An empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s sat on the street outside the Rainbow Bar and Grill this week, the centrepiece of a makeshift shrine to Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, the late, lamented godfather of heavy metal. The Motörhead frontman was a fixture at this historic restaurant on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, where he could often be found playing video poker at the end of the bar. Few so embodied the rock’n’roll spirit of Sunset Strip, and for the neighbourhood his passing marks the end of an era.
Almost as famous for hard living as he was for hard rock, Lemmy once claimed to drink a bottle of the Tennessee whiskey daily, though his recent ill health had obliged him to give up alcohol altogether. Two days after his 70th birthday on Christmas Eve, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Rainbow’s owner, Mikael Maglieri, took it upon himself to bring the ailing rocker’s favourite video game to his home nearby, and was reportedly at his bedside when he died on 28 December.
Tomorrow, the Rainbow is hosting a 12-hour memorial for its most famous regular, which is expected to spill out on to the Strip and into several other nearby venues. A ceremony for Lemmy’s close friends and family at the nearby Forest Lawn Cemetery is also being streamed on YouTube from 3pm local time (11pm in the UK). On their Facebook page, his band’s surviving members urged fans everywhere to “get together and watch the service with fellow Motörheadbangers”.
Since his death, several online campaigns have sprung up in Lemmy’s honour: one to send Motörhead’s best-known hit, “Ace of Spades”, to the top of the UK singles chart; another to have his cocktail of choice, Jack and Coke, renamed “the Lemmy”. A petition urging the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to call a newly discovered heavy metal element “Lemmium” has attracted well over 100,000 signatures. As he studied the shrine outside the Rainbow on Thursday, tattooed fan Joe Bagnato said he had travelled from Florida to attend the memorial. “Lemmy had a big impact on my life. He taught me it’s OK to be who I want to be,” said Mr Bagnato, 42, who hosts an online radio show, Metal Joe’s Headbanger’s Asylum. “If there was no Motörhead there’d be no Metallica, no Judas Priest. The metal we have today is all because of Lemmy. He’s a true icon and a legend. I’m going to miss him.”
Lemmy had lived in West Hollywood since 1990, when the Strip was still the scuzzy epicentre of the West Coast rock scene, lined with legendary rock clubs such as the Viper Room, the Roxy and Whisky a Go Go – which, like the Rainbow, was founded by Mr Maglieri’s father, Mario. Whisky a Go Go is where bands including The Doors and Mötley Crüe launched their careers, while the Rainbow was frequented by generations of hard rock royalty, from Keith Moon to Ozzy Osbourne to Slash.
Tattoo artist Mark Mahoney, the owner of the celebrated Shamrock tattoo parlour, situated just across the Strip from the Rainbow, said he had known the Motörhead frontman for 20 years. “Lemmy was the king around here,” he said. “We’ve done a zillion Motörhead tattoos for people, and a couple of Lemmy portraits. I remember one girl who flew in from Europe just to meet him, get him to sign her arm and then have the autograph tattooed.”
Today, the LA music scene is spreading to other pockets of the city as the seedy glamour of the Strip succumbs to creeping gentrification, its strip clubs and head shops supplanted by high-rise hotels and luxury car dealerships. “The scene isn’t what it was even 10 years ago,” said Dan Graham, promotional director at Book Soup, the independent bookshop where Lemmy used to buy his reading material. “Most of the people who made it have moved on. The new Strip is more about hotels, restaurants and shopping than it is about clubs.”
Last summer, one of the Strip’s major venues, the House of Blues, closed its doors after more than 20 years, to be replaced by a retail and residential development. A few blocks away, the familiar red and yellow sign at the former site of a flagship Tower Records has just been restored to its former glory – but only to advertise a new, nostalgic documentary about the famous shop in its 70s and 80s heyday. In reality, it was closed a decade ago when the company went bust.
And now, with Lemmy gone, rock’n’roll pilgrims will have one less reason to visit the Strip. “We don’t have that many landmarks in LA,” said Mr Mahoney, “but Lemmy perched at the bar at the Rainbow – now that was a draw.”