While Hendrix died in debt, his estate now earns millions

September 17, 1990|By Chuck Philips | Chuck Philips,Los Angeles Times

On the day he died, 20 years ago tomorrow, Jimi Hendrix wa at the peak of his career -- and deep in debt.

The 27-year-old rocker was one of the most successful artists of the '60s psychedelic era. He had recorded five top-selling albums and was one of the highest-paid concert performers of his day ($125,000 per show). But he owed tens of thousands of dollars to his record company and was the target of numerous lawsuits, ranging from management contract disputes to a paternity suit.

After his death, a series of bad investments and bitter litigation battles nearly drove his estate into bankruptcy.

But in the past decade, the Hendrix legacy has witnessed a dramatic turnaround. Now the acclaimed guitarist actually makes more money than he did alive.

The combination of record sales, the merchandising of Hendrix's likeness and song publishing is a multi-million-dollar enterprise -- though the exact figures are tightly guarded. In 1988, Forbes magazine estimated the gross annual income from the guitarist's music publishing and record royalties at $4 million, but the guardians of his fortune dismiss the figure as "an inaccurate guess."

Those promoting the Hendrix legacy predict that he will sell between 2 million and 3 million records internationally this year. Merchandisers estimate that they will sell more than $1 million worth of garments, posters and paraphernalia bearing his name and likeness in 1990. Ten books about his life are also being prepared for publication -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of his passing, the National Film Theatre in London is scheduled to premiere a film of Hendrix's last major concert tomorrow at the Isle of Wight Festival.

In November, Warner Bros. Records will release "Lifelines," a biographical four-CD set featuring interviews, studio outtakes, and home demo and concert tapes culled from a 1988 Westwood One radio show.

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