ex-Alice Cooper): “I toured with Lemmy on one of the Alice tours. A truly sweet man with a toughness and grace that comes with high status in real rock legend territory.”
- Rikki Rockett (Poison): “R.I.P. Lemmy. What a class act. I feel horrible . . .”
- Joe Satriani: “R.I.P. Lemmy.”
- Heidi Shepherd (Butcher Babies): “RIP Lemmy! Thank you for paving the way in metal. So happy that we were able to spend the 40-year reunion with you on Motorboat!”
- Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt): “#RIPLemmy There is a Rock N’ roll heaven.”
- Gene Simmons (KISS): “Lemmy: Rest In Peace, my friend.”
- Sister Sin: “A legend lost today . . . Blessed to have met him. Your music, memory & legacy will live forever.”
- Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue): I’ll miss you, buddy, and our conversations. You were always a pillar of dignity. RIP #Lemmy.”
- Alex Skolnick (Testament): “Sad news. Wish it was a hoax. Didn’t know Lemmy well but said hello many times, always a gentleman & a legend. RIP.”
- Paul Stanley (KISS): “Lemmy has passed away. Truly one of a kind. Much more to him than many knew. RIP.”
- Michael Sweet (Stryper): “I met #Lemmy in Germany & we talked about the Bible. I’ll never forget that. May God Bless Lemmy & the Motorhead family & fans worldwide!”
- Mark Tremonti (Alter Bridge, Tremonti Project): “RIP Lemmy, what a true legend!”
- Robert Trujillo (Metallica): “One of the last true outlaws has left the building. #RIPLemmy.”
- Bill Ward (Black Sabbath): “I stand with the countless souls who will miss you.”
- Michael Wilton (Queensryche): “RIP Lemmy.”
- Kip Winger (Winger): “R.I.P. Lemmy.”
- Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, ex-Ozzy Osbourne): “GOD BLESS LEMMY: 1945-2015.”
For more SAMME coverage of Kilmister and Motorhead, visit the “Suggested” links below.