Silver Smith: the great muse of Bon Scott

A portrait of Silver Smith
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Margaret ‘Silver’ Smith was one of the great loves of Bon Scott, the inspiration for many of his best songs, including Gimme A Bullet and Gone Shootin’ from AC/DC’s 1978 masterpiece Powerage. They lived together in Australia and England. They travelled together on the road in the United States. And she died in a hospice in Jamestown, South Australia on December 12, 2016.

Bon, separated from his wife Irene Thornton in 1974, had fallen hard for Silver, reputedly spraying her name in silver paint at the headquarters of AC/DC’s Australian record company, Albert Productions, and mentioning her in a letter from the road in 1977: “I haven’t seen my lady for four months… love will prevail.” But it didn’t. A mutually agreed 12-month break in their relationship in early 1978 became permanent, on Silver’s wishes.

She saw Bon alone only once or twice in the last year of his life, though importantly he phoned her to invite her out on the evening prior to his mysterious death in London on February 19, 1980. She declined his invitation. By then she’d made it very clear there was no future for them as a couple.

Before her death, Silver spoke exclusively to Jesse Fink for his biography of Bon. The interviews she granted to Fink were her last, among only a few she ever gave during her life, and gave a rare insight into her passionate but tumultuous relationship with Australia’s greatest rock legend. This interview extract is exclusive to Classic Rock.

On her beginnings

I don’t know who my biological father was and knew nothing about my biological mother until about fifteen years ago. I have had four names, all of them legal, one I didn’t know about until relatively recently. I have been legally ‘Silver Smith’ for four and a half decades. I think of my family as the people who raised me.

On loneliness

I’ve been alone for thirty years. The Bon adventure was one too far for me. I got scared. I buried myself in work.

On Bon’s relationship with Irene Thornton

Bon was big on telling people how much he owed Irene for taking him in after his motorcycle accident [in 1974] although they weren’t together any more, and how he couldn’t wait to be able to help her out. She was pregnant and struggling. But he didn’t, did he? Instead of showing off by showing up in a limo with expensive booze, he could have given her the money. I would have been pissed off [with him] if I were her.

On Bon’s 1975 heroin overdose in the company of his friend Judy King

He told me very early on how close he had gone to fucking up over the King incident, and that he had made a promise to the Youngs [not to do drugs]. If anything, I was stricter [with him] than the Youngs, because he was a total embarrassment even when he overdid the ‘smoko’ with alcohol at inappropriate times, and I was the one who would have to get him home and up five flights of stairs. Not to mention that this behaviour was considered really tacky in London. To the best of my knowledge, Bon kept faith with his promise to the Youngs.

On hooking up with Bon at AC/DC’s first London gig, at the Red Cow pub in Hammersmith in 1976

I used to go past [the Red Cow] on the bus to my work agency in Hammersmith. It was such a lonely, homely building; just a stone cube. Stuck out like a sore thumb because there were no other buildings on that side of the road. How different my life would have been if I had not been home, not answered the phone, not gone to the Red Cow that night. At that time I was truly happy, contented for the first time in my life, had lovely friends, was learning some wonderful things, and it had been that way for a couple of years. I felt like I was finally home. And then it all went to shit.

On the difficulty of having a relationship with Bon

It was the what-the-fuck impulse things that did the real damage. On the second trip [home] to Australia [from England in 1978], while we were staying in Coogee, Sydney, two things happened like that, and I knew I could no longer be with this man, couldn’t live like this any more, and the babysitting stuff was becoming intolerable and dangerous. I wanted to break up then, but settled for a twelve-month separation, where I could go back to London and think seriously about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and then make a decision.

On drugs being involved in Bon’s death

Bon knew AC/DC was his last shot at making it, and he was really conscientious after his OD with the King girl in Melbourne. He told me straight away about it; he did smoke hash when he had downtime, and drank horribly, but I don’t know of any pills. I was personally really tough on him with smoko even, as he had really embarrassed me by eating a huge piece of hash at a ridiculously inappropriate time very early on in London.

