The Beatles went public with their split in April 1970, and Mal Evans’s lifeline for seven years was now gone. But he tried to move on.
Mal had discovered the power pop band Badfinger a few years earlier and had helped them get signed to their first record deal. The band became his new Beatles, and he threw himself into making them a success. He produced most of their first album, Magic Christian Music, including their hit single, “No Matter What,” and also assisted with producing their second LP, No Dice. But his close involvement with the group drew the ire of the band’s manager, Bill Collins, who felt threatened by Mal’s presence. Collins was able to oust his former friend from the band’s inner circle.
Mal’s talents as a producer were questionable. Although no mention of the quality of his production with Badfinger was found, he produced a track for a British band called Rupert’s People in which one reviewer commented, “The rather muddy, distant feel to the song proved that Mal was no producer.” He also helmed Who drummer Keith Moon’s album Two Sides of the Moon in 1974 but was fired halfway through the sessions because of the poor quality of the recordings.
Mal’s failure as a producer shattered what little confidence he had, and he turned once again to his former employers, joining some of them as they, too, went through difficult times. He went on drinking binges with both Ringo and John, and he accompanied John, his son Julian, and companion May Pang to Disneyland during John’s exile from Yoko Ono.
The downward spiral continued. Mal separated from his wife, Lili, and moved to Los Angeles to try to find work in the recording industry. His wife asked for a divorce in December 1975. Then on Jan. 4, 1976, Mal, who had been drinking and taking Valium, became despondent, so much so that his girlfriend, Fran Hughes, called John Hoernie, a writer with whom Mal was collaborating on his memoirs.
Hoernie said he found Mal crying, ‘really doped up and groggy’. Mal told him, ‘Please make sure you and Joanne [Lenard, Hoernie’s assistant on the book] finish the book.’ Mal and John Hoernie went to an upstairs bedroom and in the course of Mal’s incoherent conversation, he picked up an unloaded 30.30 rifle. A scuffle ensued, but Mal was a big, powerful man and Hoernie was unable to take the weapon away from him.
The police were summoned to Mal’s apartment, located at 8122 West 4th Street in Los Angeles. Fran called the police and told them, “My old man has a gun and has taken Valium and is totally screwed up.” Four policemen arrived shortly afterward and two of them, David D. Krempa and Robert E. Brannon, went to the upstairs room.
According to the police report, when Mal saw the police officers he turned and pointed the rifle at them. Lieutenant Charles Higbie of the LAPD robbery and homicide division said, ‘Officers directed him to put down the rifle.’ ‘He refused to put down the rifle.’ The cops fired six shots at him, four of which struck Mal, killing him instantly. Mal was an honorary sheriff of Los Angeles County.
Singer and friend Harry Nilsson had Mal’s body cremated, and a small ceremony was held in Los Angeles on January 7. His ashes got lost in the mail on the way back to England and were eventually recovered and returned to his family.
It’s unknown what set Mal Evans off. He was five days away from delivering his final manuscript, tentatively titled Living with the Beatles Legend, to Grosset and Dunlap. He was also planning to produce a new group made up of some members of Badfinger; recording was supposed to have started that day.
“Mal was a big lovable bear of a roadie; he’d go over the top occasionally, but we all knew him and never had any problems,” Paul said when asked about Mal’s death. “Had I been there I would have been able to say, ‘Mal, don’t be silly.’ In fact, any of his friends could have talked him out of it without any sweat, because he was not a nutter.”
Later, George recounted, “[Mal] loved his job, he was brilliant, and I often regret that he got killed. Right to this day I keep thinking, ‘Mal, where are you?’ If only he was out there now. He was such good fun, but he was also very helpful: eh could do everything…He was one of those people who loved what he was doing and didn’t have any problem about service. Everybody serves somebody in one way or another, but some people don’t like the idea. Mal had no problem with it. He was very humble, but not without dignity; it was not belittling for him to do what we wanted, so he was perfect for us because that was what we needed.”
Laura Gross of KCSN radio, who had interviewed Mal just five weeks earlier, said, “Ask anyone who knew him, or talked to him. He was a fabulous person and I think you can tell it from his own words. He’s gone and it is a terrible fact that we have to accept. But I know he will live on in the memories of those of us who knew him and loved him.”