Jimi Hendrix might have stayed in the Army. He might have been sent to Vietnam. Instead, he pretended he was gay. And with that, he was discharged from the 101st Airborne in 1962, launching a musical career that would redefine the guitar, leave other rock heroes of the day speechless and culminate with his headlining performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969.
Hendrix’s subterfuge, contained in his military medical records, is revealed for the first time in Charles R. Cross’ new biography, “Room Full of Mirrors.” Publicly, Hendrix always claimed he was discharged after breaking his ankle on a parachute jump, but his medical records do not mention such an injury.
In regular visits to the base psychiatrist at Fort Campbell, Ky., in spring 1962, Hendrix complained that he was in love with one of his squad mates and that he had become addicted to masturbating, Cross writes. Finally, Capt. John Halbert recommended him for discharge, citing his “homosexual tendencies.”
Hendrix’s legendary appetite for women negates the notion that he might have been gay, Cross writes. Nor, Cross says, was his stunt politically motivated: Contrary to his later image, Hendrix was an avowed anti-communist who exhibited little unease about the escalating U.S. role in Vietnam.
He just wanted to escape the Army to play music — he had enlisted to avoid jail time after being repeatedly arrested in stolen cars in Seattle, his hometown.
“Room Full of Mirrors,” titled after an unreleased Hendrix tune, is being published this summer to coincide with the 35th anniversary of his Sept. 18, 1970, death from a sleeping-pill overdose. It is Cross’ second biography of a popular musician who died at age 27; “Heavier Than Heaven,” a 2001 bio of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, was a New York Times best seller.
The new bio is culled from nearly four years of research, including access to Hendrix’s letters and diaries, along with military records provided by a collector the author won’t name. Cross focuses on Hendrix’s complex personal life and psyche more than his music.
“Room Full of Mirrors” is filled with nuggets: After a show in Seattle, Hendrix had a star-struck teenager drive him around his old haunts; he allegedly had an affair with French actress Brigitte Bardot, precipitated by a chance meeting at the Paris airport; promoters at Woodstock refused to let him play an acoustic guitar. Cross doesn’t cite a source for the Bardot liaison, and says the actress didn’t respond to his attempts to contact her.
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