Steve Marriott was one of the greatest rock and roll voices, the legendary singer that was the frontman of Small Faces and Humble Pie gave us amazing interpretations that are amazing to hear until this day. But unfortunately, his life had a tragic ending in 1991.
On Friday 19 April 1991, Marriott and his third wife was Toni Poulton flew home from the United States, where Marriott had recorded songs for a future album with Frampton to England. During the flight, according to Poulton, Marriott was drinking heavily, was in a foul mood, and the two argued constantly. After arriving in the UK, a mutual friend met them and they all went for dinner to one of Marriott’s favourite restaurants, The Straw Hat in Sawbridgeworth, where he consumed more alcohol.
After dinner, they returned to their friend’s house and decided to stay overnight, since it was late, but upstairs in bed, Marriott and Poulton continued to argue. Poulton finally fell asleep and later woke to discover that Marriott had taken a taxi to his home in the nearby village of Arkesden.
At about 6:30 am on 20 April, a passing motorist saw the roof of Marriott’s cottage ablaze and called the fire brigade. It was reported that four fire engines were needed to put out the fire. In newspaper interviews, Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Keith Dunatis, who found Marriott,
“It was a tough fight getting upstairs. We searched the bedroom areas and it was very hot, we knew immediately that no-one could have survived the fire. We began to feel around the walls and discovered him lying on the floor between the bed and the wall. I would say he had been in bed and tried to escape. As soon as I saw the body clearly I knew who it was. I used to be a fan, it’s difficult to put my feelings into words.
“The scene was horrific in that corner of the room. I saw him lying there and thought what a pity it all was. I deal with many fires but this one was like walking down memory lane. We managed to salvage all his guitars and musical equipment. I feel a bit upset, all the firemen do. It was like seeing part of our lives gone forever.” – (Fire Officer)”
The cause of fire
It is believed that the most likely cause of the fire was that soon after arriving home, jet-lagged and tired, in the early hours, Marriott had lit a cigarette while in bed and almost immediately fallen into a deep sleep.
Since Marriott was found lying on the floor between the bed and wall, investigators concluded that he tried unsuccessfully to escape after being awakened by the blaze. Disoriented and confused after inhaling large amounts of thick smoke, Marriott had turned left instead of right towards the bedroom door and safety.
He had been unable to rectify his mistake before being overcome with smoke. At the inquest, a verdict of accidental death by smoke inhalation was recorded. Marriott’s blood was found to contain quantities of Valium (taken earlier for flight nerves), alcohol and cocaine.
“He (Marriott) was certainly the most talented person I ever worked with. He was like a brother to me and I was devastated when he died. He always lived on the edge and I was always waiting for a ‘phone call to say that he had died but I never dreamed it would be under those circumstances. He’s never got the credit he deserves. He should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because he was the greatest white soul singer that England ever produced. I’m certain that if you caught the likes of Rod Stewart and Paul Rodgers in a private moment and asked them who was the main man, they would say Steve Marriott.” – Jerry Shirley
The Small Faces song “All or Nothing” was played as the requiem at Marriott’s funeral held on 30 April 1991, at the Harlow crematorium. Amongst the mourners, noted attendees included ex-Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones, as well as Peter Frampton, Joe Brown, PP Arnold, Terence Stamp, Jerry Shirley and Greg Ridley. Among those who sent wreaths were David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) and Rod Stewart and his then-wife Rachel Hunter. Nothing was heard from ex-Small Faces members Ian McLagan or Ronnie Lane.