Phil Lynott once invited Cliff Richard into the studio to hear new Thin Lizzy songs while his dealer chopped out heroin behind the squeaky-clean pop star

Phil Lynott and Cliff Richard
(Image credit: Phil Lynott - Andy Hosie/Mirrorpix/Getty Images / Cliff Richard - Alistair Devine/TV Times/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

As Scott Gorham remembers it, it was in Paris, in the winter of late '78/early '79, that Thin Lizzy's formerly recreational drug use started to become a problem.

That the band were becoming increasingly blasé about their habits was evident when Phil Lynott started snorting cocaine in front of producer Tony Visconti in-between his vocal takes on anti-addiction anthem Got To Give It Up. But it was when Lynott invited clean-living pop star Cliff Richard into the band's booth at Pathé Marconi EMI Studios while a heroin dealer dished out his supplies that the recklessness of his actions started ringing alarm bells even to his partner-in-crime Gorham.

"It wasn't until [the recording of] the Black Rose album that we really got in trouble," Gorham told this writer in 2019.

As a teenager growing up in California, Gorham was thrown into jail twice for drug dealing, and his decision to move to London in the spring of 1974 was at least partially motivated by an awareness that his life was only going to get bleaker if he stayed.

"Moving to England saved my ass," the guitarist told this writer in 2019. "If I hadn't come here, I'd surely have fucked up my life."

Gorham had already tried heroin long before he joined Thin Lizzy, admitting "That was one of the things I was getting into that London saved me from." And yet, despite this, while in Paris, he had little hesitation in joining Lizzy's charismatic leader in indulging once more.

"I was sitting in Phil's room, and he was like, 'Do you know what this is?' Yeah, I do know what this is. 'Do you want some?' Yeah, I do. And then the heroin cycle started up. It took another year before we were professional drug takers."

In Cowboy Song: The Authorised Biography of Philip Lynott, Gorham spoke openly about his first steps to addiction.

"In Paris the dealers were beating the door down," he told biographer Graeme Thomson, "and of course we let them in, which was just madness."

"Cliff Richard was recording in the same studio, and Phil said, 'Come on, let's drag Cliff over and see what he thinks.' So we sat Cliff in front of the desk, and right behind him there's this fucking drug dealer, chopping out a line of smack. I'm looking at Cliff and, God bless him, he didn't look over his shoulder one time, he doesn't even acknowledge that this guy is even in the room. But I thought, this has got to be uncomfortable for him."

Speaking to this writer in 2019, Gorham said that he was initially fairly relaxed about using heroin again, admitting "This sounds harsh, but there just hadn't been enough dead rock stars at that point."

"You knew people died from it, but those deaths were few and far between, so you just thought, 'It's never going to happen to me.' Once you've broken the barrier of doing it the first time, you're not afraid of it. But we should have been, because bad shit did happen."

Speaking on Good Morning Britain in 1984, Phil Lynott said, "The frightening thing about heroin is that... and again, without trying to glamourise the drug at all... is that it's very enjoyable to take. It cuts off reality. If you've got a lot of problems, and you wanna just... I mean, it'd be so easy for me to just jump up on television and say, Hey, this is the pits, don't do it! The thing that's never put across on television very well is how enjoyable it can be."

On January 4, 1986, Lynott died from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicaemia developed as a result of his addiction to heroin.

Scott Gorham, who had visited his friend just three weeks earlier, recalls hearing the news and breaking down crying.

"I heard my wife Christine take a phone call, and she dropped the phone and started bawling her eyes out," the guitarist remembers. "And I just knew. It was a horrible scene."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.