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The Rise and Fall of Led Zeppelin: Power, Mystery And The Hammer Of The Gods

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The Rise and Fall of Led Zeppelin: Power, Mystery And The Hammer Of The Gods

STEPHEN DAVIS

Rolling Stone (From Issue 451)

Dec 05, 2007

Seventies rock did not come any bigger, harder or heavier than Led Zeppelin. Singer Robert Plant's macho shriek and guitarist Jimmy Page's bludgeoning chords and chain-saw solos became the blueprint for all the heavy-metal bands that would follow. When Page formed Led Zeppelin in 1968, he envisioned a band that combined the gutsy sexuality of vintage blues and rockabilly with the awesome might of rock's new technology. Led Zeppelin's record sales, consistently in the multimillions, and the ruthless administration of the band's affairs by burly manager Peter Grant, brought the band members enormous wealth, which they reveled in with an imperial arrogance that became a textbook example of rock's Me Decade excess.

Few fans, however, probably ever realized the graphic extent to which the members of Led Zeppelin lived out their hard-porn, megarock fantasies and how it eventually brought about the group's demise. In his new book, 'Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga', writer Stephen Davis charts the band's swift ascension to superstardom and the willful abuse of the money and power that came with it, as the group terrorized not only groupies and hangers-on but close friends and hired employees. Davis, a former Rolling Stone writer and the author of three books on reggae, traveled with Led Zeppelin during the group's 1975 American tour. For 'Hammer of the Gods', he gathered firsthand accounts from former girlfriends of band members and from business associates, like Richard Cole, the band's road manager, who Davis says "was responsible for much of the mayhem around Led Zeppelin." Surprisingly, given Peter Grant's reputation for thuglike violence during Zeppelin's heyday and the continuing specter of Jimmy Page's interest in black magic, Davis claims that none of his interview subjects were reluctant to speak frankly about their misadventures. On the contrary, he says, "People were afraid of being left out."

After the yardbirds broke up in july of 1968, Jimmy Page retreated to his boathouse in Pangbourne-upon-Thames and weighed his options. With Peter Grant owning the rights to the Yardbirds' name, Jimmy could go on playing hard rock under that banner indefinitely. A Scandinavian tour was already set up for the fall; Japan, Australia and America were available after that. But now Jimmy preferred the softer, folkish music of Pentangle, the Incredible String Band and Joni Mitchell. There must, he thought, be a middle ground between light and heavy music.

At home by the Thames, Jimmy almost never touched his electric guitar, preferring to strum and pick his acoustic. But he and Peter Grant knew that they had to follow their gut instinct for how to get the real money: by playing "heavy music" in America. The biggest-selling band there was Iron Butterfly, whose album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida featured repetitious, droning blues scales and would survive on the charts for years. The other big band of the day was Vanilla Fudge, who played it somewhat lighter, alternating what was called "white blues" white softer, less bombastic passages.

One musician who had been asking Page about his plans was John Paul Jones, the session bassist and arranger who had played with Jimmy at dozens of recording sessions since 1965. Even before the demise of the Yardbirds, Page recalled, "I was working at the sessions for Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man, and John Paul Jones was looking after the musical arrangements. During a break, he asked me if I could use a bass player in the new group I was forming. He had a proper music training, and he had quite brilliant ideas. I jumped at the chance of getting him."

Coming up with a singer proved to be more difficult. Since Page's new band was to be patterned after the Jeff Beck Group, it needed a singer with the romantic persona of a Rod Stewart, someone with the nerve to get on a stage and hold his own opposite an electric guitar. But all the good singers -- Steve Marriott, Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, Chris Farlowe -- were busy. Terry Reid, only eighteen, had been snatched by producer Mickie Most at the last minute. But Reid told Jimmy and Peter about a little-known singer with a band called Hobbstweedle up in Birmingham, a great tall blond geezer who looked like a fairy prince and possessed a caterwauling voice. They called him the Wild Man of Blues from the Black Country. His name was Robert Plant Peter Grant's office contacted Robert at home, and Jimmy got on the phone with him. They made plans for Jimmy and Peter to see Robert at a Hobbstweedle gig that weekend.