On Bon using heroin

I would be really surprised if you find anyone credible who will swear they saw Bon take heroin during his London-based years with AC/DC. But with Bon I guess anything’s possible. He had a really bad reputation for taking anything and to extreme excess back in Adelaide with [his pre-AC/DC band] Fraternity. But he did take the heroin embargo from the Youngs after Judy King really seriously, and did not want to get fired. Given what it was like to have to look after him when he was comatose on Scotch, I was very glad there was an embargo. Bon doing smack would be anyone’s worst nightmare, and I personally wouldn’t have had anything to do with him [if he had used it].

On Keith Richards visiting her at her flat

We had a grizzle together about the parlous state of the legal system at the time, and the nasty attitude of the plain-clothes police in Britain and they way they try to humiliate you.

On former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans

He was very young, but was definitely the smartest in the band, a lot more aware of what was going on in the rest of the world.

On former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd

Probably the last time he was home [in Australia, from touring in America], Bon told me Phil was really freaking; exhausted from all the driving. I’ve read Phil was on coke, but I don’t think so. Bon would have mentioned it. Bon was really pissed off that nothing was being done to help Phil. But Bon didn’t speak up. I was so sad when Phil had that recent [legal] trouble. It seemed so unfair. I had the urge to write him a letter, but what could I have said or done after nearly four decades?

It was a couple of months after that American tour that Phil and I had a day out on a catamaran that we got in trouble for [with the Youngs]. It was a lovely silly happy day and we laughed like drains. And that’s how I choose to remember him, not looking so lost and hunted on the telly.

On her London social circles

Bon asked me how I knew so many wealthy people. Travelling was still very expensive in the 1970s; luxurious giant planes were often only a third full. So on long-haul flights passengers socialised, swapped stories and passed on addresses of friends to look up, and partied in the bar. Australians were an unknown novelty and were welcome in the world of the ‘beautiful people’ of the 70s if they were smart, amusing and attractive, dressed well and had good manners. Sophisticated Europeans didn’t sit around divvying up the bill after a meal; you never saw the bill. Americans and South Americans fought for the right to be able to pay it, proving they were the richest person at the table.

On Bon’s self-destructiveness

He would be fine for ages, and then do something really destructive at the worst possible time, with no explanation, and really make things difficult for other people, without giving them a single thought. Consideration of others was not a strong point.

On why she didn’t keep any of Bon’s letters or photos

Everything I owned disappeared; I’ve had to start again twice… I’ve never been able to find out where it [all] went. The first big loss was in London: three huge trunks. Two modern aluminium trunks. One old wooden, steel-banded trunk, painted midnight blue with silver stars. Plus a giant wooden fridge crate. These contained all my documentation, books, records, photos, diaries, collections of letters, bibelots and precious things from my family days, my mother’s world-class embroidery, everything I owned up to the age of twenty-nine, except for what I had with me. The past completely wiped out. It is still devastating to me. Over the last few decades some photos have been given to me by friends and family. I had some great professional shots that were lost.

On where she was when she found out from King’s College Hospital that Bon had died

I was at home. [Bon’s and my friend] Joe [Fury] was either there, or arrived just after the call… They didn’t say [Bon] was dead. They asked me to come to the hospital because it was serious. They never give death messages over the phone. They look after you, put you in a nice room with a cup of tea. Joe had worked in hospitals, so he had figured it out, and told me his fears before the doctor came in. I can’t talk about what I thought and felt.

On Bon having or not having a will

I never heard of there being any wills at any time. Bon wasn’t big on being organised. He knew he owed Irene a big favour, and he talked about helping her with a deposit for a house all the time because she had taken him in after the bike accident, but he didn’t do it, did he? I thought he should have done it, not went around to visit her with expensive booze and just talked about it.

On Bon’s parents Chick and Isa after his death

I felt protective of Isa. His parents were really happy in their own new unit. They didn’t want a big house, or money. They were happy and proud of what they’d achieved for their family. I could relate to that. Isa just wished that Bon had seen his own success. They were good but naive people, Bon’s parents.

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