Lemmy Kilmister’s Death: One Year Later
Lemmy Kilmister's death on Dec. 28, 2015 at the age of 70 was preceded by the terrible news of his cancer diagnosis – and then some retro video-game fun.
In announcing his passing, Motorhead confirmed their stalwart frontman had been in the midst of a "battle with an extremely aggressive cancer," having received his diagnosis on Dec. 26. Lemmy's manager said he'd been given two-to-six months to live.
Unfortunately, the end came far, far more quickly. The Los Angeles county Department of Public Health's death certificate for Kilmister later confirmed that he also suffered from cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure. His band's official statement said Lemmy died while "at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from the Rainbow which had recently made its way down the street, with his family."
Of course, the news of Kilmister's death set off a powerful wave of remembrance and tribute from colleagues and fans alike. But this loss would reverberate long past the initial shock. Here's a look back as we mark the first year without Lemmy Kilmister ...
Dec. 29: Drummer Mikkey Dee, a key cog in the last – and longest-running – Motorhead lineup, confirms the band's end just one day later. “Motorhead is over, of course," he announced. "Lemmy was Motorhead.” Kilmister, Dee and Phil "Wizzö" Campbell had been together since the drummer joined in 1992. Campbell came on board in 1984, replacing Brian "Robbo" Robertson. This final period saw Motorhead win a long-deserved Grammy; their final studio effort, 2015's Bad Magic, was a Billboard Top 40 hit.
Dec. 30: U.K. fans come up with a novel tribute idea, banding together in an effort to make Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" the first No. 1 single of 2016. "As a tribute to the absolute legend that we knew and loved as Lemmy, let's chart 'Ace of Spades,'" a group said via Facebook. "Buy it from as soon as Big Ben chimes in 2016." They didn't quite get there – but they got close. "Ace of Spades" reached No. 9 in January, outpacing its original No. 15 finish on the U.K. charts back in 1980.
Dec. 30: Dave Grohl did more than proclaim Kilmister the king of rock 'n' roll. He headed over to a tattoo parlor, where he had some "Ace of Spades" ink emblazoned on his inner wrist. Grohl, who had earlier recorded an updated Christmas classic with Kilmister, said: "We’ve lost a friend and legend. My heart is broken."
Jan. 6: A fan named John Wright gets thousands and thousands of signatures on a petition to have one of four recently discovered elements named 'Lemmium' in Kilmister's honor — a cool idea regardless of the circumstances, but even more fitting given that the elements in question are all heavy metals. Unfortunately, Lemmium didn't end up on the periodic table. There are a number of rules governing the naming of elements, and Lemmy didn't really fit any of them — although the fact that he has a star named after him could have perhaps let him slip in as a "place or geographical region."
Jan. 9: Friends both famous and of the every-day variety pay a final tribute to Kilmister at an tear-filled memorial service at his favorite bar, the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Los Angeles. Speakers included Mikkey Dee; Rob Halford; Lars Ulrich and Robert Trujillo; Slash and Matt Sorum (the latter of whom once subbed as a tour drummer with Motorhead); and, finally, Dave Grohl. At any given time, more than 250,000 people were streaming the services live. "So much love!" Halford marveled, before beginning his prepared remarks.
Jan. 15: The Jack Daniel Distillery rolls out a special single-barrel whiskey in honor of Motorhead, but all 288 bottles of this limited run – priced at $99 each – immediately disappeared from store shelves. Fans could still honor the band, however, by ordering an old-fashioned Jack and Coke under a brand new name. Some fans called for an official re-christening of this mixed drink as the "Lemmy," and gathered thousands and thousands of signatures on the (unenforceable but still quite cool) petition.
Feb. 9: Phil Campbell had a health scare of his own, suffering an illness late in 2015 that forced Motorhead to cancel three shows before his Dec. 2 return at Gothenburg, Sweden. That led to rumors of his own demise, just weeks before Lemmy passed. Campbell rebounded, after a long period of mourning, to begin work on a solo album that would reportedly feature guest appearances from Halford, Slipknot drummer Chris Fehn and others.
Feb. 15: The Hollywood Vampires pay a special tribute to Kilmister at the 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony. The Alice Cooper-fronted, star-packed band – which also includes actor Johnny Depp, Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry – played a new Vampires song called “As Bad As I Am,” then moved on to the title track from Motorhead's 1980 album Ace of Spades – but only after a lingering glimpse of Kilmister’s amp set up.
March 7: The surviving members of Motorhead's final lineup announce a return to the stage, first with the news that Campbell was making plans to sit in with Mass Mental, a side project led by Trujillo. On March 24, Campbell and Dee were then confirmed for an appearance with Saxon as part of a September tribute to Kilmister in Ljungbyhed, Sweden. They were to perform at the finals for the country's V8 Thunder Cars racing series, which was renamed the "Lemmy 500."
March 30: An official release date is announced by Clean Your Clock, which captures performances from Nov. 20-21, 2015 at the Zenith in Munich, just weeks before Kilmister's sudden death. UDR, Motorhead's label, promised an "indomitable cocktail of power, purpose and head-crunching volume." Motorhead's last concert followed on Dec. 11 in Berlin.
April 28: Dee is initially announced as a temporary touring member with the Scorpions while regular drummer James Kottak continued a stint in rehab. But Dee's 12 fill-in dates through May led to an official spot in the lineup that September. "He brings a fresh energy to the band," the Scorpions said, "and we look forward to the exciting time together that lies ahead." Kottak, who had been off the road since his arrest in Dubai, joined the band in 1996.
July 15: Plans were announced for a memorial statue in honor of Lemmy, scheduled to go up at his usual hangout, the Rainbow. An unveiling was held on Aug. 24. The piece is the work of local artist Travis Moore, who donated his services to the crowdfunded project. All funds were applied to materials and production, with the remainder to be donated to cancer research.
Sept 14: Campbell continues along a busy post-Motorhead career path as well, announcing a new band called the Bastard Sons. The lineup features his kids Todd, Dane and Tyla, along with singer Neil Starr. They promised a debut EP titled Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, and dubbed it "the surprise of the 2016 rock 'n' roll release calendar."
Sept. 16: Two new coloring books based on the lives of Kilmister and David Bowie are set for release via Feral House. Motorhead: Color the Ace of Spades features work by Joe Petangno, the artist who created the cover of 1986's Orgasmatron. Drawings from fans and personal stories from Kilmister's life and work with Hawkwind and Motorhead fill out the book.
Sept. 27: Metallica reveal that their long-awaited new album Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct features a tribute to Kilmister, titled "Murder One." Long-time fans, they'd earlier played his 50th birthday party as a one-off tribute band dubbed the Lemmys, and offered one of the first public tributes from a peer after his death. "Motorhead had a lot to do with Metallica sitting here right now," James Hetfield said.
Oct. 11: Continuing a fun trend after the arrival of his adult coloring book, Funko Pop! announces a new Lemmy Kilmister edition figurine. Set to arrive in November, each one stands 3.75 inches high, weighs less than five ounces and comes in a window display box with the Motorhead logo on the back and a nod to a Jack Daniel’s bottle on the side. It also replicates things that will always be associated with Lemmy, including his Rickenbacker bass, forearm tattoo, calvary hat and facial moles.