Jimmy, Peter Grant and Yardbirds bassist Chris Dreja turned up at the Hobbstweedle gig at a dismal teachers college in Birmingham. They were let in the back door by a "big, rug-headed kern" who they assumed was the bouncer. But when they saw him onstage in his Moorish caftan and beads, doing "Somebody to Love" in a bluesy, sirenlike soprano, they gave one another the look. "It unnerved me just to listen," Page said later. "It still does, like a primeval wail." After finishing his set of Moby Grape and Buffalo Springfield songs, Robert approached Jimmy to find out what he thought of the show. But Jimmy and the others were low-key and vague. Jimmy said only, "I'll call you within a week." But on the way back to London, Jimmy was intrigued. That voice... it had it, that distinctive, highly charged, sexual quality that Jimmy needed. Jimmy called Robert back and invited him down to Pangbourne.

In the boathouse on the Thames, Jimmy played Robert some of his favorite records: soft things, like Joan Baez doing "Babe. I'm Gonna Leave You" and Robin Williamson's Incredible String Band, and rock & roll tunes, like Chuck Berry's "No Money Down." He played Little Walter's harmonica blues and explained to Robert his idea for a new kind of "heavy music" with slower and lighter touches, music with dynamics, light and shade -- chiaroscuro. They talked about a band in which the singer and the guitarist would be equally important. Jimmy played Robert "You Shook Me," from an old Muddy Waters EP, with Earl Hooker playing the melody on electric guitar behind Muddy's voice. Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart had already done it with the same song on Beck's new album, Truth, but that didn't matter. It was the sound Jimmy wanted.

After a few days of discussions, Robert was almost beside himself. Here was this attractive, mysterious, soft-spoken rock star offering the prospect of stardom and immense riches in America. For the first time, Robert had found somebody who might know what to do with his boundless reservoir of energy.

Robert was so excited that when he left Pang-bourne, he hitchhiked up to Oxford to find his friend John Bonham. A few years earlier, Plant and Bonham had played together in a blues band called the Crawling King Snakes. Bonham, the group's drummer, was a big, long-haired fellow whom everyone called Bonzo, after the dog in a British comic strip. Bonzo's idol was Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, and Bonzo used to line the inside of his bass drum with aluminum foil to make the thing rattle off like cannon fire. He and Robert became fast friends and wound up playing together in another group, the Band of Joy. On this night, as Plant met up with him to persuade him to join Page's new group, Bonham was playing with folk-rocker Tim Rose.

It had been three months since Bonzo had last heard from Robert, and the drummer listened to his friend's breathless spiel about Jimmy and Pangbourne and the new band. "Mate, you've got to join the Yardbirds," urged Robert. But Bonzo was unimpressed. To him, the Yardbirds was a name from the past with no future.

The first time Page saw Bonzo, the drummer was playing a country club in north London with Rose. At the time, Page was still considering making his new band sound something like Pentangle, the acoustic group that featured guitarist Bert Jansch. But when he heard Bonzo's merciless attack, he knew what his new band would sound like. An intensive campaign to snare John Bonham ensued. Robert sent eight telegrams to Bonzo's pub, the Three Men in a Boat, in Walsall. These were followed by forty telegrams from Peter Grant. Still, Bonzo wouldn't join. The success of the Tim Rose gigs had brought in other offers. Joe Cocker wanted him, and Chris Farlowe offered him a job. It was a hard decision. Farlowe was well established and had a new album produced by Mick Jagger. Everybody in London was sure that Cocker, the blues belter from Sheffield, was going to be very big. But, as Bonzo later recalled, "I decided I liked their music better than Cocker's or Farlowe's." So Bonzo finally accepted the drummer's chair with the New Yardbirds. The lineup was complete.

