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Lemmy Kilmister, the lead singer and bassist of Motörhead and a heavy metal icon for six decades, passed away Monday after a battle with cancer. Kilmister turned 70 on Christmas Eve. The band’s official Facebook confirmed Kilmister’s passing, noting, “There is no easy way to say this … our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer.”
“He had learnt of the disease on December 26th, and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from [Los Angeles bar] The Rainbow which had recently made it’s [sic] way down the street, with his family,” the statement continued. “We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words. We will say more in the coming days, but for now, please… play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself. HE WOULD WANT EXACTLY THAT.”
Many of Kilmister’s heavy metal brethren and artists he inspired took to Twitter to pay tribute to the inimitable artist. “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today,” Ozzy Osbourne tweeted. “He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” Kilmister served as a co-writer on his friend Osbourne’s 1991 LP No More Tears, including the hit “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and Grammy-winning “I Don’t Want to Change the World.”
“We’ve lost a friend & legend,” Foo Fighters wrote on their Facebook page. “My heart is broken. RIP Lemmy. Born To Lose, Lived To Win.” The band attached a live version of “Stay Clean” from their 1979 album Overkill.
Radio personality Eddie Trunk was the first to report Kilmister’s passing, “Sorry to report that I have confirmed Lemmy has passed away just now at the age of 70. RIP to a true original icon of rock. Anthrax’s Scott Ian wrote, “He lived a life of dreams and he went out on top. He was Motörhead and HE PLAYED ROCK & ROLL!!!” Ian added in a statement to Rolling Stone, “He was my hero and he was my friend.”
“Lemmy has passed away. Truly one of a kind. Much more to him than many knew. RIP,” Kiss’ Paul Stanley wrote, while Mark Lanegan tweeted, “Rip Lemmy. Seeing Motörhead at the Yakima Speedway on ace of spades tour changed my life. So sad.”
Kilmister had suffered from numerous health ailments in the past year, resulting in a series of postponed concerts. Lemmy was fitted with a pacemaker in 2013 and suffered from a hematoma in 2014. Despite his ailments and 40 years of heavy drinking and hard living, the “Ace of Spades” band continued to tour at a heavy volume as they supported their latest album Bad Magic. This year, Motörhead gigs were postponed for reasons ranging from Lemmy’s bad back to the singer suffering from altitude sickness.
“I’m all right, you know,” Kilmister told Rolling Stone in August. “I’m not dying yet.”
Born Ian Kilmister, “Lemmy” got his start in music as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience; he shared an apartment with bassist Noel Redding. By 1972, Kilmister joined the space-rock band Hawkwind, serving as their bassist for three years, including their landmark live LP, 1973’s Space Ritual. However, by 1975, Kilmister was tossed out of Hawkwind and he and his distinctly gravelly voice began fronting his own project: Motörhead. The band took its name from the song “Motorhead,” a Hawkwind B-side that Kilmister wrote and later refurbished for Motörhead’s 1977 self-titled debut.
“I wrote that when I was in Hawkwind,” Kilmister told Rolling Stone. “The song was about speed and it was an issue to Hawkwind, and that’s why I got fired. I never asked them what they thought of Motörhead after that. I didn’t care what they thought of it. I don’t think of ‘Motörhead’ as a defining song, though. That song’s long gone for me now.”
Kilmister’s distinct, pulverizing bass and unmistakable snarl were the backbone of Motörhead singles like “Killed By Death,” “Bomber” and “Overkill.” However, the band’s biggest, most influential track was 1980’s “Ace of Spades,” a speed metal classic that remains the band’s most enduring cut.
“It’s still very popular. When we do it onstage, everyone loves it,” Kilmister told Rolling Stone. “But when we wrote it, we were just doing an album. It’s just fucking another song. I thought it was pretty good, but I didn’t think it was that good. So I have no special memory of writing it.”
“I’m the guy that’s always been into the fucking villain musicians, from Gene Vincent to Keith Richards to Joe Perry, and I don’t think any of these tough guys can hold a candle to Lemmy,” Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash told Rolling Stone in 2009. “The first time I ever saw Motörhead was on the Blizzard of Ozz tour. I swear to God, it was the loudest thing I ever heard. They EQ’d it in a way to rip the top of your fucking head off. And the set they do today is the same as back then – not in terms of song choices, but the way it comes at you, barreling down the tracks like a freight train.”
Despite the breakneck pace of Motörhead’s music, Kilmister himself insisted that the band wasn’t a heavy metal act. “We were not heavy metal,” Lemmy told The Independent in 2010. “We were a rock and roll band. Still are. Everyone always describes us as heavy metal even when I tell them otherwise. Why won’t people listen?” As Kilmister told Rolling Stone in August, his chief influences were Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” and a Beatles concert he saw at Liverpool’s Cavern Club when he was still a teenager.
With Motörhead, Kilmister recorded 22 studio albums, most recently 2015’s Bad Magic, as well as their U.K. chart-topping 1981 live LP No Sleep ’til Hammersmith (The album title later inspired the Beastie Boys heavy metal-indebted track “No Sleep till Brooklyn.”) In 2005, Motörhead won their first Grammy for Best Metal Performance with their cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”; Metallica had previously covered Motörhead’s “Overkill” on their 1998 covers album Garage Inc..
In addition to the music, Kilmister’s unique personality and appearance – the muttonchops, the facial moles, the obsession with slot machines, his collection of Nazi memorabilia – endeared him to diehards and casual music fans alike. In 2010, Lemmy, a documentary dedicated to Kilmister and his larger-than-life personality, was released to critical acclaim.
Kilmister boasted that he had drank a bottle of Jack Daniel’s every day since he turned 30, although he admittedly gave up booze in 2013 as his health started to catch up to his hard living. “I suddenly realized I was waking up in pools of other people’s vomit, and I had no recollection of them,” Kilmister told Rolling Stone in January 2014. “That’s a bit much. I’m not saying don’t have fun, don’t snort the occasional line – but don’t make it your life.”
At that time, after a series of health issues threatened to take Motörhead off the road and force Lemmy into retirement, he revealed that he was worried about the future of rock and roll. “There’s nobody now,” he said. “There is going to be a huge hole, and nobody to step into it. I think it’s important music. It’s the constant music of this generation and the last one and the last one.”
In Kilmister’s biography White Line Fever, Lemmy wrote of his own death, “People don’t become better when they’re dead; you just talk about them as if they are. But it’s not true! People are still assholes, they’re just dead assholes!”
Kilmister’s passing comes just a month after former Motörhead drummer Phil Taylor passed away at 61