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RIP Lemmy Kilmister, finally killed by death

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In retrospect, we all should have known the end was nigh when Lemmy switched from Jack Daniels and Coke to screwdrivers. It was for health reasons, he told The Guardian in August; though it's debatable how much better vodka and orange juice might have been for his diabetes. He died today of cancer.

Lemmy wasn't just a badass. He was The Badass, heading up Motörhead for 40 years, serving as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, and helping Chrissie Hynde put together The Pretenders. He didn't even know how to play the bass when he first started playing it for Hawkwind. Was his habit of collecting Nazi memorabilia objectionable? Absolutely. Did Lemmy give a damn? No. Lemmy, in fact, didn't give a damn about much.

Everything about Lemmy flew in the face of moderation.Motörhead wasn't as big in the US as it was in the UK, but there's no Metallica or Guns N Roses without Lemmy. And he was from a period when rock stars could be, well, rock stars — where they could, for instance, get arrested for possession in Canada without fear of losing any of their endorsement deals. (He was arrested for cocaine possession; he was holding speed. Lemmy didn't like cocaine. Anyhow, he got off.) Sure, he was thrown out of Hawkwind, the band he was part of at the time, but that only led to greater glory. Have you ever heard Hawkwind? I haven't. (Sorry, UK fans — they never quite jumped the pond.) Have you heard Motörhead? Abso-fucking-lutely.

For a long time, it seemed like Lemmy was indestructible, like a cockroach. Everything about him flew in the face of moderation. He slept with, by his own count, more than a thousand women. He smoked, he drank, he did an absolutely heroic amount of speed. He was a dirtbag, a skuzzball, and proud of it. Listen: I write about health for a living, I know precisely how unwise that lifestyle is. Lemmy shouldn't serve as a role model for anybody. But I was so glad that there was someone out there who was living in the absolute worst fashion and still there to tell the tale. Lord knows it made me feel better about my own occasional whiskey-soaked nights — if Lemmy's still kicking, my God, what's one wild night?

He smoked, he drank, he did a heroic amount of speedThings had been going downhill for Lemmy's physical health for years — decades of speed and Jack and Cokes will do that. He'd gotten a defibrillator, for an irregular heartbeat; there was a hematoma. There were the shows that were canceled due to a lung infection; in September, he had to cut short a set and be helped from the stage in Austin. It was inevitable — sooner or later, no one can afford their rock n roll lifestyle. For Lemmy, it was later.

In health, best practices are best practices for most people. Some people can withstand harder living — more abuse to their bodies, essentially — than others. Lemmy's an outlier; what's likelier, if you try to live like Lemmy, is an early grave. Some of his mythmaking in his 2003 autobiography is hard to check up on. But I loved sharing a planet with someone who ate a bag of amphetamines and tranquilizers so the cops wouldn't take them, who gobbled speed by the handful, who drank Jack and Cokes for breakfast, who played serious fucking rock n roll, who spawned thrash metal — and who died at an old age.

Thanks, Lemmy. You were my favorite bad example.