Bon Scott: The mysterious death of AC/DC’s legendary frontman
“He wanted to stay up and party,” Chapman insists. “If that’s what kept us up, then he’d be up for it. Bon just wanted to keep the party going.”
Nothing is ever straightforward when a rock star dies. There’s always no end of conjecture and confusion. And many glaring anomalies and answered questions about Bon Scott’s death remain. Chief among them are:
* When was Bon’s body actually discovered? When did the police first find out? Classic Rock spoke to East Dulwich police station in Lordship Lane, who referred us to the Metropolitan Police press bureau. We were told that no information was available because Scott’s was a ‘non-suspicious death’. We then spoke to Southwark Coroner’s Court and asked if we could gain access to their records. We were told to submit a request in writing, which we did promptly. It was subsequently rejected. A spokesman told us: “Unfortunately you are not what we would call ‘a properly interested person’. That would be a parent, a spouse, a child or someone acting on behalf of the deceased.” He added: “There is still sensitivity surrounding this case.”
* Who is Alistair Kinnear, and why did he disappear from sight? We posed this question to Clinton Walker, Bon Scott’s biographer, who replied cryptically: “Alistair, I believe, was another guise used by one of the characters already in my book – and I did try to very gently imply that. I have met this fellow, but I’ve left it at that. What I’m saying is, I met the guy who might have been ‘Kinnear’, but that feeling is based on no real evidence, just a hunch.” Walker was unable to track down the ‘real’ Kinnear for his book.
* Alistair Kinnear – who some claim was a rock journalist, not a musician – may have changed his identity. The late writer Mark Putterford, who raised the issue of heroin being involved in Scott’s death, was reputedly aware of Kinnear’s new guise. A source told Classic Rock that, at the time of Putterford’s death 10 years ago, Putterford was planning to approach Kinnear with regard to doing an updated version of Shock To The System (Putterford’s AC/DC book that explores the heroin angle). One of the things that Putterford was planning to ask Kinnear was that if he was sober enough to drive across London, how come he was so inebriated that he slept solidly until the evening of Tuesday, February 19?
After Bon’s death, AC/DC closed ranks. Angus and Malcolm Young don’t often speak about their old singer, who was replaced by Brian Johnson for 1980’s Back In Black album. On the occasions when they do, their reminiscences are often anecdotal and humorous rather than heartfelt and emotional. That’s no criticism, it may be the best way they can find to deal with their grief.
Australian singer Jimmy Barnes, of Cold Chisel fame, told Classic Rock: “Nobody was more hurt than the AC/DC boys at the time, because they lost a great friend and a fine singer. A lesser band would have collapsed, but they came back and went on to make so many more huge records. Bon was an awful hard man to replace.”
Bruce Elder of the Sydney Morning Herald (formerly the London correspondent for Rolling Stone) spoke to Angus Young a few days after Bon’s death.
Elder asked: “Who in the band was closest to Bon?” Angus replied: “We all were. You see, we were on the road for 10 or 11 months every year, and the rest of the time we were in the studio recording the next album. We were all close to Bon.”
Elder concluded in his article: ‘It was one of those moments when you suddenly realise the line between truth and myth in the rock’n’roll lifestyle. These guys were bonded by hard work and the desire to succeed.’
This tortured tale will continue to run and run, as it has done for the past 25 years. So let’s bring things to a temporary conclusion with a few words from Bon Scott, who once summed himself up with the classic quote: “They say to me: ‘Are you AC, or DC?’ And I say: ‘Neither, I’m the lightning!’”
And like a flash he was gone.
Postscript: In February 2005 – the month this piece was originally published – The Guardian published a feature (read it here) in which writer Richard Jinman quoted AC/DC biographer Clinton Walker as saying of Alistair Kinnear: “No-one spoke to him before or after the event [Scott's death]. He just doesn’t seem to exist”. The article also stated that “Walker believes Alistair Kinnear was a name adopted by one of Bon Scott’s associates who did not want to be identified.”
A few months later, in the middle of 2005, we tracked down Alistair Kinnear, and he supplied the following statement:
“In late 1978 I met Silver Smith, with whom I moved to a flat in Kensington. She was a sometime girlfriend of Bon Scott. Bon came to stay with us for two weeks, and he and I became friends. Silver returned to Australia for a year, and I moved to Overhill Road in East Dulwich. On the night of 18 February 1980, Zena Kakoulli, manager of the Only ones, and wife of bandleader Peter Perrett, invited me to the inaugural gig of her sister’s band at the Music Machine in Camden Town (renamed Camden Palace in 1982).
“I phoned Silver, who was once again living in London, to see if she wanted to come along, but she’d made other arrangements for the evening. However, she suggested that Bon might be interested, as he had phoned her earlier looking for something to do. I gave him a call, and he was agreeable, and I picked him up at his flat on Ashley court in Westminster.
“It was a great party, and Bon and I both drank far too much, both at the free bar backstage and at the upstairs bar as well; however I did not see him take any drugs that evening. At the end of the party I offered to drive him home. As we approached his flat, I realised that Bon had drifted into unconsciousness. I left him in my car and rang his doorbell, but his current live-in girlfriend didn’t answer. I took Bon’s keys and let myself into the flat, but no-one was at home. I was unable to wake Bon, so I rang Silver for advice. She said that he passed out quite frequently, and that it was best just to leave him to sleep it off.
“I then drove to my flat on Overhill Road and tried to lift him out of the car, but he was too heavy for me to carry in my intoxicated state, so I put the front passenger seat back so that he could lie flat, covered him with a blanket, left a note with my address and phone number on it, and staggered upstairs to bed. It must have been 4 or 5am by that time, and I slept until about 11. When I was awakened by a friend, Leslie Loads. I was so hungover that I asked Leslie to do me a favour of checking on Bon. He did so, and returned to tell me my car was empty, so I went back to sleep, assuming that Bon had awoken and taken a taxi home. At about 7:30 that evening I went down to my car intending to pay a visit to my girlfriend who was in hospital, and was shocked to find Bon still lying flat in the front seat, obviously in a very bad way, and not breathing. I immediately drove him to King’s College Hospital, where Bon was pronounced dead on arrival. The Lambeth coroner’s report cited acute alcohol poisoning, and death by misadventure.
“It has since been speculated that Bon choked on his own vomit, but I can neither confirm nor deny this, and his death certificate says nothing about it. There was no vomit in the car and contrary to other reports I’ve read, he was not wrapped around the gearstick when I found him. I made a statement to the police at the hospital, and later spoke to the Evening Standard, relating everything I knew at the time.
“The next day Silver came around to see me. She told me for the first time that Bon had been receiving treatment for liver damage, but had missed several doctor’s appointments. I wish that I had known this at the time.
“I truly regret Bon’s death. Hindsight being 20/20, I would’ve driven him to the hospital when he first passed out, but in those days of excess, unconsciousness was commonplace and seemed no cause for real alarm.
“It has been implied that I mysteriously ‘disappeared’, but in fact I have been living on the Costa del Sol for 22 years, still working as a musician, and am in touch with most of my old friends in England and in other parts of the world, so I am not hiding from anyone. What I’d like to pass on from this unfortunate experience is the idea that we should all take better care of our friends, and err on the side of caution when we don’t know all the facts.”
In July 2006 the mysterious Alistair Kinnear set sail on 13m wooden-hull sloop Danara from Marseille, France, with two men. They were heading to Spain, then vanished. Officially, Kinnear (see story with pic of Kinnear here) cannot be declared dead until he’s been missing for seven years. That time is due to elapse this coming July.