A rock legend unto herself

She was with Jimi Hendrix when he died and built up a life based on their relationship. But in the end Monika Dannemann was the victim of her own self-delusion. By Mary Braid

Mary Braid
Wednesday 01 May 1996 00:02 BST

When Monika Dannemann died of carbon monoxide poisoning two days after losing a court case, most press reports concluded that her death brought to an end a 26-year catfight over Jimmy Hendrix between two of his former girlfriends.

Dannemann, 50, was found dead in her fume-filled Mercedes after being found guilty of contempt of court for repeating a libel against a 49-year- old Surrey doctor's wife, Kathy Etchingham. Both women were girlfriends of the late rock star Jimi Hendrix in the Swinging Sixties.

But the story of Dannemann and Etchingham is more than a lifetime of eye-scratching. It is the tale of the creation of a rock 'n' roll myth and of the woman who built her life upon it and felt compelled to bow out when the elaborate, artificial edifice began to crumble around her.

In the Inner World of Jimi Hendrix by his Fiancee, published in 1995, Dannemann writes that she met Hendrix in 1969 in a Dusseldorf bar. Hendrix was at the height of his fame. To Dannemann, he was not just the world's most gifted guitarist. She considered him a prophet from the start. She claims she soon left Germany and her job as an ice-skating teacher to follow Jimi to London. She has always claimed - despite contrary evidence - that an 18-month relationship and engagement followed. What no one can deny is that she was with him the night he choked to death on his own vomit.

With some, that fact bestowed on Dannemann instant quasi-religious status. To others, she was for ever the focus for suspicions surrounding the circumstances of Hendrix's death. Some said she delayed calling an ambulance; a few even claimed she poisoned him.

After Jimi died, Dannemann made a career of being Hendrix's fiancee. Endless newspaper, documentary and book interviews followed with spreads in Hello! magazine at her home in Seaford, Sussex (a veritable shrine to Hendrix), and with Hendrix's family in Seattle, as well as guest appearances at Hendrix conventions.

But in Dannemann's lifelong homage to Hendrix, Etchingham was always the party-pooper. Hendrix had lived with Etchingham in the late Sixties. Their relationship lasted for almost three years. He was still involved with her when Dannemann claims their love affair began. Etchingham's mere existence was annoyance enough. But her very different view of Hendrix - troubled booze and drug-abusing man rather than serene, spiritual, drug- free demi-God - no doubt irked Dannemann more.

In court, the contrast between the women was stark - Dannemann with her Marianne Faithful fringe, a grotesque superannuated hippy chick versus Etchingham with the sleek Nineties bob and the executive suit. While Dannemann's life seemed to freeze on the day Hendrix died, Cathy, a mother of two, had had the sense to let the Sixties go.

Uli John Roth, who lived with Dannemann for17 years, seethes at how the newspapers depicted Dannemann as timewarp woman.

"I'm speaking up for Monika because she was never very good at speaking up for herself," he says. Dannemann had moved on he insists. OK she still painted Hendrix but she painted other things, too.

Roth, a musician, says he only moved out of her Seaford home because he needed more room for his studio equipment. But in an interview last year Dannemann said their relationship had not worked and she knew "my heart would be for ever with Jimi".

Roth insists he loved Dannemann for herself but he admits that he also valued her for her connection with Jimi. Roth was a Hendrix devotee from his teens.

To Roth, Jimi's message flowed through Dannemann. "There was something of Jimi's spirit in her. She was involved with him during the last 18 months when he went through a lot of emotional and spiritual changes. He told her about his music and its message. There was no one that he told as much to as he told Dannemann. And that made some people very, very jealous. He was not the psychedelic bubblehead guitar player as portrayed. He was the most important and revolutionary artist of the 20th century."

At her luxury home in the Surrey countryside, Kathy Etchingham, answers her front door accompanied by a huge dog. She peeps out as if looking for trouble. Some one has phoned that morning accusing her of murdering Dannemann.

Her large homely kitchen seems a world away from Jimi Hendrix and the far-out, blow your mind, psychedelic Sixties. There are no portraits of Jimi. Today, she is trying to rescue her 18-year-old son from Japan where he has run out of money and she is waiting for her husband, Nick, to get home from work.

Etchingham has said little since the suicide out of respect for Dannemann's family. But she says she does not blame herself. She could not allow Dannemann to go on repeating the libel that she was a liar and that she stole from Jimi. The Hendrix scene, she says, has its share of crazies. Dannemann's accusations were putting her life at risk.

Etchingham is still remarkably girlish; with cheekbones to kill for. She was a 23-year-old hairdresser when she dated Jimi. She was another person in another time, and she seldom thinks of Jimi these days, she claims. But you wonder. Because even here the past still has its pull. She cared enough to spend three years in the early Nineties investigating the circumstances surrounding Jimi Hendrix's death. She criticised Dannemann's account of Jimi's death for its "inconsistencies". And her 34-page dossier resulted in Scotland Yard reopening the case, although it was subsequently dropped.

Etchingham also cared enough to lead a campaign last year to secure Jimi a historic blue plaque. And she has put considerable effort in helping to explode the "myths" created by the Dannemann camp.

She claims she only got involved in the whole Hendrix business in the early Nineties. "I don't like history being altered," she explains. "And it's not right that anyone should change the character and essence of a person. Jimi was a really nice bloke but he was not a prophet. At the end he was a man who had lost his way. If you look at the footage of the final concerts you can see what LSD and cocaine do."

Crucially, she believes Dannemann was never Jimi's girlfriend and suspects their involvement lasted but a few days. "That's why she could only ever speak about the night he died," she says. She points to the absence of photographs of them together - Roth says Dannemann was camera-shy - and the denials of a relationship by other members of his band. Moreover, she believes that the image of Hendrix as a spiritual guru is sheer tosh - a reshaping of her former boyfriend in death in Dannemann's own image. "A more likely message from Jimi was 'Pass the bottle'," she smiles.

She believes the court case was the final blow to Dannemann's lifelong deception. "The court case established once and for all that she was not Jimi's girlfriend," she says. "Everything was beginning to catch up with her."

In February, an American music magazine cast doubt on Dannemann's version of events on the night Hendrix died and on her claims to a relationship with him. A recent hour-long documentary on Radio 4 was just as sceptical and a new film is expected to add to the doubt.

To Steve Rodham, editor of Jimpress, a Hendrix fanzine, Dannemann's life was a life wasted.

"I think she really did believe she was Jimi's girlfriend although there was no real evidence." he says. "Jimi was just a guitar player. If he was alive, he would have laughed his socks off about all this. He liked women, but the music always came first."

Seventy people attended Dannemann's funeral. Many were Hendrix fans. In his candlelit studio in the Kent countryside, Roth calls some artwork up on his computer. It is for the cards he sent out after Dannemann's death, illustrated with a few lines from the "Story of Life", the song Hendrix composed on the night he died and a photograph of Dannemann floating above the planet.

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