Led Zeppelin recorded its first album during two weeks in late 1968, reworking old blues material in extended, highly electrified versions. To fulfill an old contract, they had toured Scandinavia as the New Yardbirds and, in October of '68, made their debut as Led Zeppelin at Surrey University, earning a mere 150 pounds (less than $400).

Meanwhile, Page and Grant had negotiated a worldwide recording contract with Atlantic Records, and the band received a large cash advance. Still, Led Zeppelin was unable to get decent bookings in England, so Grant took the group to America in early 1969. The band was an instant sensation and soon returned for another tour.

America beckoned led zeppelin with money, girls and fame, and so on April 20th, 1969, the group flew back to Los Angeles for its second tour, shepherded as before by notorious road manager Richard Cole. In Los Angeles, Cole installed the group in bungalows at the Chateau Marmont hotel, where Led Zeppelin's orgies wouldn't disturb the other guests.

By early May, Led Zeppelin had entered the American Top Ten, and the band was raging. The shows usually began with "Communication Breakdown," which segued into "I Can't Quit You Baby." Often the shows would bog down in the bombastic sludge of "Killin' Floor"/" The Lemon Song" and "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" before ending with the usual oldies medley. At one show at Winterland in San Francisco, the medley started with "As Long As I Have You" and ran through an improbable mélange of the lullaby "Hush Little Baby," "Bag's Groove," "Shake," a la Otis Redding, and Spirit's "Fresh Garbage."

Two days after the San Francisco concert, Led Zeppelin's sojourn in Seattle established the band's infamous reputation. Seattle was where the Shark Episode took place. The show itself was another success: Led Zeppelin took the stage at the outdoor festival after the Doors had finished their set -- made anticlimactic by Jim Morrison's incoherent rambling -- and then revived the audience with their explosive rhythms.

Back at the hotel, the band started drinking. Richard Cole says that what happened later was his fault. "In 1968, I was with Terry Reid, supporting the Moody Blues in Seattle, and their road manager told me the band should stay at the Edgewater Inn, because there's a tackle shop in the lobby and you can fish right out the window of the hotel," Cole explained. "So the next time I was in Seattle was with Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge, and we started to catch sharks out the window. By this time, the tours were more and more risqué, and you could do what you liked with the girls who showed up at the hotel."

According to Led Zeppelin legend, a pretty, young groupie came up to Cole's room while he and Bonham were fishing. She was disrobed and tied spread-eagle to the bed, then the band members stuffed pieces of shark into her. Richard Cole says it didn't happen that way. "We caught a big lot of sharks, at least two dozen, stuck coat hangers through the gills and left 'em in the closet... But the true shark story is that it wasn't even a shark. It was a red snapper. Bonzo was in the room, but I did it. Mark Stein [of Vanilla Fudge] filmed the whole thing."

Cole blames Led Zeppelin's debauchery on alcoholism. "All the so-called Led Zeppelin depravity took place the first two years in an alcoholic fog. After that, we got older and grew out of it. It became a realistic business."

It would be a long time, though, before Led Zeppelin lost its taste for the wild life. The band adopted Los Angeles as its American home and recorded 'Led Zeppelin II' on the road in 1969. That record was followed by another American tour -- and another round of frolic with groupies.

The next year the band recorded the folkish 'Led Zeppelin III,' which was blasted by the press as imitation Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But the record was another instant hit, and late in 1970, Page and Plant went back to the cottage in Bron-Y-Aur, Wales, where they had written 'Led Zeppelin III,' to work on material for their fourth album.

In wales, Robert and Jimmy began to develop the introduction and work out the separate sections of a new song, an anthem that would replace "Dazed and Confused" as the centerpiece of Led Zeppelin's concerts. In November, Jimmy dropped a hint of the new song's existence to a music journalist in London: "It's an idea for a really long track.... You know how 'Dazed and Confused' and songs like that were broken into sections? Well, we want to try something new with the organ and acoustic guitar building up and building up, and then the electric part starts.... It might be a fifteen-minute track."

