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Remembering Keith Moon

Keith Moon's Last Night
(Photo by Gary Merrin/Keystone/Getty Images)

It was 35 years ago Saturday (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.

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.

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!”

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