On This Day: Why did Led Zeppelin split up?

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Group portrait of British rock band Led Zeppelin on June 05, 1973. Left to right are singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, drummer John Bonham (1948 - 1980) and bassist John Paul Jones. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images
English rock band Led Zeppelin in 1973, from left to right, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones. (Getty Images)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

When John Bonham died, Led Zeppelin died with him.

The English band’s drummer, one of the most influential in rock history, started the last day of his life with four quadruple vodkas and a ham roll.

“Breakfast,” said the man affectionally known as “Bonzo” to the band’s assistant, Rex King, before heading off for rehearsals in Berkshire for an upcoming tour.

Read more: The songs remain acclaimed… Led Zeppelin, 50 years on

After a total of 40 vodka shots in one day, he ended up in a bed at his bandmate Jimmy Page’s house in Windsor.

When bassist John Paul Jones and the band’s tour manager tried to wake him on the afternoon of 25 September 1980, he didn’t respond. Bonham died, aged 32, after choking on his own vomit.

Less than three months later, despite rumours that Bonham would be replaced behind the drums, Led Zeppelin announced they were finished.

English drummer John Bonham (1948 - 1980) of rock group Led Zeppelin, 1974. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Led Zeppelin's John Bonham was one of rock's most influential drummers. (Getty Images)
English drummer John Bonham (1948 - 1980) performing with rock group Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden, New York City, June 1977. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Led Zeppelin split after the death of their drummer John Bonham, in 1980. (Getty Images)
English rock group Led Zeppelin performing on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York, June 1977. Members of the band are, from left, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham (1948-1980) and Jimmy Page. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Led Zeppelin performing on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York, June 1977. (Getty Images)

On 4 December, 41 years ago today, they issued a simple press statement.

It read: “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”

Bonham’s death brought an end to 12 years in which Led Zeppelin dominated the world of rock, with songs such as Stairway To Heaven, Communication Breakdown, Immigrant Song and Kashmir now long considered classics.

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But by the end of the 1970s, they were on a downward spiral, their later albums receiving mixed reviews as the effects of drugs and alcohol took hold on the band members.

Some music critics claim the band would have broken up even if Bonham hadn’t died. 

Remarkably, in a musical era where nostalgia looms large, Led Zeppelin have never reformed, apart from one-off reunion gigs.

The first of these was a high-profile disaster, when Page, Jones and Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant joined Phil Collins on drums for a set in the US leg of Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985. 

A lack of rehearsal and technical difficulties resulted in a performance Plant later called an “atrocity”, so disjointed that the band blocked future broadcasts of their set and banned its use on the concert’s DVD release.

In 1988, the band’s remaining three members performed again together for the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records, this time with Bonham’s son, Jason, on drums. But this time it was backstage infighting that ruined things, with Page and Plant reportedly arguing about whether to play Stairway To Heaven. 

British rock band Led Zeppelin, (left - right): John Paul Jones, John Bonham (1948 - 1980), Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, pose in front of an their private airliner The Starship, 1973. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Led Zeppelin, from left to right, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, in front of their private jet, The Starship, in 1973. (Getty Images)

There was no love lost when their next reunion came around, after they were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, again with Jason Bonham on drums. 

Jones referenced the band’s ongoing rifts when accepting his award, quipping: “Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number.”

Their most successful, and last, reunion came in 2007 in a tribute concert to music executive Ahmet Ertegün at the O2 Arena in London, when they performed their first full-length gig since before Bonham’s death, again with his son Jason behind the drum kit.

The show was a huge success, and Guinness World Records said there were 20 million online requests for tickets.

Members of British rock band Led Zeppelin (L-R) bass player John Paul Jones, lead singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer Jason Bonham, who replaces the band's original drummer his father John Bonham, arrive for the premiere of their film
John Bonham's son, Jason, far right, has played with the original members during reunion shows. (Reuters)
UNITED STATES - MAY 27:  Guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist and keyboard player John Paul Jones and vocalist Robert Plant (l. to r.) arrive for a screening of
The remaining Led Zeppelin band members, from left to right, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant. (Getty Images)

Afterwards, Plant went back to touring with American country singer Alison Krauss, with whom he had just released a duets album (the pair released another record last month), even though Page and Jones were reportedly keen on a full-blown reunion tour.

“I told them I was busy and they'd simply have to wait,” Plant told Classic Rock magazine in 2014.

“I would come around eventually, which they were fine with – at least to my knowledge. But it turns out they weren’t.”

Read more: 50 years of legendary album ‘Led Zeppelin IV’

In 2018, Jason told Billboard magazine Plant’s reasons for never doing a full reunion.

Jason said of Plant: “He said, ‘I loved your dad way too much… I can’t go out there and fake it. I can’t be a jukebox. I can’t go out there and try to do it that way’.

“He told me, ‘When your father left us, left the world, that was it for Led Zeppelin’.”

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