By the time Led Zeppelin began to record at Island Studios in Basing Street, London, in December 1970, Jimmy thought the band might end up with enough music for a double album. Part of "Stairway to Heaven" -- the six-string intro that had been composed in Wales -- was recorded there. But soon the group decided to move the rehearsals and recording to a country house in Hampshire. One evening, after Rolling Stones road manager and boogie-woogie piano virtuoso Ian Stewart had arrived with the Stones' mobile studio, Jimmy and John Paul Jones finished and wrote down the chord changes to "Stairway." The next day, the band ran through "Stairway to Heaven" for the first time.

As the various sections began to come together, the musicians began to smile at one another. Again, they felt the magic of their first rehearsal. They knew they had something. Bonzo had problems with the timing on the twelve-string section before the solo, and they had to play it a few times before they got it the way Jimmy wanted it. While this was going on, Robert was listening and penciling in lyrics. "He must have written three-quarters of the lyrics on the spot," Jimmy said later. "He didn't have to go away and think about them. Amazing, really."

The lyrics of "Stairway" reflected Robert's current reading. He had been poring through the works of the British antiquarian Lewis Spence. He later cited Spence's Magic Arts in Celtic Britain as one of the sources for the lyrics to "Stairway." With its starkly pagan imagery of trees and brooks, pipers and the May Queen, shining white light and the forest echoing with laughter, the song seemed to be an invitation to abandon the new traditions and follow the old gods. It expressed a yearning for spiritual transformation deep in the hearts of a new generation. In time, it became Led Zeppelin's anthem.

Late in 1971, after yet another arduous American tour, Led Zeppelin flew overseas to play the still-unconquered Orient. It was a tour that would cement Led Zeppelin's reputation as rock's reigning -- and most debauched -- band. When Led Zeppelin arrived in Japan, "Immigrant Song," a track from Led Zeppelin III, was Number One.

Exhausted from 1973's record-breaking 'Houses of the Holy' tour two years later, Led Zeppelin didn't play a note in public in 1974. Instead, the band worked on a new album, 'Physical Graffiti,' and prepared to start up its own record label, which would be called -- ominously -- Swan Song.

It had been decided to launch Swan Song Records with elegant receptions in New York and Los Angeles in May 1974. In England, the musicians were restless and looking forward to the parties and ensuing madness in America. When they arrived in Los Angeles, Led Zeppelin hunkered down at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard. At the Riot House, as the hotel was known, the scene was ridiculous. Dozens of pubescent girls were camped in the lobbies and corridors, throwing themselves at anyone vaguely connected with the band. Despite the security guard standing watch, half a dozen teenage girls were sleeping outside Jimmy's door every night. In his suite, Jimmy kept two refrigerators stocked with cold beer. One was for him and his guests; from the other, he would extract cans, then open his door with the chain on and throw cold beer to the feral girls out in the hall.

Fourteen-year-old Lori Maddox had been Jimmy's main squeeze, but he had other girlfriends on the scene as well. Chrissie Wood, wife of Ron Wood of the Stones, was sometimes in residence. And Bebe Buell, a beautiful model and older woman of nineteen, who was then living with Todd Rundgren and about to make her media debut as a Playboy Playmate, was due to arrive any day. At one point, a photographer for rock magazines also found her way into Jimmy's bed.

Bebe Buell was Jimmy's designated escort to the Swan Song soiree. Lori Maddox was in a state about this. She had taken a Quaalude and wandered about the party looking dazed, beautiful, bruised. Somehow, she had bloodied her nose, and her snow-white dress was stained a vivid red. As Jimmy and Bebe were leaving, Lori jumped out from behind a statue, crying to Jimmy, "Why are you doing this to me?" Jimmy tried to ignore her and jumped into the limo.

