Death of Philip Churchill-Hale at Jimmy Page’s Plumpton estate in 1979…
I have been reading the fascinating account of the inquest into the death on October 24th 1979 of Philip Churchill-Hale, a twenty-six year old photographer and recent graduate of the Royal College of Art who died of drug-induced vomit inhalation at the home of Led Zeppelin founding member and lead guitarist, Jimmy Page.
From 1971 until 1980, Page lived at the luxurious Plumpton Place, a fifty acre estate in East Sussex, England which included a purpose-built home studio for Page to finish the mixing of the In Through the Outdoor album. With Page being frequently away touring or travelling, he would entrust the house to the care of Hale having become good friends after meeting in a London pub.
The inquest noted Page’s reluctance to testify at the hearing, telling the coroner he was ‘extremely upset’ but the Coroner, John Dodd, would not agree, telling Page that if his housekeeper, who had discovered the body and was also very upset, could testify, then so could he.
The inquest revealed a fascinating glimpse into the rock star world, Page’s housekeeper, Barbara Spencer, told the inquiry how she arrived at the house to begin work at 9am to find Page in the kitchen having been up all night whilst Hale was asleep in a bedroom known as the ‘Black Room’. Spencer said that Page went to bed soon after and she left them to sleep until 2.30 in the afternoon. When she went to wake Hale there was no response and called an ambulance. Hale was pronounced dead and the housekeeper went to wake Page with a brandy and tell him the tragic news.
The autopsy gave details of high levels of cocaine, heroin, alcohol and morphine in his blood but his death was caused by inhalation of vomit and not an overdose. In Page’s testimony he recalled how Hale and a friend had arrived at his home and stayed for drinks. Hale stayed after his friend left and Page said he left Hale to take a two-hour business call until 3am. Page said he then intended to go to bed and Hale asked Page if he could stay the night which Page allowed. Hale brought Page a hot toddy and according to Page his last words to the guitarist was: “You’re the most eccentric man I’ve ever met”
The inquest gave a verdict of accidental death, according to his step-mother, Hale was full of life and enjoying a busy work schedule, she had no idea he took drugs, whilst the coroner declared Hale ‘had everything to live for’ and ruled out any possibility of suicide.
Page moved out of the house soon after the death and put it up for sale. Reading the story reminded me of the tragedy of Alice Ormsby Gore, a victim of rock excess and being introduced to heroin through her association with Eric Clapton. Page’s lifestyle in the heyday of Led Zeppelin in the 1970s is legendary, but for many who followed them, the romance of the rock god lifestyle would be anything but romantic.
Further reading: Alice Ormsby Gore
Categories: Retro Heaven