Jimi Hendrix: 'The more famous he got, the less happy he became'

Leon Hendrix tells Kunal Dutta that even now there is bitterness in the family over his brother's legacy

It's a tale of two brothers. Both were born in Seattle; both got in trouble with the law and spent time in the army as well as prison. But while Jimi found salvation in music and became a rock god, his younger brother succumbed to a life of drugs and crime.

Now, speaking to The Independent on the week of the 43rd anniversary of his brother's death in Notting Hill, Leon Hendrix looks vacant as he recalls first hearing the news. "First it was on the radio. And everyone in prison knew who I was and everyone went quiet. They called my name over the loudspeaker and I was told to go to the chaplain's office, so I knew it was true. My dad was on the phone. He was crying and crying. And that was it."

It put an end to all hopes of redemption. "Before he died he wanted to come to prison to do a concert. But [manager] Mike Jeffery wouldn't let him. He said, 'Jimi, you already got arrested in Canada, and now you want to help your little brother who has a lot of problems. We don't want you associating with that.' The next thing I know he was in London and had passed away."

The death of his brother caused Leon's own demons to resurface. Addictions to crack and cocaine intensified and, coupled with alcoholism and a crippling debt, plunged Leon further into darkness.

Whereas Jimi had found music, Leon had found only drugs. Concerned relatives attempted to sound the alarm and a desperate intervention from his children finally resulted in Leon being whisked to rehab in Pasadena, where he began his journey to recovery.

All of this was a far cry from the Hendrix brothers' heyday, when Leon often accompanied Jimi on hedonistic tours. "I was in the Beverly Hills Hotel next to his suite," Leon recalls of one occasion. "Girls would go through his door – and come into my room. Girls. Models. It was a lot of fun for me. I was so young. They wanted Jimi, but they had to come through me to get him – because he always had a handful of girls by himself, anyway. But there were always extras…"

Now 65, Hendrix, a father of nine, speaks softly in a high-pitch voice, with a demeanour steeped in reflection. He maintains that one drug outstrips all others in terms of its propensity to destroy. "It's alcohol. That's the hardest thing to come off. It's worse than crack and cocaine – because at least those have a mental thing, where you don't like the effect any more."

Leon perpetually carries the burden of his brother's iconic status – it wasn't until he was 50 that he learned to play the guitar, something he blames on his late father, Al. "When Jimi was first playing guitar, I said 'Dad, for my birthday will you give me a guitar?' His response was: 'Are you crazy? I already got one idiot playing a guitar.'"

Honouring his brother's legacy has become trickier than ever. This autumn sees the release of All Is by My Side, an eagerly anticipated biopic detailing the story of Hendrix's rise to fame in London, starring Outkast's André Benjamin. October also sees the release of an updated documentary, Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero, narrated by Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and featuring Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones' Mick Taylor among others.

Both, however, will lack one vital element: the actual music of the great guitarist. That is thanks to Experience Hendrix LLC, which retains an iron grip over any use of the music catalogue. For most, this is a nuisance. But for Leon it is symptomatic of a more personal pain. He was famously frozen out of the Hendrix estate after their father, Al, died in 2002. It led to a fraught legal battle, in which Leon claimed that his stepsister, Janie, coerced his ill father into shunning him financially and leaving the entire estate under her control. That was rejected by the court and Leon has not seen a penny of any of his brother's royalties since. Numerous appeals have come to nothing.

He insists that he is at peace with the past – if for no other reason than maintaining his own sanity. "I let it go. I'm not going to let things eat me away, I don't like that feeling and anxiety. I said, OK you won, I'll let it go. I said have a good life."

He says they have not spoken since the court case. "She doesn't like me. She won't talk to me. She won't give my kids jobs."

Does he forgive her? "More than forgive her. She's out of my mind. I feel sorry for her. She only met Jimi when she was six years old – her father was German, her mother was Japanese. She had no identity, the poor kid. But when my dad adopted her and she became a Hendrix, she followed her mum into insanity."

While he may never see the fortunes afforded by his brother, he has found peace through his music, and makes enough to live by upholding his brother's musical legacy. He's a co-owner of Rockin Artwork, offering a host of Jimi Hendrix products, all created with his oversight as an alternative to the Estate's products.

Film rights to his book, Jimi Hendrix: a Brother's Story, are under discussion and a digital television station is in the pipeline called Hendrix Internet Television.

On his brother's legacy, though, he is clearer than ever. "The more famous he got, the less happy he became. I, on the other hand, became infamous. I went bad. Jimi was my mentor and my guide. He left and I drifted away. I didn't come back to reality until he returned." Now, 43 years on, Leon finally appears comfortable going solo.

'Jimi Hendrix: the Guitar Hero' (Directors Cut)' is out on 7 October

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power