Content warning: The following article contains mentions of suicide and substance abuse.
There’s something creepy about the last phone call a person makes before they die. If they don’t know they are going to die, it might be a completely innocuous call about nothing important, leading to the person they spoke to wishing they had said something more. If the individual is suicidal, it might be a call for help, perhaps one that went unnoticed. And if someone is terminal and is aware their time on Earth is drawing to a close, a final phone call can be painful, both physically and emotionally.
The thing is, most people’s final phone calls stay between the person they had it with and maybe a few other loved ones. But when you’re a celebrity and you make a final phone call, no matter which category your death falls into, a lot of times, the contents of the call end up in a newspaper or gossip magazine. While the other person on the call obviously has to be involved with making that very personal information public, it’s not usually for monetary or clout-chasing reasons, more like getting the weight of the call off their chest.
However, sometimes it’s impossible to know if a call was really the last one a celebrity made. So while many of these were definitely, demonstrably the last time a celebrity spoke on the phone, others are just the last ones we know about, which happened shortly before their deaths.
Michael Jackson told his son to be a good host
Michael Jackson was a strange person who lived an unbelievably weird life. So it isn’t that surprising his death was far from normal as well. When the King of Pop died on June 25, 2009, he was in the middle of rehearsals for a series of comeback concerts, put on by the company AEG Live, CNN reports.
But Michael suffered from terrible insomnia, so his doctor, Conrad Murray, who had been hired by the concert promoters, gave him doses of propofol, an anesthesia used in surgery, every night so he’d sleep. It was, quite literally, overkill, because an overdose of the drug killed him. In a wrongful death suit filed by Michael’s children and mother against the company, their lawyers argued that “AEG Live executives … pressured Murray to pursue the dangerous treatments so Jackson would be rested for rehearsals, while ignoring warning signs that his health was failing.”
In the week leading up to his father’s death, Prince Jackson testified that he’d seen Michael have terrible phone conversations with AEG executives. “After he got off the phone, he would cry,” Prince recalled. “He would say ‘They’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me.'” But Prince’s call with his father, two nights before Michael died, was much less dramatic. Prince contacted Michael at his rehearsal to tell him AEG’s CEO had arrived at their house. Michael told Prince to offer him some food and drink. While Prince would be there when Michael died, that was their last phone call.
John Lennon spoke to the women who raised him
Ex-Beatle John Lennon obviously didn’t know he was going to die on December 8, 1980. He was young, successful, and seemingly had his whole life ahead of him. But crazed fan Mark David Chapman put an end to that, assassinating the musician in New York City.
According to the Sunday Post, almost exactly 40 years after his death, the music memorabilia specialists known as Tracks discovered a letter that shed light on what Lennon said in a phone call to his aunt just the night before he was shot, which could be the last call he ever made. Lennon’s Aunt Mimi was a huge part of his life; she’d actually raised him from the time he was a baby. A month after her nephew died, Mimi wrote a reply to a letter of condolence she’d received from a journalist. In it, she explained how hard she was taking his death, and how happy and excited he’d been when she spoke to him hours before he died:
“Dear Judith, Thank you for your letter, kind thoughts. I’m trying to accept this terrible thing which has happened, but finding it very hard. He had such faith himself, I’m trying to do the same. He phoned the night before, witty, funny, bubbling over with excitement, coming over very soon. Couldn’t wait to see me. So I’m glad of that.”
It’s thought Lennon was so excited to get back to the U.K. because he was planning a tour, one that would never happen.
Elvis Presley argued with his ex-wife Pricilla
It was statistically likely that Elvis Presley’s last phone call would be to his ex-wife Priscilla. They had been a couple for almost 13 years and had a daughter together, so even though they were divorced, it makes sense they would still need to talk about things. But that wasn’t why Elvis called Priscilla all the time. According to the tabloid The Daily Express, friends and employees of the King have claimed he was still obsessed with her, to the point of using the calls to interfere in her life.
Chris Hitchens, a friend of the former couple, said Pricilla and one of her famous boyfriends found that “their love-making was frequently interrupted by phone calls from Elvis who, although they had been divorced for two years, still rang her at all hours of the day and night.”