Later, after the party, they all went to the Rainbow, a club on Sunset. Jimmy had an emotional public row with Bebe, who told him he was being cruel to Lori. The next morning, Lori showed up at the Riot House, where she says she found Jimmy and Bebe in bed. She ran out. A few hours later, she waded through the crowd of girls camped outside Jimmy's suite and knocked on the door. Bebe opened the door with the chain on to see who was there, and Lori attacked her, grabbing Bebe by the hair and trying to drag her out of the room, encouraged by the corridor girls, who hated Bebe Buell as a rival interloper from Back East. Sitting calmly in his suite, watching as two of his girlfriends tried to tear each other's hair out, Jimmy was amused. Later, he told friends that the whole thing was incredible, hilarious.

In 1975, the tax-exiled Led Zeppelin was in full flight. Between the band and its Swan Song acts, it had nine albums on the charts as it began an ambitious but grueling U.S. tour, plagued in turn by Jimmy's broken finger, Robert's influenza and Bonzo's violent temper. Somehow, the old Zeppelin carnival atmosphere had dissipated. There were strange portents in the air.

Led zeppelin had reserved its usual floor at the Riot House, but the expected surreal chaos failed to materialize as it had in the past. The young girls hanging around the lobby were no longer allowed upstairs. Even the notorious Zeppelin roadies were somewhat quieter. The old Zeppelin sack-and-pillage mentality was dying down. One reason may have been the presence of heroin.

Jimmy spent his days in his suite with the shades drawn and candles lit. He gave several interviews while sitting before a coffee table covered with switchblades and other knives. As he spoke, his hands fluttered about in the air. The phone was off the hook, Richard Cole kept the Dom Perignon flowing, and all food was brought in. With an armed guard sitting outside the door, Jimmy had the isolation of a monk. He spent days and nights wide awake, holding his guitar and, as he told a reporter, "waiting for something to come through."

The first California date was in San Diego. The band hit the stage with "Rock and Roll," and the San Diego Sports Arena erupted. The fans immediately flattened the seats and pressed up close to the stage like netted fish. People fainted and were either trampled underfoot or passed over the crowd to the security men in front of the stage. The sheer body heat inspired the band. Jimmy whanged into the rarely played "The Crunge" and manipulated his theremin (an electronic instrument played by moving the hands between two antennas) with wild, shamanistic gestures. Robert constantly pleaded for order, but the show was a masterpiece of mayhem. As the band left the stage for the last time after an hour of encores, a huge white-hot neon sign lit up the hall: Led Zeppelin.

As always happened when Led Zeppelin stayed in Hollywood, the band attracted a constant PIRATED VIDEO IS ILLEGAL of clearly unstable strangers, just hanging out, hoping for a glimpse of the band -- or something more. One morning, before the Long Beach show, a girl with mousy brown hair knocked on Danny Goldberg's door. A nervous tic marred her face. She said she had to see Jimmy Page, because she had foreseen something evil in his future and thought it might happen that night at the Long Beach Arena. She swore that the last time this happened, she had seen someone shot to death before her very eyes. The girl was frantic. She was persuaded to write a long note to Jimmy, and then she left unwillingly. The note was burned, unread. A week later, Danny saw the same girl on the television news. She had just tried to assassinate Gerald Ford. Her name was Squeaky Fromme, and she was one of Charles Manson's old girlfriends.

Weird vibrations surrounded the band. Something was wrong. Richard Cole could feel it. "That year they went into tax exile seemed to me like the beginning of the end," he says. Even Jimmy admitted to journalist Lisa Robinson that he could feel the vultures circling. "I'd like to play for another twenty years," he said, "but I don't know, I just can't see it happening. I don't know why, I can't explain it in words. It's just a funny feeling... a foreboding."

