When beloved rock pioneer and guitar hero Jimi Hendrix died suddenly in 1970, at the age of 27, shockwaves were felt throughout the music industry. As Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant remarked the following day, it was “hard to comprehend” that Hendrix was gone. Indeed, to this day, some people genuinely believe Hendrix never left.
One conspiracy theory regarding Hendrix’s death has it that he faked his demise only to reinvent himself as the actor Morgan Freeman. Hendrix and Freeman’s careers overlapped by nearly a decade, they were born five years apart and all that the evidence suggests they share is similar facial features. This hasn’t, however, stopped conspiracists from insisting the Purple Haze musician and the Shawshank Redemption actor are the same man.
“You have to die before they think you’re worth anything”
At 11am on September 18, 1970, Hendrix’s girlfriend Monika Dannemann woke up next to the star in her London flat, following a late night. Hendrix had consumed wine and a large number of sleeping pills before bed. Upon discovering that Hendrix was unconscious, Dannemann called for an ambulance, but he was pronounced dead at the nearest hospital at 12:45pm.
A post-mortem examination found that Hendrix died from asphyxia as a result of combining alcohol with sleeping pills, but the lack of evidence produced an open verdict. As a result, conspiracy theories swirled in the aftermath of his death. Some suggested he may have been murdered, among them a former roadie named James Wright, who claimed Hendrix was killed on the orders of his manager Michael Jeffrey, because Hendrix was planning on replacing him.
Some unnerving words from Hendrix himself may have bolstered conspiracy theorists’ beliefs that there was more to his death than meets the eye. On top of seeming unafraid of death, Hendrix seemed to accurately predict that he would not live past the age of 27.
In one portentous interview, Hendrix remarked, “The moment I feel that I don’t have anything more to give musically, that’s when I won’t be found on this planet, unless I have a wife and children… Because if I don’t have anything to communicate through my music, then there is nothing for me to live for.”
Hendrix went on to say: “I’m not sure I will live to be 28 years old, but then again, so many beautiful things have happened to me in the last three years. The world owes me nothing.”
Aside from this uncanny prediction that he would die at 27, Hendrix went on to describe his own dream funeral: “The music will be played loud and it will be our music… For that it’s almost worth dying. Just for the funeral. It’s funny the way people love the dead. You have to die before they think you are worth anything. Once you are dead, you are made for life. When I die, just keep on playing the records.”
Commonalities – and glaring differences
Among the strangest rumours is the idea that actor Morgan Freeman and Jimi Hendrix are one and the same person. This theory posits that Hendrix faked his own death to pursue what would prove a highly successful career in acting.
The Hendrix/Freeman theory has been propagated by website Newspunch, which FactCheck.org has called “a prolific poster of misinformation and conspiracy theories.” Widely debunked as a fake news and satire site, in 2018 Newspunch published an article entitled: “Morgan Freeman Is Jimi Hendrix, Researchers Claim”.
Ever since, fans have taken to Quora, Reddit and Twitter to discuss commonalities between the two men. The similar appearances of Hendrix and Freeman are often noted, as is the fact that they share the trait of left-handedness. (The fact that Freeman is ten centimetres taller than Hendrix, however, is rarely addressed.)
Freeman was born on June 1, 1937, whereas Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, making the actor five years the rock star’s senior. Freeman’s career also began before Hendrix died, with Freeman having made his film debut in 1964’s The Pawnbroker, and starred in stage performances of Hello, Dolly!, The Dozen and Exhibition in the years before Hendrix died.
Others have addressed Freeman’s love for music, suggesting this supports a connection between the two men. (Freeman owns a blues club in Mississippi.) Meanwhile, Hendrix adored cinema trips as a child; he loved to make-pretend at being the actor Buster Crabbe. This link, however, is extremely tenuous, given how common it is for performers to show an interest in other areas of art and music.
What’s more, the evidence of their shared left-handedness is more than a tenuous link – it is misleading. Hendrix was actually ambidextrous, using his left hand to play music, but eating, writing, and answering the telephone with his right hand. Hendrix’s ability to swap between hands may have enhanced his talents, helping him pull off more complex moves on the guitar than most musicians are capable of.
“I went out on stage, and someone said: ‘sing Purple Haze!'”
Freeman, by contrast, was born lefthanded, but a 2008 car accident left him with permanent nerve damage to his left arm and shoulder. As a result, the actor has had to adapt to using his right hand for everyday activities.
Beyond the most diehard conspiracy theorists, few would give the notion that Freeman is Hendrix too much credence today – but the actor admits that, from early in his career, he did sometimes get confused with the rock star. In a 2017 interview, Freeman recalled appearing in a production of Othello in the late 60s, dressed in suitably psychedelic attire for the era.
“I had a costume that looked like a harem-type thing… and I had a huge ‘fro, and they put a band around my head… the first time we had an audience, I went out on stage, and someone way in the back said, ‘sing Purple Haze!'”