Classic Rock Corner

R.I.P. John Bonham: Top 5 Ways to Avoid Death by Misadventure

This week back in 1980, the rock world lost a good one. John Bonham, the fantastic, heavy-footed drummer for Led Zeppelin was found dead in bed in Jimmy Page's Windsor manor house.

It was an ugly end for Bonzo. A longtime heavy drinker -- particularly when separated from his family -- Bonham had consumed 40 shots of vodka in the day before he died. That was no remarkable number for Bonham, which made his death all the more astonishing. Frankly, there's no pleasant way to recount what happened next: The drummer expired by choking to death on his own vomit.

What's awful is that famous rock stars drowning in puke was already something of a sad cliché by then.

Only seven months before Bonham's passing, AC/DC singer Bon Scott died after he similarly filled his lungs with his own vomit. Jimi Hendrix had asphyxiated on his own bile ten years earlier. By the time Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs, one of Spinal Tap's loudest drummers, choked to death on someone else's vomit in 1984, pulmonary oedema had become a joke.

Folks, asphyxia is no laughing matter! Only vigilance has helped to reduce the incidence of vomit-related drowning among celebs in the past 30 years. To help protect the hard-partying rock stars whom we make our living idolizing (not to mention the weekend wannabes who read this stuff), Rocks Off has put together this scientific tip sheet to help steer our favorite people away from sharing John Bonham's sorry fate.

5. Limit Vodka Intake During Breakfast

On Sept. 24, 1980, Bonham was picked up by an assistant to be taken to rehearsals for Zep's forthcoming American tour--the band's big comeback. Rather than try to work on an empty stomach, Bonzo had his driver stop for breakfast, where he went ahead and ordered a few drinks. Four quadruple vodkas, to be exact - that's 16 shots of the hard stuff to start the day off right.

Today, experts believe that this liquid diet may have been a symptom of a serious disease known as alcoholism. If you ever find yourself compelled by an addiction to consume 24 ounces of liquor during the most important meal of the day, it might be a good idea to make sure that you weigh 600 lbs. or so first and then chase your booze with 60 or 70 English muffins with eggs and jam. Your only other safe choice is to avoid drinking fatal doses of alcohol as soon as you wake up.

4. Always Heed Terrifying Warning Signs

Three months before his death, a soused Bonham collapsed onstage during a Led Zep show in Nuremburg and had to be rushed to a hospital. Any headbanging idiot with a copy of Houses of the Holy at home could tell that the drummer was in pretty bad shape with his addiction, but the band's management insisted that Bonham had simply overeaten.

In our view, this was a mistake. Modern medicine now tells us that collapsing into alcoholic unconsciousness at work in front of several thousand people could be considered a "warning sign" of serious health risks to come. Bonham should have returned to England immediately for rehabilitation, but the band had the all-important American tour looming, and so he was propped back up on his stool.

Had he gotten real help before it was too late, Zeppelin might've been touring the States this summer.

3. Always Slip Into a Coma on Your Side

After a long day of guzzling vodka and beating the shit out of your drum set, a good night's sleep is essential. Unavoidable, really. That's why Bonham's friends/employees had to carry him up to bed on the night that he died after a day of drinking through rehearsal and then partying the night away at Page's swank manor.

Accounts from friends indicate that the unconscious Bonham was placed on his side, but they probably should have propped him up or something, because when the vomit burbled up in his sleep, it definitely did NOT drain out of his mouth in the preferred fashion. It's always wise to fall asleep on your side after a stint of possibly fatal inebriation, but if you plan to impair your ability to maintain consciousness long enough to situate yourself for the night, make sure your assistants know to wedge you on to your side.

We've found that stuffed animals and mildewed piles of dirty clothes can both be used to build an effective support structure in a pinch.

2. Never Asphyxiate Alone

There's really no telling how long John Bonham had been dead before he was found in his room the following afternoon. That's because after he was dragged away the night before, his friends and co-workers continued partying without a care in the world. A ludicrously drunk Bonzo was hardly an unfamiliar sight to those closest to him.

Looking back, they really should have checked in on him periodically. If they had, maybe they could have spotted his predicament in time to save his life or rush him to an emergency room. Vomiting in your sleep can be a sign of alcohol poisoning, and if anyone had noticed it, Bonham might've been saved.

If you're a rich and beloved rock star who regularly gets boozed off his brain stem, it may be a smart decision to hire a night-time babysitter to watch you while you sleep it off. That way, a doctor can be summoned at the first sickening gurgle.

1. Under No Circumstances Agree to Any Satanic Pacts

A number of tragedies befell Led Zeppelin in the late '70s that became increasingly difficult for fans to chalk up to bad luck. Rumors spread that the band, led by noted occultist Jimmy Page, had struck a bargain with Satan himself to grant the group unprecedented commercial success. To many, the death of John Bonham was final proof that the Adversary was collecting his grim dues.

No proof has ever presented itself that Led Zeppelin signed any sort of pact with the Devil. But then again, we can't disprove it, either. With that it mind, we feel it's prudent to recommend against striking any bargains with Satan and/or other malevolent would-be deities. Sure, Beelzebub has a pretty terrific track record when it comes to inspiring bitchin' tunes, but ultimately the price may be too high.

If Satan was just collecting his souls using normal methods, that'd be one thing. But to cause a rock star to choke to death on his own vomit? That's just unacceptably cruel, even for the Father of Evil himself. Avoid.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith