Bon Scott: The mysterious death of AC/DC’s legendary frontman
Two days later, following Bon’s sudden death, Kinnear was quoted in the Wednesday, February 20 edition of London’s Evening Standard: “I met up with Bon to go to the Music Machine, but he was pretty drunk when I picked him up. When we got there, he was drinking four whiskies straight in a glass at a time.”
Events begin to get rather hazy from here on in. The oft-repeated version is that Kinnear drove Bon back to the singer’s flat in Victoria, but a boozed-up Scott had passed out in the car in the meantime, and apparently could not be stirred. So Kinnear then made a diversion to East Dulwich, where he lived in a flat at No.67 Overhill Road. Kinnear parked his car – a tiny, French-built supermini – outside his home, but Bon remained unconscious. He simply couldn’t be shifted.
“I just could not move him,” Kinnear told the Standard, “so I covered him with a blanket and left him a note to tell him how to get up to my flat in case he woke up.”
Kinnear says he went to bed in the early hours of Tuesday, February 19, and that he didn’t wake until the following evening. “I went to sleep and it was later in the evening [reportedly at 7.45pm] when I went back out to the car, and I knew something was wrong immediately.”
Inside Kinnear’s car, Bon Scott lay dead. ‘He could not find a comfortable position in the small car,’ Clinton Walker recounts in his book. ‘His body was curled around the gearstick, his neck twisted, his dental plate dislodged. The bile rose up in his throat and blocked his asthmatic windpipe.’
Bon’s body was taken to nearby King’s College Hospital. The coroner concluded that the vocalist had died due to acute alcoholic poisoning. There was no mention of drugs being involved.
Kinnear – allegedly a would-be musician; apparently a budding bass player – disappeared a couple of days later, and his flat in East Dulwich was ransacked by persons unknown.
Much has been made of the British heavy rock band UFO’s role in the events leading up to Bon’s death. Indeed some reports suggest that on the evening he died Bon had intended to meet up with the band’s vocalist Phil Mogg and bassist Pete Way at the Music Machine in Camden. This writer even remembers AC/DC’s manager at the time, Peter Mensch, going so far as to criticise UFO’s party-hard lifestyle and bemoan the negative influence it had on Bon.
Classic Rock recently spoke extensively to Pete Way and ex-UFO guitarist Paul Chapman to get their take on Bon’s death. Chapman, for one, has an intriguing tale to tell – and one that clashes with Scott biographer Walker’s version of the tragic events. Indeed, the UFO pair’s memories differ substantially from many previously published reports. And while it should be remembered that both Way and Chapman were heroin users in the early 80s, and that their testimonies may be unreliable, their recollections – to Classic Rock at least – sound at least as credible as any others.
We should mention here that it’s unlikely that Way and Chapman have spoken recently to correlate, or collaborate on, their stories. Way knew that we wanted talk to him about Bon Scott; Chapman didn’t – we merely requested the latter’s assistance on a ‘project’ we were working on.
The two fell out during the recording of Back From The Dead, an album by Pete Way’s old band Waysted. Chapman, who is based in the US, contributed guitar parts for the album and sent them over to England. But Way rejected them, claiming they weren’t good enough. Guitarist Chris George was brought in to play on Waysted’s album instead of Chapman.
Classic Rock met up with Way at Waysted singer Fin Muir’s flat in Milton Keynes. We had arranged the meeting because we remembered the famous photograph, taken by Ross Halfin, of Way posing with Bon Scott backstage at a UFO gig at Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) in February 1980. This was the last photo taken of Bon before his death, and Way has vivid memories of it: “Yes, you’re right, that was me with Bon. He was hanging out backstage; he was a mate.”
Way told us about when he first encountered AC/DC: “It was when they played the Marquee. I went as a fan, cos I am an AC/DC fan. I had heard Livewire, I think it was, and I thought: ‘I love this’. I went down and became friendly with them.”
Later, UFO and AC/DC spent several months touring in the US together. “They were supporting us. They were special guests; that’s before they’d broken through,” Way recollects. “There was us two and Foreigner. That was a good one. AC/DC hated Foreigner, because they’d do everything to make us not go down well!”
Way was mightily impressed by Bon Scott as a frontman: “He was fantastic,” he gasps. “Do you know who Bon reminds me of? Alex Harvey. I’m a big fan of Alex Harvey – Faith Healer and that. It’s the same thing; Bon had the same attitude. Sensational. Maybe in a movie you can create a Bon, but you can’t create a Bon in real life. Bon created himself.”
Way fondly remembers Bon as “a really nice person. A very nice person. Had a drink, got drunk, went and played, sung better than anybody. [It was] the AC/DC attitude, and Bon was perfect for them. There was no: ‘Oh, I think I’m going to see if I can do a harmony here,’ it was like: ‘This is the way we are’. It hit you in the face like a truck, because it was something better than anything else. It was something so special – people with their own minds, [who had made] their own decisions about music, and had their own principles.