One of the most original and promising pop careers of the 1970s came to a sudden end on September 16th, 1977, when Marc Bolan was killed in a car crash just a mile from his London home.
The 29-year-old had always feared he would die in a car crash and as a result had never learned or attempted to drive. He was killed instantly when the purple Mini driven by his girlfriend Gloria Jones careered off the road at a notorious accident blackspot, hitting a steel fence post before coming to rest against a sycamore tree.
Just two weeks short of his 30th birthday, Bolan had been on the brink of a UK comeback after spending the previous three years living in the USA and Monaco as a tax exile. The founder and frontman of T-Rex had re-formed the band with new members, released a new album and embarked on a UK tour.
He also raised his profile with a new, younger audience by presenting a successful six-part series for teenagers on Granada TV. Simply called "Marc", it featured his own performances and introduced new up-and-coming acts.
Acknowledged as one of the originators of glam rock, Bolan's heyday with T-Rex was in the first half of the 1970s, when they racked up a string of memorable hits starting with "Ride a White Swan" and including "Hot Love", "Get it On", "Metal Guru", "Children of the Revolution", "I Love to Boogie" and "Solid Gold Easy Action".
Bolan's earlier attempts to break into the music business had been heavily influenced by his hero Bob Dylan, but were largely unsuccessful. It is suggested his choice of stage name, 'Bolan', is a contraction of 'Bob Dylan'. But it was only after abandoning his earlier acoustic folk style and performing his own distinctive, unusual and occasionally bizarre material – accompanying himself on electric guitar – that he found fame.
Bolan married June Child in 1970 just as his career was taking off, but by 1975 their marriage was on the rocks because of Bolan's affair with his American backing singer and keyboard player Gloria Jones. She gave birth to their son, named Rolan Bolan, in September that year.
On the evening of his death Bolan had been out for a meal with Gloria and others at a restaurant in Mayfair. His manager, who was also with them, said Miss Jones had been drinking moderately at the restaurant, but didn't appear drunk. Although badly injured with a broken arm and jaw, she survived the crash and only learnt of Bolan's death several days later, on the day of his funeral, as she recovered in hospital.
Her brother, who had been travelling behind her Mini, said she had only been driving at 30mph when she failed to negotiate a small humpback bridge and lost control of the car. The police were not entirely convinced and Jones was later summonsed to appear in court charged with being unfit to drive through drink and driving a car in a dangerous condition. But by then she had returned to America and never returned to face the charges.
A few days after the crash, fans broke into Bolan's home in Richmond and stole most of his possessions, presumably as mementoes. His funeral was attended by many friends from the pop world including David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tony Visconti and Steve Harley. The site of the fatal car crash on Queen's Ride, part of the B306 in Barnes, quickly became an unofficial shrine to Bolan and is preserved and maintained to this day by the T-Rex Action Group.