The night before he died, Elvis was at Graceland with his girlfriend Ginger Alden and his young daughter Lisa Marie. Hitchens says, “The last time Elvis spoke to his ex-wife was by telephone on the night he died. During that call, they’d argued over travel arrangements for Lisa Marie, their little daughter who’d asked for my help writing her letter to ‘Daddy’ that afternoon in Priscilla’s garden. It had been a tense conversation, but at least they were on speaking terms.” It’s impossible to know whether they would have stayed on speaking terms, since Elvis was found dead in the bathroom by his girlfriend the next day, August 16, 1977.
David Bowie said he wanted to keep making music
David Bowie’s final album “Blackstar” was released just two days before he died of cancer on January 10, 2016. Because of this, and the overall tone of the project, many thought it was made as a final bow, a goodbye to the world and his fans. But according to Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti, it wasn’t originally meant to be that way. He says Bowie went into remission in mid-2015 while working on “Blackstar” and wouldn’t find out his diagnosis was terminal until he’d already finished it in November. Even then, he thought he had time for another album.
About a week before Bowie died, he called his producer. (It was most likely not his last phone call, and it was over FaceTime, but it was a poignant one.) “At that late stage, he was planning the follow-up to ‘Blackstar.’ And I was thrilled,” Visconti told Rolling Stone, “and I thought, and he thought, that he’d have a few months, at least. Obviously, if he’s excited about doing his next album, he must’ve thought he had a few more months. So the end must’ve been very rapid. I’m not privy to it. I don’t know exactly, but he must’ve taken ill very quickly after that phone call.”
In the end, Visconti thinks Bowie went out on the perfect album, recalling that he said to Bowie when they were working on “Blackstar,” “You canny bastard. You’re writing a farewell album.”
Chris Cornell wasn't okay, and his wife could tell
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s death was extremely upsetting. Within an hour of walking off the stage at a concert, he was found on the floor of his hotel room bathroom, and within another hour, he was pronounced dead. While it was ruled a death by suicide, The Detroit News says Chris’ family didn’t believe he would take his own life on purpose, and that he had been on something. What’s clear from the phone call he had with his wife Vicky right before he died is that he seemed out of it.
A family statement, the police report, and quotes given to TMZ by friends and verified by the family’s lawyer (via The Detroit News and Billboard) paint a picture of the couple’s final call. Vicky said Chris kept repeating, “I’m just tired.” He also complained about the gig. “They f*cked up again. They had three days to fix my in-ears and I was getting static. I couldn’t hear.” When he randomly changed the subject and started slurring his words, Vicky grew worried, saying, “I need to know what you took tonight. You don’t sound right, sweetheart.” He claimed, “I just took two Ativan. I’m really pissed and I had to calm myself down.”
Vicky didn’t believe him, and when Chris stopped making sense, she contacted his bodyguard and begged him to check on her husband, which is when he was found unresponsive. The upsetting phone call with Vicky was Chris’ last.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Jimi Hendrix agreed to come jam and then never showed
There are lots of questions surrounding Jimi Hendrix’s death at just 27. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that some of the details around Hendrix’s last few days are just weird. For example, the Australian Broadcast Company says Eric Clapton is sure he saw Hendrix across the Lyceum Theatre in London, even though there’s no evidence at all that Hendrix went to the theatre that night as he had planned. Other people who were around Hendrix during his last few days have equally inconsistent stories, both with demonstrable facts and with each other’s recollections. Even the coroner in the case ruled Hendrix’s cause of death was “inconclusive,” although he did have a lot of drugs in his system.
On September 17, 1970, the day before Hendrix died, he called his record producer in New York from the London hotel The Cumberland. Then he took a call from his drummer Mitch Mitchell, who asked Hendrix if he wanted to join him and Sly Stone for a jam session at a club, the Speakeasy, later that night. Hendrix agreed but would fail to show. The next night, he was dead.
Amy Winehouse talked to her friend Kelly Osbourne
It was no secret that Amy Winehouse was not doing okay in the last months of her life. According to Reuters, the people around Amy were very aware she was in danger, her body broken after years of alcohol and drug abuse (although she claimed she had quit using most drugs a few years before). She’d recently been admitted to rehab after she collapsed in the street but stayed less than a week. She was so out of it at a concert in Serbia that the rest of a planned tour was canceled. But it wasn’t like she hadn’t been reaching out for help still: Amy had seen a doctor the night before her death.
