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Lemmy Kilmister (1945 - 2015)

Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Lemmy Kilmister (1945 - 2015)

Ian Fraser Kilmister, the gravelly voiced heavy metal musician known best simply as Lemmy, who led the band Motorhead for more than 40 years, died Dec. 28, 2015, after a short battle with an extremely aggressive form of cancer, the band reported on its official Facebook page. He was 70.

Born Dec. 24, 1945, in Staffordshire, England, Kilmister claimed he earned his nickname as a youth by repeatedly asking friends to "lend me a quid till Friday." He was inspired by the Beatles to become a musician and worked as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the 1960s.

His first musical success came in the early 1970s as a member of the space rock band Hawkwind, where he developed a distinctive bass style and sang lead vocals on the 1972 hit "Silver Machine." Though Kilmister only remained with the band for a few years, it was a productive time for Hawkwind, with some of their greatest success coming during the Lemmy years. Kilmister wrote several songs and occasionally contributed lead vocals, and albums including Hall of the Mountain Grill and Warrior on the Edge of Time charted well in the U.K. and made a small splash in the U.S.

In 1975, Kilmister founded Motorhead, a band that has had an enormous influence on the heavy metal genre, largely because of Kilmister's furious bass playing, guttural vocals and innovative songwriting. Despite the broad heavy metal legacy of Motorhead, Kilmister never called their music metal – he insisted on referring to it simply as rock 'n' roll. But it was rock 'n' roll the likes of which no band had played before.

The heavy metal and hard rock groups that prevailed in 1975 included highly influential classics like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Scorpions. Their driving beats and wailing guitars were the very definition of the genre. But Motorhead turned heavy metal on its ear by taking its cues from both contemporary metal bands and the burgeoning genre of punk rock, combining the guitar sound of metal with the breakneck speed and stripped-down style of punk. They were the first speed metal band, laying the groundwork for a genre that would develop over the coming decades.

Their debut album, Motorhead (1977), received only moderate attention but started the band on the unique direction it would follow in more popular follow-ups. Those included the 1979 album Overkill, a fan favorite that yielded unforgettable singles "No Class" and "Overkill." The next Motorhead album was one that became, for many, Motorhead's defining release: Ace of Spades. Widely considered a great classic of the genre, it includes a title track that became the band's most definitive anthem.

The band's live performances were as beloved as their studio recordings, perhaps even more so. Kilmister famously raised his microphone high and lifted his chin to sing up to it, angled more toward the ceiling than the crowd.

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Though Motorhead underwent lineup changes in the years that followed Ace of Spades, Kilmister remained at its helm, continuing to write or co-write many of its songs and deliver the signature bass and vocals that made him a legend.

Kilmister also co-wrote songs for close friend Ozzy Osbourne's 1991 album, No More Tears, including the No. 2 hit "Mama, I'm Coming Home" and the Grammy-winning "I Don't Want To Change the World."

Beyond the musical world, Kilmister found himself making appearances in movies and TV shows. Motorhead performed on the British sitcom The Young Ones (1982), and Lemmy had small roles in movies including Airheads (1994), Hardware (1990) and Tromeo and Juliet (1996). He was the subject of the well-reviewed 2010 documentary Lemmy.

Kilmister's look was as iconic as his music. Long dark hair and a horseshoe mustache framed a face that was graced by two prominent warts. Certainly, the superstar could have had them removed – but over the years, they became part of his image, as indelibly associated with him as the hard-driving rock 'n' roll he played. Completing his look was a penchant toward black clothing, including a Civil War-styled cavalry hat that never seemed to leave his head in later years. He collected, and often wore, Nazi iconography, but he insisted that he merely liked the style and did not subscribe to Nazi ideology.

And then there was his legendarily decadent lifestyle. He chain-smoked, admitted to drinking at least a bottle of whiskey a day, and was kicked out of Hawkwind for doing too many drugs. Osbourne – no lightweight himself, by all accounts – said of Kilmister in an interview with Rolling Stone, "I don't know how the guy breathes." Yet he outlived hard-rocking contemporaries including Ronnie James Dio, Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone. Hand in hand with his love for excess went a love for women, and Kilmister never married but was notorious for his many dalliances – he claimed they numbered in the thousands. Of his hard living, Kilmister told the Independent in a 2005 interview, "If you didn't do anything that wasn't good for you it would be a very dull life. What are you gonna do? Everything that is pleasant in life is dangerous."

Kilmister continued to lead Motorhead through his 60s, recording and touring into the 2010s despite health scares that caused him to postpone or cancel shows on occasion. After being sidelined by a hematoma in 2013, the metal legend said that he cut down on smoking and switched from Jack Daniels to vodka. In 2015, suffering from a lung infection, he stopped midsong and told the crowd, "I can't do it" before leaving the stage. The band canceled about a week of shows before resuming the tour.

The band announced that Kilmister's Jan. 9 memorial service at Hollywood's Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery would be private, but it would also be live-streamed on their YouTube page for fans to watch. Following the event, a public memorial service will encompass the entirety of Los Angeles' Sunset Strip.

Kilmister is survived by two sons, Paul Inder and Sean Kilmister.

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