33 Years Ago: John Bonham’s Funeral Service Took Place
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham is generally regarded as one of the most important and influential rock drummers of his generation, if not all time. The legendary musician died on Sept. 25, 1980, and today — Oct. 10 — marks the 33rd anniversary of his funeral service.
Born on May 1, 1948, John Henry Bonham was destined for a life as a drummer from early on. He reportedly began drumming on pots and pans at the age of five, followed by his first drum at 10. The aspiring musician had his first drum set by age 14, and by 1964 — at the age of 16 — the young musician was playing with Terry Webb and the Spiders while working part-time for his father.
Stints in other local groups followed, culminating in a stretch in the Band of Joy, fronted by local singer Robert Plant. When Plant was recruited by Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page for his New Yardbirds lineup, he drafted Bonham for the drum chair. Joined by acclaimed session bassist John Paul Jones, that group became Led Zeppelin, which would go on to create one of the most important bodies of work of any ’70s rock group, including ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ ‘Good Times, Bad Times,’ ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Bonham’s bravura performance on ‘Moby Dick’ was widely considered one of the high points of Zeppelin’s live shows.
A legendary heavy drinker, Bonham reportedly consumed 40 shots of vodka between breakfast and the evening of Sept. 24, 1980, when Led Zeppelin were rehearsing. Zeppelin employee Benji LeFevre and bassist John Paul Jones found him dead the following morning, having died from from asphyxiation after vomiting in his sleep. He was 32 years old.
The drummer was cremated and laid to rest at a private service on Oct. 10, 1980 at a small church in Rushock, Worcestershire, near his farm house. The intimate service was attended by his Led Zeppelin band mates, and featured a wreath from rock superstar Paul McCartney, but was otherwise a private affair, with his family focusing on lauding the man who had chosen to live quietly in a small English village and contribute to its local community.
On Dec. 4, 1980, Led Zeppelin officially declared their breakup with the statement, “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”
The group have rarely reunited since then; once in 1985 for the Live Aid concert (with Phil Collins on drums), again in 1988 for an ill-fated gig at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert, and once more for the Dec. 2007 Ahmet Eretegun memorial at London’s 02 Arena. The latter two gigs featured Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, on drums.
John Bonham was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 as a member of Led Zeppelin.