Extreme Dieting: Keith Moon Versus Hunter S Thompson
THE late Keith Moon was once asked whether he thought he was the greatest drummer in the world, he replied: “I’m the greatest Keith Moon-style drummer in the world”, and no one can argue with that. However Moon is just as famous, even today, for packing in far more than his fair share of convivial nights during his short eventful life. He died in September 1978 just two weeks after his 32nd birthday when he fell unconscious, never to wake up, in the Mayfair flat of his close-friend Harry Nilsson. Coincidentally, it was the very same bed where Mama Cass Elliot had died four years earlier.
Everyone knows that the Mamas and Papas’ singer died choking on a sandwich. Except she didn’t. The myth started because the first doctor who examined her dead body, a Dr Anthony Greenburgh, told the press the next day:
From what I saw when I got to the flat she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down – a very dangerous thing to do…she seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich.
Unfortunately Dr Greenbugh had initially overlooked the rather important fact that the sandwich by the side of her bed was untouched. By then it was too late. The press reported his initial comments and this gave rise to the sandwich myth. On the death certificate it was stated that Elliot had died from the more prosaic – “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity”. In other words natural causes due to being overweight -the continual crash diets had fatally weakened her heart. She was only 33.
Although Cass’s death had come out of the blue. Anyone close to Keith Moon, and who knew of his lifestyle, would not have been surprised of his early demise. Here is his daily food and drink intake a year or so before he died:
I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs. And I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it’s about 10 and I’ll have a nice nap until five. I get up, have a couple of Black Beauties [also known as Black Birds or Black Bombers and are a combination of Amphetamine (Speed) and Dextro-amphetamine], some brandy, a little champagne and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We’ll wrap it up about four.
It’s not a calorie-controlled diet you’ll be finding while perusing Cosmopolitan or Men’s Fitness magazine although if you do take loads of amphetamine every day it probably keeps the pounds off. Luckily we can compare this rock ’n’ roll diet with someone else. In her book called HUNTER: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S Thompson, biographer E. Jean Carroll begins with the detailed description of the gonzo journalist’s daily routine:
3:00 PM rise 3;05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills 3:45 cocaine 3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill 4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill 4:15 cocaine 4:16 orange juice, Dunhill 4:30 cocaine 4:54 cocaine 5:05 cocaine 5:11 coffee, Dunhills 5:30 more ice in the Chivas 5:45 cocaine, etc.,etc. 6:00 grass to take the edge off the day 7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch – Heineken, 2 margaritas, 2 cheeseburgers, 2 orders of fries, a plate of tomatoes, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heinken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured 3 or 4 jiggers of Chivas) 9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously 10:00 drops acid 11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass 11:30 cocaine, etc, etc. 12:00 midnight Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write 12:05 – 6:00 am Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies. 6:00 the hot tub – champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo 8:00 Halcyon 8:20 sleep…
In Thompson’s case, although there was an industrial quantity of cocaine and alcohol consumed, there is more than a nod to vitamins and relatively healthy foodstuffs. All of which helped Thompson reach the grand old age of 67. And even then he had to kill himself. Although, rather unpleasantly, he was on the phone to his wife when he pulled the trigger. His last words were in a suicide note entitled The Football Season is Over and written four days previously on 16 February 2005:
No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.
As suicide notes go it was almost poetic. Keith Moon’s last words, however, although succinct, lacked that elegiac quality.
If you don’t like it, you can fu*k off!
Moon’s final words were said to his unfortunate girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax when she complained after he’d asked her to cook him a steak at 7.30 in the morning. She didn’t fuck off and kindly cooked him his meal which he ate while watching the film The Abominable Dr Phibes. He fell back to sleep after taking 32 Heminevrin tablets which had been prescribed to help with his alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Six were enough to be fatal and Moon never regained consciousness. He was found dead by Walter-Lax later that afternoon and he was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium a week later.
After the death of Keith Moon who had been the second friend to die in his bed, Nilsson quickly sold his Mayfair flat (bought due to its close proximity to the Playboy Club) to the brave Pete Townsend and moved back to Los Angeles permanently. Like Cass Elliot, Hunter S. Thompson, and especially Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson seriously liked having a good time and his consumption of drink and drugs were once described as Herculean. Which is one way of describing pissing an unbelievable talent away for over twenty years. Marianne Faithfull once said about Nilsson:
We used to do drugs together. And when I say drugs, I don’t mean those airy-fairy drugs they do nowadays. I’m talking about narcotics.
Elton John, who himself had for several years singlehandedly kept the Peruvian economy stable, once described seeing Nilsson in a recording studio:
He opened his mouth to sing, and blood poured out, he had done so much coke that his throat just haemorrhaged. And do you know what? He didn’t even notice.
Harry Nilsson managed to live to a relatively grand old age of fifty two before his body gave up. After surviving one the previous year he died of a second heart attack in 1994. At his funeral aftershocks from the Northridge Earthquake had rumbled in the background. A joke made the rounds that the earthquake was the result of Harry getting to Heaven and discovering that there were no bars.