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Obituaries

Lemmy Kilmister dies at 70; Motörhead singer helped pioneer hard rock

Lemmy Kilmister

Lemmy Kilmister points to a tour case backstage at City Hall in Newcastle, England on March 22, 1982. The Motorhead frontman died on Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, at age 70. 

(Fin Costello / )

Ian Fraser Kilmister, the raucous singer and bassist known as Lemmy who helped pioneer hard rock and heavy metal with his band Motörhead, has died. He was 70.

Representatives for the band confirmed Kilmister’s death, from what they described as “a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer,” on Monday evening. In a posting on the official Motörhead Facebook page, the band wrote that “We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words.”

Kilmister, born Christmas Eve in 1945 in Burslem, England, was one of rock music’s most charismatic frontmen. Easily recognized by his craggy vocal style, prominent facial warts and bushy sideburns and a devil-may-care personality, he was one of heavy metal’s most beloved and brashest figures.

Ozzy Osbourne, the Black Sabbath frontman and solo artist, lamented Kilmister’s death on Twitter: “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.”

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Kilmister, a onetime roadie for Jimi Hendrix, first came to prominence as a member of the band Hawkwind, an early psychedelic act in Britain. But after that group kicked him out for a drug possession charge on tour, Kilmister founded Motörhead and would be its only constant member throughout its four-decade career.

“I was fired out of every other band I was ever in, so I had to start my own group. They couldn’t fire me out of that,” he told The Times in 2010.

Known for double-time, heavily distorted singles including “Ace of Spades,” “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” and “Overkill,” the band earned an international following that reveled in its aims to be, as the band put it on its 1999 live album title, “Everything Louder Than Everyone Else.”

Kilmister was also one of rock’s great libertines, open about his heavy drinking and drug use throughout his life on the road. “It was dumb luck. We all could have gone any time. Especially in the ‘60s, when it was, ‘If it fits in my hand and my mouth, I’ll take it,” he told The Times in 2011.

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Kilmister was the subject of a 2010 documentary film (with, appropriately, a subtitle unpublishable in a newspaper), and the band performed a well-regarded set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2014. The band’s 2015 album, “Bad Magic,” its 22nd, hit the top 40 in the U.S., and the band was preparing for a February tour.

“Where I live is on the road, on the bus,” Kilmister told The Times in 2011. “It’s fun. Every day is new. I can’t imagine being home all the time. It must be terrible.”

But there had been signs of trouble: Kilmister walked offstage during a September show in Austin, Texas, citing illness, and the group canceled several dates because of what the band described as a lung infection.

Kilmister was an adopted Angeleno, living mere blocks from his favored haunts on the Sunset Strip. For a 2011 profile, Kilmister stopped by the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the beloved home base for seasoned L.A. and English ex-pat rockers, where he played video games and recounted his years in the heavy metal trenches. Flashing a wicked grin, he quoted his own single “Ace of Spades” when offering his wisdom after an unmatched life in rock and roll.

“You win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to me.”

august.brown@latimes.com

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