It was 42 years ago today (September 7th, 1978) that the Who‘s drummer Keith Moon died at age 32. Moon’s death, which was ruled accidental, was caused by an overdose of Heminevrin, a medication prescribed to help alleviate alcohol withdrawals, mixed with alcohol. According to police reports there were 32 pills found in Moon’s system, some of which were not yet dissolved. He died while staying in Harry Nilsson‘s London apartment — which coincidentally was where “Mama” Cass Elliott had died four years earlier. Moon was survived by his daughter Mandy and his fiancee Annette Walter-Lax.
The night before his death, Moon and Walter-Lax attended a preview of the movie The Buddy Holly Story, thrown by Paul and Linda McCartney, on the eve what would have been Holly’s 42nd birthday. According to most reports, Moon, who was drinking white wine, was slightly subdued, in high spirits, and at no point seemed drunk or inebriated in any way.
According to Walter-Lax, Moon had originally not wanted to go out that night in an effort to try to curb his drinking, but did snort a small account of cocaine before leaving their apartment.
Prior to his death, the Who were debating forcing Moon out of the band due to his debilitating alcoholism. Shortly after Moon’s death Townshend told the British press, “Keith’s death is something that we expected for 20 years, but when it happens you just can’t take it in. I’m very upset. I’ve lost a man I loved.”
Apart from his acrobatic drumming, Moon has gone on to be remembered as one of Britain’s quickest wits, often adapting new and off-beat personas, and was known to dress up in character for days on end. Friends were used to watching Moon enjoy a night out on the town dressed as a World War One pilot, a clown, Marilyn Monroe, a nun, Dracula, Adolph Hitler, a gangster, Julius Caesar, a pirate — or more often than not — completely nude.
A while back, Pete Townshend wrote about Moon on his online blog, petetownshend-whohe.blogspot.com, and spoke about performing with Moon during the Who’s early days, recalling that, “Keith was an eccentric player, and seemed to be showing off all the time, pointing his sticks up in the air and leaning over the drums with his face thrust forward as if to be nearer the front of stage. But he was loud and strong. Slowly too we realized that his fluid style hid a real talent for listening and following, rather than just laying down a beat.”
In 2010, Pete Townshend posted on the band’s website, thewho.com, that he actually preferred playing with Kenney Jones over Moon, writing in part, “For me, it was great to play with Kenney, someone so disciplined, after years battling to keep Keith Moon in time. At last I could relax and let the drummer keep time. The Kenney years were most enjoyable years of my performing life with the Who. It was hard playing with Moonie, and it is sometimes almost as hard playing with Zak (Starkey) when he tries to emulate Moon. Zak is far better than Moonie technically, although maybe less anarchic — maybe! Zak respects me. Moon loved me, and exalted me, but he did not seem to respect me when we were onstage together.”
Townshend added: “Moon was a brilliant wild card, and much more than a drummer. But playing with Kenney was heaven after dragging Moon through his last, tortuous struggle to play well during the filming of The Kids Are Alright. He almost died of exhaustion that day. I loved Moon the man and Moon the comedian. I wasn’t crazy about Moon the drummer. He was great, I won’t deny it, the Who would probably not have been so big without Moon, but I would have preferred to have worked with Kenney from the very beginning.”
Filming has been indefinitely postponed on the long-awaited Moon biopic, titled See Me Feel Me: Keith Moon Naked For Your Pleasure. The film is being spearheaded by Roger Daltrey, who has been developing the project over the past decade. At the request of Townshend and Daltrey, Mike Myers has said he’ll portray Moon. Recently, Entourage star Jeremy Piven has publicly stated that he’s very interested in playing Moon on the big screen.
In 2017, the first ever Keith Moon signature drumstick was issued. The stick has been produced by Vic Firth Co., which is the world’s largest and leading manufacturer of drumsticks and mallets, and according to the stick’s press release, “Moon was posthumously inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1982, becoming only the second rock drummer to be chosen. In 2011, Moon was voted the second-greatest drummer in history by a Rolling Stone readers’ poll.”
The new official drumstick was produced at the invitation and with the full cooperation from the Moon estate and matches the Who drummer’s exact specifications: “The Keith Moon Signature Stick is unique in its design with the combination of a medium shaft, fast-sloping medium taper and a length just short of 16 inches. Crafted in hickory with an oval wood tip, this stick packs plenty of punch when needed and can work in a variety of musical settings.”
Recently released is the latest biography on Moon, titled, Keith Moon: There is No Substitute, which was compiled by Ian Snowball with the authorization the Keith Moon Estate and Keith’s daughter Amanda de Wolf. Pete Townshend supplied the forward for the book.
CHECK IT OUT: The High Numbers in September 1964 performing “I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying” live in London:
CHECK IT OUT: Keith Moon’s isolated drum track to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:
CHECK IT OUT: The Who on May 18th, 1974 performing “Bell Boy” live at The Valley in London: