On September 6, 1978, Keith Moon attended a screening of the movie The Buddy Holly Story held by Paul McCartney and his wife Linda. The Who had released the album Who Are You less than a month earlier to critical acclaim, and the screening promised to be one of the biggest social events in London that year. He had initially turned down the invitation, but as the night wore on finally gave in. He was given a seat of honor at the hosts' dinner table. He also announced plans to propose to his girlfriend that night — Keith Moon had every intention of getting his life together, of settling down.
Moon had come to London's West End to escape from the world of rock and roll and all of the temptations it offered, as he tried to kick an alcohol addiction that had been raging out of control for more than a decade. He was staying at a flat owned by friend Harry Nilsson with the woman he planned to propose to, Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax. He had been prescribed the medication Heminevrin, a strong sedative, to counter his withdrawal symptoms during detox.
Moon had been reluctant to attend the McCartneys' preview party; he knew what temptations might possibly be waiting for him and he didn't trust himself to be strong enough to turn them down. He had been through failed rehab attempts before and had decided that the only way to guarantee success was to completely avoid all situations where alcohol would be served.
Keith Moon had many reasons to turn his life around: he was in love with Annette and had decided to ask her to marry him; his band's latest album was a huge commercial and critical success; and more importantly, his health and his drumming were beginning to suffer from the years of drug and alcohol abuse. He also had one other motivation to dry out. He had passed out several times over the years in the middle of concerts; on one such occasion, Pete Townshend had pulled an audience member up on stage and the 19-year-old boy had filled in for Moon — to the audience's delight. The band had let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he could be replaced, and would be, if he didn't get his drinking under control. Moon was determined to get his life together once and for all. He was determined to kick booze out of his life for good.
But it wasn't just alcohol that was a problem for Keith Moon. From the time he had joined The Who at age 17, he had cultivated a reputation for craziness, from throwing furniture and TV sets out of hotel windows to stripping naked or wearing elaborate costumes. Keith Moon was the life of the party at every party he attended. People followed him around just waiting to see what he would do next. On the night before his death Moon was concerned that he would be disappointing his fans and friends if he showed up straight and boring.
He had decided to stay away that night, content to remain in the flat with Annette, not taking any risks. So what happened in those final 24 hours that made him change his mind and attend the party? What event finally broke his resolve? When Annette tried to wake him in the late morning on September 7, 1978 he was completely unresponsive, not breathing. At the time of his death he had cocaine and alcohol in his system, in his stomach were 26 as yet undigested Heminevrin tablets. His death was ruled an overdose from the six or more tablets that he had digested.
Keith Moon: His Final Hours features interviews with close friends like Alice Cooper, Kenney Jones, Annette Walter-Lax, his tour manager John Wolff, daughter Amanda De Wolf, and biographers Tony Fletcher and Richard Barnes. Archival concert and television footage tell the story of Keith Moon's life. It also includes excellent re-enactments that detail the last 24 hours before his death.
There are some striking similarities between Keith Moon's death and that of Janis Joplin. Both were well known for their wild ways and their addictions, but they had both begun cleaning up their acts at the time of their deaths. And then they were gone… leaving only their musical legacies, and questions, behind.
I'd highly recommend Keith Moon: His Final Hours for those who love '60s and '70s classic rock, for fans of The Who, and for those who, like me, have a Dead Crush on Keith Moon.
The series Final 24 released by MVD Entertainment Group is part documentary and part biography. It examines the lives of the famous dead, looking for the clues, the harbingers, of what was to come. By examining the past, and re-creating the events that occurred on the day they died, producer Nick Godwin is able to capture, through reflection, the tragic end that was always rushing towards them like a head-on train.
Previously in the Final 24 review series: Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours
Coming next: Gianni Versace: His Final Hours