In July 2013 while on holiday in London for a few days I walked from Hyde Park down into Chelsea. A short walk away from the buzzing Sloane Square I found a quiet, short, cobbled dead-end street with a few houses on it. It seemed a little sorry for itself and I wasn’t sure I’d got the right place. Surely such a legend would rent somewhere a little less threadbare? This was it though. I’d watched a short television programme about Judy's pitiful death at a house here. I’d paused the documentary and printed the screen when it showed the mews house where she’d died. It was before me now. In the documentary it looked empty and unloved and it didn’t look much better now.
I took a few photos. People sat outside a café on the main road looked on and must have thought I was daft saluting away at the camera but they probably didn’t know a legend’s life flickered out here.
In 1969 Judy was 47 and her health was deteriorating. That year she’d done her last concert in Copenhagen and married her fifth husband musician Mickey Deans around the corner at Chelsea Register Office. They were renting this house on Cadogan Lane. On Saturday 21st June 1969 they argued. Judy stormed out and – this being nothing new - her husband went to bed. The next morning he took a telephone call for Judy but he couldn’t find her. When he found the bathroom door was locked he assumed the worse. Knowing what he’d find he climbed out on to the roof and looked into the bathroom window. He saw Judy was sat on the toilet motionless. Her head was slumped forward and her hands were on her knees. He climbed in through the window and found blood had dribbled from her mouth and nose. She had been dead for about eight hours.
At the inquest the coroner said the cause of death was "an incautious self-overdose" as there was no solid evidence to suggest suicide. The autopsy showed drugs had been ingested over a long period of time rather than in a single dose. She was taken to New York City where about 20,000 people lined the streets for hours to enter the funeral chapel to pay their respects. After the funeral she was interred in a crypt in the community mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in New York. It was noted that on the day Judy died a tremendous tornado tore through Kansas where Dorothy was once blown away to Oz.
As I stood outside the dowdy house I wondered if any of Judy’s three children had walked across these cobbles to see where their mum died. There’s not much to see but it had been worth visiting to see where a legend’s life tapered to an end.
In 2019 I visited again and found the original house had been demolished and replaced (please scroll down the see the update.)
Update August 2019
I visited the house again in 2019. It had been demolished and replaced but there was plaque outside. Three flutes for bouquets hadn't reaped a single flower there but I'm not surprised as you'd only go up that street if you lived there or knew about Judy.
I took a few photos from Pont Street and a man approached. "Are you the man delivering 250 fat balls for birds?" he asked. No made him walk away without a word. A bronzed couple on rented bikes stopped to work out where Hyde Park was. They had American accents so I asked if they were American or Canadian. Their bronze was from a Californian sun and they were on holiday. As you can't get much more American than Elvis or Michael Jackson or Judy Garland I pointed out the house where she'd died and they couldn't quite believe it. "Aww, this surrre is meant to be isn't it?" the woman said, "Us herrre and you herrre." I gave her my card and said she can look up Ava Gardner's place of death. "In American you'd be what's called a nerrrd," she said (I've been called much worse) and they set off not heading in the direction of Hyde Park. They've been in touch since and I now clog up their emails with my wordy newsletters every week or two.
The original house being demolished...