ANTHRAX guitarist Scott Ian spoke to Landry.Audio about his friendship with iconic MOTÖRHEAD frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who died in December 2015 at the age of 70 shortly after learning he had been diagnosed with cancer. Asked if it became obvious to him that Lemmy was starting to get quite ill in the months leading up to his death, Scott said: “No, he wasn’t really that ill yet at that point. He wasn’t as healthy as he has been. He had been diagnosed with diabetes at some point, if I remember correctly, so he was battling that. I remember at some point [hearing that] Lemmy switched to vodka. Like, that was news. In the rock world, that was major headline news. I remember hearing that, like, ‘Lemmy‘s got diabetes, and no more Jack-and-Cokes, because of the sugar content. He switched to vodka.’ I was, like, ‘Wow! After 50 years, that’s a big deal.'”
Ian continued: “Look, when a guy like that hits the wall, living the life that he has been living since he was a teenager… The guy had been hitting it hard for 50-odd years already by the time the early two-thousand-teens rolled in. So, eventually you’re gonna hit the wall. I don’t care who you are — everyone hits the wall. No matter how healthy you are and no matter how fucked up of a life you led and how hard you lived, and when you’ve lived as hard as Lemmy did, when you hit the wall, it’s gonna be worse than the average human.”
The guitarist added: “I did spend a lot of time with him over the years; lucky enough for me, it was a privilege to have spent 30-odd years or something knowing him and being friendly with him. And I asked him one time about smoking: ‘Do you think you’ll ever quit?’ or this or that. These are questions he just… there wasn’t even an answer to. He wasn’t gonna quit smoking; he wasn’t gonna quit drinking.”
Ian also relayed a story about Lemmy that illustrated how the late MOTÖRHEAD frontman was always willing to deal with the effects of an extreme lifestyle if it meant living his way.
“He literally almost lost a couple of toes because when he was in the throes of figuring out the diabetes and all that, a couple of his toes went black from bad circulation and all this,” the guitarist said. “And he saw some doctor in L.A., and they were, like, ‘Oh, [you must go under the knife] immediately. You’re gonna lose the toes,’ and this and that. And he was, like, ‘I need a second opinion.’ And he flew back to London and saw a doctor there. And it was the same kind of thing: ‘We need to get these off. It’s an emergency.’ And it comes to… He goes to have the surgery done and he’s sitting in this office and he’s smoking a cigarette. And someone tells him, ‘You’re not allowed to smoke in here. What are you — crazy? You can’t smoke in this office.’ And he said, ‘Well, if I’m gonna fucking lose a toe, I’m gonna have a fucking cigarette.’ And long story short, they said, ‘You can’t smoke in here.’ And he said, ‘Well, then I won’t be in here.’ And he left. And he ended up seeing another doctor, and they literally told him, ‘You just need to change this or this in your diet, and your feet are gonna be fine.’ And he changed his diet, and he didn’t have to have his toes cut off. So a cigarette literally saved him from having a part of his body amputated.”
Scott added: “That’s when he started using Diet Coke instead of regular Coke in his Jack-and-Cokes, I believe. The doctor literally told him: ‘Switch to Diet Coke, and you don’t have to lose your toes.’ [Laughs]”
Lemmy had dealt with several health issues over the last few years of his life, including heart trouble, forcing him to cut back on his famous smoking habits.
MOTÖRHEAD had to cancel a number of shows in 2015 because of Lemmy‘s poor health, although the band did manage to complete one final European tour a couple of weeks before his death.