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The Story of John Bonham’s Intimate Memorial

John Bonham
Michael Putland, Getty Images

Generally regarded as one of the loudest rock drummers, Led Zeppelin standout John Bonham‘s funeral was anything but. He was remembered on Oct. 10, 1980, in a small service, having died suddenly on Sept. 25.

Ironically, his life had always been filled with this glorious noise, all of it of his own making. Born on May 1, 1948, John Henry Bonham reportedly began drumming on pots and pans at the age of five. He had his first drum at 10, and his first full set at age 14. By 1964, when he was just 16, Bonham could be found 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 John Bonham for the drum chair. The lineup for what would become Led Zeppelin was made complete by acclaimed session bassist John Paul Jones, and they quickly set about creating one of the most important bodies of work in classic rock, from “Whole Lotta Love” to “Good Times, Bad Times,” from “Rock and Roll” to “Stairway to Heaven.” Bonham’s bravura performance on “Moby Dick” was widely considered one of the high points of Zeppelin’s live shows.

A legendarily heavy drinker, Bonham is said to have 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 his body the following morning, having died from from asphyxiation after vomiting in his sleep. John Bonham was just 32 years old.

He was cremated, then memorialized at a small church in Rushock, Worcestershire, near Bonham’s farm house. The intimate service was attended by his Led Zeppelin band mates, and featured a wreath from 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.

Led Zeppelin broke up that December, issuing a joint statement which said, “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 remaining members have rarely reunited since. They played together in 1985 for the Live Aid concert (with Phil Collins on drums), again in 1988 for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert, and then in 2007 at London’s 02 Arena. The latter two gigs featured Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, on drums.

By then, Bonham had been posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Led Zeppelin.

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