On January 4, 1986, Phil Lynott, the charismatic frontman of Thin Lizzy, died of pneumonia and heart failure due to septicaemia, in the intensive care unit of Salisbury Infirmary. Lynott was just 36 years old.
Lizzy played their final UK show just 2.5 years earlier, headlining Reading Festival on August 28, 1983. Listening to the final version of Jailbreak-era anthem Cowboy Song ever played on a UK stage, Phil Lynott’s charisma and cool is undeniable. Sadly, by then, Thin Lizzy’s frontman was already in ill health as a result of his addiction to heroin.
Lynott and guitarist Scott Gorham, then equally in the grip of heroin addiction, made the decision to end Thin Lizzy even before they commenced work on 1983’s Thunder And Lightning album. In December 1985, three weeks before Lynott collapsed at home and fell into a coma, the newly clean Gorham visited him, and was shocked at just how badly his friend’s health had deteriorated.
“I hadn’t seen Phil for about a year, and I missed him,” Gorham recalled to this writer. “So I called him up and went down to his place in Kew. He came out in his bathrobe, with his hair all over the place, and he just looked terrible. It was a shock. He was going, ‘We really ought to think about putting the band back together. We should sit down and start writing together again.’ I was looking at him, thinking, ‘Phil, there’s no way man.’ I didn’t say anything, but he caught my look, and he was saying, ‘I’m going to get off this shit now, I’m going to get healthy.’ I was like, ‘Okay, if you can do that, then absolutely, let’s start thinking about doing this again’, not knowing if he could or couldn’t. That was three weeks before he died.”
“I heard the news soon after. I heard my wife Christine take a phone call and she dropped the phone and started bawling her eyes out. And I just knew. Then she told me, and I started to cry too. It was a horrible scene. From what I hear, even if he’d stopped taking drugs on that same day I went up to his house, he still would have died. It was too late, too many things were going wrong.”
Lynott’s funeral was held at St Elizabeth’s Church in London on January 9, 1986, and was followed by a second service at Howth Parish Church in Dublin, on January 11. He was buried in St Fintan’s Cemetery, Dublin.
A rough, raw bootleg recording of Lizzy’s full 19-song set at Reading ’83, opening with a raucous Jailbreak and closing with a tender Still In Love With You, can be heard below. A more polished, but shortened, version of the show was subsequently released in 1992 as BBC Radio One Live in Concert.