It was 34 years ago today (September 7th, 1978) that the Who's drummer Keith Moon died at age 32. Moon's death, which was ruled accidental, was caused by an overdose of Heminevrin, a medication prescribed to help alleviate alcohol withdrawals, mixed with alcohol. According to police reports there were 32 pills found in Moon's system, some of which were not yet dissolved. He died while staying in Harry Nilsson's London apartment -- which coincidentally was where "Mama" Cass Elliott had died four years earlier. Moon was survived by his daughter Mandy and his fiancee Annette Walter-Lax.
On August 18th, 1978, the Who released their final album with Moon, called Who Are You. Earlier that month, Moon and Pete Townshend appeared on ABC's Good Morning America to promote the new album. Although Moon was bloated and heavily made up, he tried valiantly to offer a positive spin on the band's future as a live act when asked if he still had the urge to tour: "Yes I would, I enjoy going out on the road very much. But only under certain circumstances and certain conditions. I like to play certain halls and certain towns. Y'know, do a few gigs in London, some in the States."
The night before his death, Moon and Walter-Lax attended a preview of the movie The Buddy Holly Story, thrown by Paul and Linda McCartney, on the eve what would have been Holly's 42nd birthday. According to most reports, Moon, who was drinking white wine, was slightly subdued, in high spirits, and at no point seemed drunk or inebriated in any way.
At the party after the screening, he was photographed talking with McCartney and his future Who replacement Kenney Jones. Jones recalled his last meeting with Moon: "Keith and I just went straight into each other, just talking, 'cause we hadn't seen each other for a while. I said, 'How 'bout you Keith, what've you been up to?" He said, 'Oh, I'm clean, I'm straight, I'm. . .' He was telling me that he'd given up drinking for nearly six months, and he felt so much better."
According to Walter-Lax, Moon had originally not wanted to go out that night in an effort to try to curb his drinking, but did snort a small account of cocaine before leaving their apartment.
Prior to his death, the Who were debating forcing Moon out of the band due to his debilitating alcoholism.
Shortly after Moon's death Townshend told the British press, "Keith's death is something that we expected for 20 years, but when it happens you just can't take it in. I'm very upset. I've lost a man I loved."
Apart from his acrobatic drumming, Moon has gone on to be remembered as one of Britain's quickest wits, often adapting new and off-beat personas, and was known to dress up in character for days on end. Friends were used to watching Moon enjoy a night out on the town dressed as a World War One pilot, a clown, Marilyn Monroe, a nun, Dracula, Adolph Hitler, a gangster, Julius Caesar, a pirate -- or more often than not -- completely nude.
Alice Cooper was Moon's close friend and neighbor during his Malibu years in the '70s, and admitted that Moon's non-stop partying and the mania surrounding his life was exhausting: "Keith Moon was hard day-to-day. He would wear me out. He was always on. He came over and stayed at our house for a week. Y'know, just came over, stayed at the house for a week. And, I mean, there was never a time when I would come in and he'd be sleeping! He was always on: 'Let's go here, let's go there, let's go do this, let's go do that, let's go do this. . . ' And to the point where I would go, 'I can't stay with you. Y'know, I can party with you at night, okay? But during the day. . .' He was like that all day, too! (laughs)." )
Dougal Butler, Moon's closest confidante and road manager, ultimately thinks that Moon's three years living in Los Angeles helped quicken the pace for his early death: "Well, he died about nine months after he got back to London from L.A. -- I would have given him six months, if that. Keith attracted and let people into his so-called 'inner-circle,' all the wrong people in L.A. I'm not trying to give L.A. a bad name -- don't get me wrong; it's a smashing place. But there are some weird and wonderful people down there, then in the '70s."
Pattie Boyd, who was to soon marry Eric Clapton, recalls a typical night out with Moon in the 1970's: "Keith was the most generous person. He was absolutely utterly adorable. I remember once Eric and I picked him up from the Hyatt House (laughs) in L.A. -- I think we were going to a party, and I think it was Led Zeppelin's party. And so we picked up Keith. He was wearing a dress! (I thought) 'Oh Keith, he's just so funny,' I didn't really think too much about it. (Laughs) and he sat in the back of the car with me (laughs) and he started chewing at the headrest, and Eric kept telling him to stop (and) y'know, behave properly. And it was so funny."
In his recent online autobiography, petetownshend-whohe.blogspot.com, Townshend wrote about performing with Moon during the Who's early days, recalling that, "Keith was an eccentric player, and seemed to be showing off all the time, pointing his sticks up in the air and leaning over the drums with his face thrust forward as if to be nearer the front of stage. But he was loud and strong. Slowly too we realized that his fluid style hid a real talent for listening and following, rather than just laying down a beat."
Townshend recalled how Moon's overindulgences rarely showed while performing live with the Who: "He often used to get a bit excited. He was also. . . because he had such a huge adrenalin rush as a drummer on the stage, often -- mostly -- what he took he could overcome with his body chemistry, and then after he came off he would often collapse."
Filming has been indefinitely postponed on the long-awaited Moon biopic, titled See Me Feel Me: Keith Moon Naked For Your Pleasure. The film is being spearheaded by Roger Daltrey, who has been developing the project over the past decade. At the request of Townshend and Daltrey, Mike Myers has said he'll portray Moon. Recently, Entourage star Jeremy Piven has publicly stated that he's very interested in playing Moon on the big screen.
Daltrey told us that he feels that Moon's life was nothing short of cinematic, and wants the film to focus on Moon's offstage life: "I think there's a great film to be made out of the life of Keith Moon. There was. . . He was an incredibly complicated character. I think he was definitely a frustrated genius. I want to show people everything they didn't know about Keith. It's not a band story at all -- it's about a drummer on his days off."
In 2010, Pete Townshend posted on the band's website, thewho.com, that he actually preferred playing with Kenney Jones over Moon, writing in part, "For me, it was great to play with Kenney, someone so disciplined, after years battling to keep Keith Moon in time. At last I could relax and let the drummer keep time. The Kenney years were most enjoyable years of my performing life with the Who. It was hard playing with Moonie, and it is sometimes almost as hard playing with Zak (Starkey) when he tries to emulate Moon. Zak is far better than Moonie technically, although maybe less anarchic -- maybe! Zak respects me. Moon loved me, and exalted me, but he did not seem to respect me when we were onstage together."
Townshend added: "Moon was a brilliant wild card, and much more than a drummer. But playing with Kenney was heaven after dragging Moon through his last, tortuous struggle to play well during the filming of The Kids Are Alright. He almost died of exhaustion that day. I loved Moon the man and Moon the comedian. I wasn't crazy about Moon the drummer. He was great, I won't deny it, the Who would probably not have been so big without Moon, but I would have preferred to have worked with Kenney from the very beginning."