Dr. Christina Romete told the inquest into Amy’s death (via the Mirror) that she’d gone to the singer’s house that evening. Amy admitted to her that she’d fallen off the wagon again three days before, and she was visibly “tipsy” but was “able to hold a conversation.” While Amy seemed “calm and somewhat guilty,” any guilt she might be feeling didn’t stop her replying “I don’t know,” when Dr. Romete asked if she planned to stop drinking again.
She drank a lot that night. The Mirror reports Amy also spent an hour on the phone with her good friend Kelly Osbourne, who expressed disbelief when she heard the news: “I was speaking to her last night, she seemed absolutely fine, I don’t understand how this could have happened.” Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration websiteor contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Kurt Cobain reached out to a bandmate
On March 25, 1994, the Independent reports, Courtney Love held an intervention for her husband Kurt Cobain, who had overdosed three weeks earlier. Ten of his friends, business partners, and loved ones were there, but the Nirvana frontman insisted he didn’t need rehab. The intervention seemed like a failure.
The band’s former manager Danny Goldberg was there that day, and he called Cobain after it was over. “I spoke to him on the phone when I got home and talked to him one last time. I couldn’t shake him out of being depressed, I couldn’t cheer him up or get him to feel there was hope. I was just hoping that if the drugs got out of his system, then he could think more clearly and that would be a good time to have better conversations with him. Of course, I never was able to have such conversations.”
Nirvana’s live guitarist Pat Smear was also at the intervention. But he wouldn’t get to have a last phone call with his bandmate, something he obviously regrets, since Cobain called him shortly before he died by suicide on April 5. “It was really sad,” Smear said in the Foo Fighters documentary “Back & Forth” (via Far Out). “I had a message from Kurt, but I wasn’t home, so whatever help he needed for me, I couldn’t help him, and that’s the last time that I ever talked to him or saw him.”
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Lemmy Kilmister spoke to his friend Ozzy Osbourne
Lemmy Kilmister’s band Motörhead supported Ozzy Osbourne on the latter’s first tour in the U.S., and the two remained good friends. So it was especially sad for Ozzy when Lenny became unwell. According to an interview Ozzy gave to Metal Hammer a few years after Lemmy died (via The Express), the Prince of Darkness was probably the last person to speak to Lemmy on the phone, on December 28, 2015, since he died very shortly thereafter, of prostate cancer, cardiac arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure. It was a painful final call, for Ozzy as well.
“I knew he was dying. He didn’t even know it was me,” Ozzy explained. “I had to say to him, ‘It’s Ozzy, Lem.’ He just gurgled down the phone to me. I said, ‘Lemmy, for f*ck’s sake, stay there. I’m coming.'”
But this would be the last time the two talked, and the last time Lemmy talked to anyone on the phone. Unfortunately, Ozzy wouldn’t make it to him in time, even though he went as fast as possible. He says that as soon as he hung up the phone, “I said to Sharon, ‘F*ck it, get in the car. We’re going round to his apartment.’ And just as we were leaving she came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s gone.'” At least Ozzy got to say goodbye to his friend at a very rock ‘n’ roll memorial, which he called “something else.”
Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens used a payphone at their last concert
Everyone knows about “The Day the Music Died.” Young rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” were doing a concert tour together, and they were heading to the next gig when the plane they were on crashed, just after midnight on February 3, 1959. Only a few hours earlier, they had been at another gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. It was, sadly, their last.
Texas Monthly says that at around 9:30 p.m., after Buddy Holly finished his set, the musicians took an intermission. They took time to sign autographs for their fans, but they also made some calls from a pay phone in the building. According to Roadside America, Buddy Holly called his wife, and Ritchie Valens called his manager. It’s not known what either of them talked about, but three hours later, they were dead. In a time before cell phones, we can be pretty sure those were the last calls they ever made.
The Surf Ballroom is still there. After falling into disrepair and almost being demolished, some locals bought it in 1994 and gave it a complete renovation, restoring it to what it would have looked like at that last concert. The original pay phone is still there, with a sign recording that Holly and Valens used it on their final night, although the number no longer works. There’s other grim memorabilia as well, including items they had on them when the plane crashed.
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