Bon Scott: The AC/DC Frontman's Real-Life Highway To Hell

By | March 6, 2019

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Singer Bon Scott from Australian rock band AC/DC posed in a studio in London in August 1979. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

Think of the great frontmen of rock history -- Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, and others -- certainly AC/DC's Bon Scott makes any shortlist. Or he would, if his career had been allowed to run its course, but Scott died just five years into AC/DC's existence. In the mid-'70s, AC/DC was a hard-rocking band out of Australia, perhaps the hardest rocking band the world had ever seen. It was loud, fast, and bluesy brand of rock 'n roll that had no interest in druids, Hobbits or horror-movie psychosis. AC/DC had no interest in power ballads or gothic mood pieces. They did straight-ahead rock songs about bad behavior, bad attitude, partying hard, playing loud, and plenty of sex and AC/DC's persona was essentially that of AC/DC's Bon Scott.

Scott is best known for a handful of hard-rock anthems, including "Highway To Hell," the title track off the 1979 album that would be his last. "T.N.T.," "Let There Be Rock," "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)," and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" are other highlights. AC/DC's biggest-selling album, and one of the biggest rock albums of all time, Back In Black, was made after Bon Scott's death, with a new vocalist -- if Scott had lived to sing on that album (or something like it), and the ones that followed, who knows where he'd rank? As it is, we're left with a partial resume -- just a handful of albums and real hits -- and one of the more disturbing rock star death-stories you'll ever hear. 

A Scottish Rogue Down Under

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Sadly, Bon Scott is more of a rock 'n roll trivia question than hero these days, and his death is hard to romanticize. It was more or less his own damn fault -- unless, of course, you believe the conspiracy theories, of which there are a few. What actually killed Bon Scott? It might have been asphyxiation, or it might have been alcohol poisoning -- it was most certainly "death by misadventure," in the coroner's words. It's a British legal term for dying by accident in the course of taking voluntary risks. In other words -- he didn't need to die. Let’s look at the maladjusted, misadventurous, hard rocking life of AC/DC’s first frontman, Bon Scott, on his highway to hell. 

Ronald Belford Scott was born in Scotland in 1946, but his family moved to Australia when he was just six years old. As the new kid in a new school in a new country, Scott stuck out. His classmates made fun of his thick Scottish accent and threatened him if he didn’t learn to ‘talk right.’ Proud and defiant, that made Scott cling to his Scottish accent even more. Soon, the teasing subsided and his school chums gave him a nickname that would stick with him for life – the Bonny Scot, or Bon Scott.