Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jun 12th 2009 5:00PM by James Sullivan
By the early 1970s, Nilsson was a bona fide pop star. His songs had been covered by the Monkees and Three Dog Night, and his version of Fred Neil's 'Everybody's Talkin'' won a Grammy after being featured as the theme to 'Midnight Cowboy.' Nilsson's melodramatic cover of Badfinger's 'Without You' was a No. 1 smash in 1972.
Having sat in on the 'White Album' sessions, he'd become good friends with Lennon and Ringo Starr. (Starr would lend his voice to 'The Point!,' Nilsson's animated fable featuring the hit song 'Me and My Arrow.') When the Beatle drummer wanted to make a horror spoof called 'Son of Dracula,' he asked Nilsson to star. Improbably, Starr was unaware that his friend's most recent album, 'Son of Schmilsson,' featured a cover image of the singer parodying old horror movies.
With film production in England, Nilsson took a flat in London's fashionable Mayfair district. A friend of Ringo's redecorated. When Nilsson moved in, he was dismayed to find a bad omen: In a bathroom with matching sinks, one of the mirrors had an image of an apple tree. The other had a hangman's noose.
After 'Son of Dracula' tanked, Nilsson headed back to California, where he and Lennon would soon partake in their infamously debauched "lost weekend" (which actually lasted about a year and a half) while making the album 'Pussy Cats' together. He began lending his London apartment to friends in the music business. After two sold-out shows at the London Palladium in July 1974, "Mama" Cass Elliot suffered a fatal heart attack in one of the beds in Nilsson's flat. (Contrary to the longstanding urban legend, the zaftig singer did not die from choking on a ham sandwich.)
Four years later, Keith Moon and his girlfriend retired to the same apartment after joining Paul and Linda McCartney at a screening of 'The Buddy Holly Story.' Trying to quit drinking, the Who drummer was treating his withdrawals with Clomethiazole. He died of an overdose of the sedative -- reportedly, in the same bed that Mama Cass had died in. Moon's last album with the Who, 'Who Are You,' had just been released. On the cover, the drummer was seated backward in a chair stamped "Not to Be Taken Away."
Appalled by the deaths of his friends, Nilsson sold the flat to Pete Townshend. From there, the once-prolific recording artist's career went quickly downhill. His visibility during the 1980s consisted largely of appearances on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which he joined after the murder of his friend Lennon. Nilsson released only a few more albums, all widely ignored, before his own heart gave out in 1994.