AC/DC announced a devastating news

AC/DC frontman Bon Scott led a high-voltage life. But his friends say the singer’s unglamorous death at age 33 was not a surprise

He’s Australian rock music’s most iconic figure.

After slogging it out through 15 years of touring, boozing and in-your-face performances, Bon Scott was on the cusp of international stardom with AC/DC.

Then, out of the blue, he was found dead in a tiny Renault on a freezing day in London in 1980. He was 33.

It was an inglorious end to a life lived in technicolour, one that has spawned countless books, articles and theories from fans and devotees around the world.

I’ve read most of them in the course of researching tonight’s Australian Story episode on the enigmatic singer.

However, the story that most rings true to me is told by a 75-year-old in a wheelchair in the Adelaide working-class suburb of Largs North.

Health problems have prevented Bruce Howe from playing his beloved bass guitar for the past seven years.

But, in the early 1970s, he was Bon Scott’s housemate and the undisputed leader of Fraternity, the art rock band that Bon sang — and played recorder — with before joining AC/DC in 1974.

Bruce Howe’s voice catches with emotion as he remembers his old friend’s biggest vulnerability: boredom.

“That’s when he would start taking risks, doing wild things,” Bruce says. “On days when he was bored, there was no future, there was only now.

“He didn’t give a bugger about whether he lived or died the next day. He’d try anything — magic mushrooms, marijuana, alcohol – and he would take risks on his motorbike.”

Bon’s top priority was always the band, always looking forward to the next show and doing everything he could to make sure it was a cracker.

But if there were gaps in the schedule, no shows for a few days or, God forbid, a few weeks, he’d get restless.

And the risky behaviour would rear its ugly head again.

Bruce remembers catching a ride on the back of Bon’s motorbike after a big night in Adelaide’s Lord Melbourne Hotel, zooming around corners so fast that their boots were almost scraping on the road.

The experience so terrified him that he swore never to get on Bon’s bike again. He gave the High Voltage singer a heartfelt warning to cut back on the booze.

“I said, ‘You are going to f***ing kill yourself. Do something about it!’” Bruce tells Australian Story.

“I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t really care about everybody who loved him. We all knew that this wasn’t going to end well.”

In May 1974, after a fight in an Adelaide pub and a bit to drink, Bon was almost killed in a horrific motorbike crash that left him scarred, toothless and in hospital for weeks.

When Bruce heard the news, he was too angry to even visit his mate in hospital.

“I just couldn’t believe that I was right, that he was going to hurt himself badly, if not kill himself,” he says. “Thank God he didn’t.”

Bruce Howe’s sentiments are echoed by Bon’s brother, Derek Scott.

In the first interview he’s ever given about his famous sibling, Derek told Australian Story there was pattern to Bon’s behaviour.

“He did get bored very quickly,” says Derek. “That was the biggest problem. When he got bored, he drank.

“He never worried about tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”

How ‘Ronnie from Bonnie’ became a rockstar

Derek is speaking with Australian Story at his spotless home in Fremantle, WA, not far from where the Scott boys grew up in the 1960s.

The family moved from Kirriemuir, Scotland, in 1952 to seek a new life in sunny Australia.

Bon, or Ron as he was christened, was five years old at the time.

“My mother used to call him Ronnie,” Derek says. “So it was Ronnie Scott from Bonnie Scotland.

“It wasn’t until he started in the band that they broke it down to Bon. In the family, we always called him Ron.”

Music was in the family, with Bon’s father “Chick” playing bagpipes and Bon picking up the drumsticks at an early age.

In 1962, as members of the Fremantle Scots Pipe Band, they performed together at the opening of the Empire Games in Perth.

Bon’s friend Lynn Prior, who met him as a teenager, says he was very quiet one-on-one, but when other people were around, he was always a performer.

“He enjoyed the cheekiness of it all,” Lynn says. “He wanted to be the centre of attention, he loved being the centre of attention.”

Derek Scott puts it down to Bon’s small size. He was always feeling the need to prove himself.

But at 16, Bon Scott had a run-in with the law and was sentenced to 12 months at the Riverbank Juvenile Detention Centre in Perth.

An article published in March 1963 in The West Australian lists an (unnamed) 16-year-old youth pleading guilty to charges of “giving a false name and address to police, escaping legal custody, having unlawful carnal knowledge, and stealing 12 gallons of petrol”.

Surprisingly, Derek Scott believes that Bon’s time at the juvenile detention centre was probably the best 12 months he ever spent.

“It not only taught him a little bit of responsibility, it settled him down,” he says.

“While he was in there the others were playing guitars, so they formed a band, and when he came out he had a direction.”


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