Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister
December 24, 1945 – December 28, 2015
Lemmy Kilmister was the lead singer, bassist, primary songwriter, and only original member of Motorhead, the legendary English rock band he formed in 1975. Over the course of four decades, the band, which was equal parts punk rock and heavy metal, released over 22 albums, which sold upwards of 30 million worldwide. Kilmister was born in Straffordshire, but spent most of his early years in North Wales. After leaving high school early, he worked various menial jobs while learning to play the guitar. When he was 16, he saw one of the Beatles‘ iconic Cavern Club shows and instantly knew he wanted to make music. The next day, he bought Please Please Me and learned to play the guitar while playing along with it. After performing in a series of local bands, Kilmister moved to London where he shared a flat with Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the band’s manager. They hired him to roadie for them throughout the UK in 1967. In 1968, Kilmister joined Hawkwind, a space rock band that would later prove to be highly influential to countless prog rock, metal and punk bands. He sang lead on several Hawkwind records, including their biggest hit, “Silver Machine,” which reached #3 in 1972. He was ultimately fired from Hawkwind after being arrested trying to carry drugs across the Canadian/US border in 1975. He ended up not being charged or convicted of a crime once it was determined that he was holding speed, which was legal in Canada at the time. Kilmister soon formed Motorhead, who quickly found a cult following for its hard, fast, and loud rock – a sound that appealed to the growing punk scene of the UK as well as the older hard rock fans of Hawkwind and such. Motorhead, and particularly Kilmister’s fierce playing and vocal delivery has been credited for laying the foundation for what would be called thrash and speed metal. On the other side of the metal spectrum, Motorhead was arguably flash point of what would later be known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Over the next 40 years, the band’s lineup changed several times, while their music fell in and out of favor as tastes around the world changed. But Kilmister forged on and seemed indestructible in spite of his vices. In 2010, the documentary film, Lemmy was released to both critical and fan acclaim. The poignant film focused on Kilmister’s private life, which was mostly spent either on tour or sitting at the bar at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip. The documentary introduced and reintroduced Motorhead to fans around the world, leading to the two critically acclaimed and commercially successful late-career albums, Aftershock (2013) and Bad Magic (2015). And although he suffered a few health setbacks over the past few years, Kilmister seemed as if he’d continue to outlive many of his peers. On December 26, 2015, he reportedly learned he was suffering from a very aggressive form of cancer. Lemmy Kilmister was just eight days past his 70th birthday when the cancer took his life on December 28, 2015.