Later that year, Page's fears proved prophetic. Robert Plant and his family were seriously injured in a car crash while they were vacationing on the Greek island of Rhodes. Plant's wife was nearly killed, and Robert himself had to walk with crutches for nearly six months. Unable to tour, the band recorded the hard-hitting album 'Presence' in Germany and, in 1976, released a clumsy, self-produced concert film, 'The Song Remains the Same.' In 1977, Led Zeppelin reunited for what would be its last American tour.

The 1977 tour began in dallas on april fools' Day. Shows would again run over three hours, through fifteen songs and two encores. From the beginning, though, it was clear that this tour was different. Peter Grant's wife had left him, which put a tremendous damper on the spirit of the tour. And Jimmy arrived in the States looking and feeling very weak. In addition to the pulled curtains, lit candles and the ever-present stereo, Jimmy needed heroin.

One night in Chicago, Jimmy went on dressed as a Nazi storm trooper. By the third night, he was feeling ill. He needed to sit in a chair to play "Ten Years Gone," and then he staggered off with severe stomach cramps. The show was canceled. Later, the problem was said to have been food poisoning.

While in Chicago, Page sat in his darkened hotel suite as Neal Preston, the tour photographer, clicked through tray after tray of Zeppelin concert slides. Jimmy was looking for a certain picture of himself, but every time a new slide came up, he would be dissatisfied, pointing out some flaw in his physique -- "Belly!" "Crow's-feet!" -- that the camera had captured. Finally, Jimmy was asked exactly what he wanted. Without missing a beat, Page answered: "Power, mystery and the hammer of the gods."

During April, Led Zeppelin claimed its true domain, the cities of the American Midwest. "It is indeed a pleasure to be back the third night," Plant told the audience at the last show in Cleveland. "But oh, how weak the mortal frame." Two nights later, Led Zeppelin played for 76,000 raving kids at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, breaking its own four-year-old attendance record.

After a two-week break in July, the final leg of Led Zeppelin's 1977 tour began at the massive Seattle Kingdome. A week later, the group was in San Francisco for two concerts at the Oakland Coliseum, promoted by Bill Graham. As usual, Graham's veteran security force was at odds with the Zeppelin flying squad, corporaled by John Bindon. For ten years, Peter Grant and Bill Graham had been calling each other's bluff. On July 23rd, the night of the first Oakland concert, there was a showdown.

It started with Peter Grant's young son, Warren, who was along for part of the tour. A hand-lettered sign saying Led Zeppelin was on the door of one of the house trailers in use backstage as a dressing room, and young Grant asked one of Graham's security men if he could take the sign. According to Richard Cole, the security man shoved Warren Grant away. Bonzo, offstage for a moment, saw this and went over and cursed and kicked the security man a few times before getting back onstage.

Then Peter Grant was told that someone had hurt his son. Grant and Bindon took the security man inside the trailer and allegedly assaulted him while Cole stood watch outside. Another of Graham's people came to his colleague's aid and was beaten up by Cole when he tried to get into the trailer. When Graham's people finally got inside, the trailer was awash in blood and the security man was the unconscious victim of a prolonged, steady beating. Graham's employee was taken to the hospital.

Feelings were running high. Led Zeppelin's second Oakland show took place only after Bill Graham had been forced to sign a letter of indemnification, absolving Led Zeppelin from responsibility for the previous night's carnage. (The document was, of course, illegal, as Graham had no legal right to act on behalf of his hospitalized employee.) Jimmy Page played the entire show seated in a chair, an unprecedented gesture for a rocker.

The next day, Led Zeppelin was packing for a trip to the next city, New Orleans, when Richard Cole happened to look out the window and saw police Swat teams surrounding the building. A few moments after Cole stashed the band's cocaine, he was arrested, as were John Bonham, Peter Grant and John Bindon. All were charged with assault, then freed on bail. A civil suit for $2 million was filed on behalf of their victim.

