Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was an Australian singer, songwriter and instrumentalist, best known for being the second lead vocalist and lyricist of the Australian hard rock band AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980.
He was the wildcard frontman for AC/DC who had a reputation for raucous partying – until one night the party went too far.
On the night of February 19, 1980, Bon Scott, frontman for the Australian rock band AC/DC, climbed into the backseat of a parked car in London. Scott had always been a heavy drinker, even by rockstar standards. On this particular night, he’d been indulging his habit in a local club.
A bit worse for drink, Scott quickly passed out after his friends left him there to sleep it off. When they returned to the car the next morning, Scott was dead. Since then, questions about what exactly happened that night have persisted, challenging the legacy of one of rock’s most beloved bands.
So just who was Bon Scott?
Bon Scott was born Ronald Belford Scott in Kirriemuir, Scotland on July 9, 1946. When he was six, his family decided to move to Melbourne, Australia.
The new kid with a thick Scottish accent, Scott wasn’t popular.
“My new schoolmates threatened to kick the sh*t out of me when they heard my Scottish accent,” Scott said. “I had one week to learn to speak like them if I wanted to remain intact… It made me all the more determined to speak my own way. That’s how I got my name, you know. The Bonny Scot, see?”
That determination not to live the way others wanted to would get Scott into trouble as a young man. He dropped out of school at 15 and was eventually arrested for stealing gasoline.
After that, he was rejected by the Australian army and spent several years working odd jobs. But Bon Scott always had a powerful voice and in 1966, he started his first band, the Spektors. Scott found some minor success in these early years touring with different bands.
In 1974, a drunken Scott got into an argument with members of the band he was playing with. After throwing a bottle of Jack Daniels on the floor, he took off on his motorcycle. Scott suffered a serious crash and was in a coma for several days.
By the time he recovered, he was looking for a new band. As luck would have it, a new band formed by two fellow emigrant Scotsmen, Malcolm and Angus Young, was also looking for a singer.
Bon Scott signed on to AC/DC as the frontman when their previous frontman refused to go on stage. It was through Scott’s checkered past and rebellious attitude that the band cemented itself as a raucous, crude rock group. Scott, who had been rejected from the army because he was “socially maladjusted,” brought that attitude into AC/DC. And it stuck.
But the stress of constant touring and performing began to wear on Scott. Prone to alcoholism, Scott drank heavily throughout this period. Meanwhile, their album Highway to Hell broke the US Top 100 chart, making AC/DC a major act almost overnight.
For the first time, Scott knew what it was like to have some money in his pocket. But success also strained his relationship with his bandmates. Scott’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics were always a part of the band’s chemistry, but he now found himself butting heads with Malcolm and Angus over how much credit he was given for his work.
After years touring with the band, he was tired of it. And on the cusp of success, he considered leaving for good so that he could get a handle on his drinking. He would never get the chance.
Scott was in London in February 1980 working on the upcoming Back in Black album. As usual, this meant nights of wild partying.
On Feb. 19, Scott met a few friends at the Music Machine club in London. There, he drank heavily before climbing into his friend Alistair Kinnear’s car. His friends figured he just needed to sleep it off.
But when they found him still in the car the next morning, he was hunched in the back seat with the car covered in vomit. It was consequently speculated that the vomit had traveled into his lungs, choking Scott to death.