Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known to generations of music fans as Lemmy, lead singer of the hugely influential heavy metal band Motörhead whose admirers included filmmakers and musicians of all stripes, died suddenly December 28, following a diagnosis of aggressive cancer just two days earlier. He was 70.
“There is no easy way to say this… our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer,” the band said in a statement posted to their official Facebook page. “He had learnt of the disease on December 26th, and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from The Rainbow which had recently made it’s way down the street, with his family.” The band then urged grieving fans to “play Motörhead loud, play Hawkwind loud, play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself.”
Born Christmas Eve in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, Lemmy grew up in postwar England and began playing in various bands as a teenager starting in 1960. He found early success in the Space Rock band Hawkwind, playing bass and occasionally singing lead from 1972 to 1975. He was fired from Hawkwind in 1975 after being arrested at the U.S./Canadian border on drug possession charges (the charges were dropped when it was discovered he wasn’t in possession of anything illegal). Soon after, he formed the band that would soon become Motörhead.
Motörhead was known for its aggressive, fast-tempo sound, extreme loudness, and deliberately rough production values that connected them with both metal and punk rock audiences. The band’s classic song “Ace of Spades” is most emblematic of the sound, and the song remains beloved to this day. Along with bands like AC/DC and Judas Priest, the band was part of the wave of Metal coming out of the UK and the commonwealth in that upended the music industry in the late ’70s and paved the way for the genre’s 1980s dominance.
Lemmy remained the only constant member of the group, and was known for his growling singing style, his heavy drinking and his famous mutton chops, his signature positioning of the microphone so that he looked up to sing, and for his cultivated notoriety, helped along by his controversial collection of Nazi memorabilia, among other things.
Lemmy also made infrequent appearances in television and film. Among them, he had a cameo in the 1990 science fiction film Hardware, which also featured “Ace Of Spades,” and a featured appearance in The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years. Motörhead also notably appeared on an episode of the British cult comedy The Young Ones, and the 1994 film Airheads. As news of his passing spread, tributes from his peers and those he influenced poured out.
He lived in Los Angeles.