As Anthrax was nearing the end of its Friday night performance, singer Joey Belladonna made an announcement to the crowd: Motorhead had canceled its scheduled appearance at the festival, citing the health problems of its singer, the inestimable Lemmy Kilmister.
“Motorhead won't be playing tonight,” Belladonna said. “But I want everyone to put their hands in the air and pay respect to Lemmy.”
It brought a troubling sense of deja vu. Only minutes earlier in the set, Anthrax had paid tribute to two of metal's fallen heroes, with silhouettes of Dimebag Darrell and Ronnie James Dio draped over the band's amps. The crowd was asked to put their hands up then, too.
According to a statement by the band, Motorhead had to nix the appearance due to Denver's high altitude.
"It's been quite a while since Lemmy was this 'high' in the U.S.," the statement said, "and thus, having got a burst of altitude sickness (which made it hard for him to breathe and sing properly), he has very reluctantly decided not perform in Denver."
The cancellation came on the heels of a shortened performance the night prior in Salt Lake City, where the 69-year-old singer had also complained about the atmosphere's oxygen levels.
“The people are great, the air is just too thin,” the band said on Twitter of its SLC performance. “The altitude makes it difficult to breathe. Lemmy’s sorry but appreciates everyone’s concern.”
These incidents don't even mark the first time this month that Lemmy's health has made headlines. In an interview published August 13 by The Guardian, the singer revealed that he had switched from whiskey to vodka in an apparent attempt to better manage his diabetes (though the efficacy of that move remains in question). The article also details his other recent ailments: the defibrillator he had placed in his chest in 2013, the hematoma that forced the band to cancel its European tour shortly after, the gastric illness that caused another cancellation in April this year.
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Writer Michael Hann's description of Lemmy's physical appearance doesn't inspire confidence, either.
While the all-black uniform is present and correct this afternoon, Lemmy has lost a lot of weight, and appears pale and drawn. His hands aren’t wholly steady, and he says that these days he has to walk with a stick because “my legs are fucked.' Nevertheless, he insists: “Apparently I am still indestructible.”
As comforting as it would be to take the man at his word, it is looking more and more likely that Lemmy is actually a mortal being. As show cancellations and hospital visits increasingly become the norm, fans will have to reckon with the fact that this larger-than-life character — not unlike Dimebag Darrell or Dio — simply won't be a part of the rock landscape forever.