After this debacle, the band members went different ways. John Paul Jones took off with his family for a camping trip in California. Jimmy stayed put in San Francisco with Grant, while Robert, Bonzo and Cole flew to New Orleans and checked into their usual hotel, the Royal Orleans. "As I was checking the group in," says Cole, "there was a call for Robert from his wife. He said, 'All right, I'll take it,' and he went up to his room to take the call. Two hours later, he called me and said, 'My son's dead.'"

On July 26th, five-year-old Karac Plant had been attacked by a violent respiratory virus. The next day, the child's condition worsened. An ambulance was summoned, but the boy died before reaching the hospital near Plant's home outside Kidderminster. Plant, Bonzo and Cole flew home immediately.

A few days later, Cole went up to Birmingham for the funeral of Karac Plant. Afterward, he sat on the green lawn of the crematorium with Robert and Bonzo. The three veteran rovers were saying little, mostly just staring. "The ******* whole thing was wrong," Richard Cole said later. "It should never have happened.... It was never the same again.... It was like somebody said, 'Here, you *******, have this!'"

For the next three years, Led Zeppelin was hounded by rumors and gossip. There were lurid press reports of a curse on the band, stemming from Jimmy Page's interest in black magic and the occult. The group's long decline was hastened by the emergent punks and New Wavers, who reviled Led Zeppelin as a group of boring old farts. Finally, in 1979, Led Zeppelin staged a comeback, recording its last album, 'In Through the Out Door', under the leadership of John Paul Jones. The album was another smash, and in 1980, a streamlined Led Zeppelin barnstormed through Europe.

A little more than two months after touring Europe, Led Zeppelin convened to rehearse for its upcoming American dates. The band assembled at Jimmy's new house in Windsor, a huge former mill alongside the Thames, protected by a high stone wall. There, on Old Mill Lane in Windsor on September 24th, 1980, Led Zeppelin gathered for the last time.

Hopes for the group's complete revival were high. The week before, Jimmy had told a journalist, "I feel there is a lot more to do, simply because this band thrives on a challenge." By then, Bonzo had stopped using heroin, but he was drinking heavily and taking a drug called Motival, which reduced anxiety and kept his spirits up. A friend later said that Bonzo had seemed very wound up and anxious about going back to America, because the last Zeppelin tour had been such a disaster and lawsuits were still hanging over him in California.

Zeppelin road manager Rex King was chauffeuring Bonzo that morning. He picked Bonzo up at his place, Old Hyde Farm, but the drummer insisted that they stop in a pub before driving to the rehearsal. At the pub, Bonzo drank four quadruple vodkas with orange juice and ate a couple of ham rolls. He continued to drink vodka during the band rehearsal at a studio in Berkshire, until he was almost too drunk to play.

Later, Bonzo continued his binge at the band reunion party at Jimmy's house. He downed two or three large double vodkas an hour before midnight, then passed out on a sofa. Jimmy's assistant, Rick Hobbs, had been through this scene before. He dragged Bonzo to a bedroom and laid him on his side, propped up with pillows, then turned out the light.

By the following afternoon, Bonzo hadn't appeared. Benji LeFevre, who worked for Robert, went in to wake the drummer. But Bonzo's face was blue and ghastly, and he had no pulse. An ambulance was called, but it was obvious that Bonzo had been dead for several hours. He was thirty-one years old.

At a coroner's inquest some time later, a pathologist reported that John Bonham had died of an overdose of alcohol, having drunk forty measures of vodka during a twelve-hour period and then choked on his own vomit while asleep.

There were unfounded press reports that the three surviving members were divided about whether or not to split. Various English drummers -- Cozy Powell, Carl Palmer, Aynsley Dunbar -- were rumored to be under consideration as Bonzo's replacement in a reformed Led Zeppelin. But Jimmy couldn't see going out on the road with anybody but John Bonham. Nobody had the heart for it. On December 4th, 1980, as the English winter days grew shorter, Led Zeppelin issued a statement to the press: "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."

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