Who was the “Rosie” in AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie?
Rosie was a Tasmanian mountain woman who had started turning up at gigs — Clinton Walker, Highway to Hell.
She ain’t exactly pretty, ain’t exactly small. Forty-two, 39, 56. You could say she’s got it all. — “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
A whole lot of AC/DC fans are well acquainted with the titular temptress in the rock band’s 1977 song “Whole Lotta Rosie.” The energetic lady, so the story goes, weighs 19 stone (or 266 pounds or 121 kg) and can perform “all around the clock.” It’s not exactly a love song, more a survival story about the poor bloke underneath.
“Whole Lotta Rosie” has become a live staple for AC/DC since its premiere in February 1977. According to setlist.fm, they have played the bawdy ballad 1,644 times, a tally exceeded only by “The Jack” (1,745), another tale of woe about a good-time woman, this one with venereal disease.
As with other classic works of art, such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” mystery long surrounded the subject. The band and various associates never shied away from discussing Rosie and her attributes, but no one seemed to know much about her. She was consigned to history as an ugly groupie who seduced singer and lyricist Bon Scott who, in turn, relished testing the limits of depravity.
Fast-forward to the present, and AC/DC biographer Jesse Fink concluded earlier this month after an exhaustive investigation that Rosie was Rosemaree Garcia, an Australian sex worker who died of a heroin overdose in 1979.
“Rosie had a very sad life,” he quotes a female friend of Rosie’s as saying. “[She] became a heroin addict and prostitute to support her habit. She saw Bon for about six months before he went to England . . . She was a big girl: tall and heavy. She was part [Pacific] Islander on her dad’s side and her mum was tall, if I remember correctly . . . I never weighed or measured her and no, she wasn’t pretty.”
While Jesse Fink did the heavy lifting — you can read his thesis here — there are some new details and small clarifications that I can reveal.
Rosie died in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran on March 2, 1979, aged 22, by which time she was known as Rose-Maree Carroll (note the hyphen), having adopted her mother’s maiden name. That same month, by the way, AC/DC gathered in London to record what would be Bon Scott’s final album, Highway to Hell. (Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning in February 1980.) It is not known if news of her death filtered through to them.
According to her death certificate, she had suffered from bilateral pneumonia, respiratory failure and kidney damage for weeks, maybe more. “This is septicemia, a generalized infection,” a doctor explained to me. She said it was not possible to conclude that Rosie died of an overdose without seeing a toxicology report. “She may have had seizures, vomiting, respiratory depression from the drug and developed an infection,” the doctor added. “The fact that she had double pneumonia is an indication that the patient was debilitated.”
The final blow was shock to her organs when blood was unable to reach her heart because of increased air pressure on her chest. Tension pneumothorax, as it’s known, usually occurs in a clinical setting, suddenly and often fatally. The death certificate did not list an address in Prahran. She lived at 26 Crimea Street in the adjacent suburb of St. Kilda, a bayside area that was run-down at the time.
Rosie’s occupation was listed somewhat diplomatically as “home duties.” She was survived by her parents. Her mother Marlene died in 1991; I’m not sure about her father. She had siblings, and at least one niece who has claimed to possess a photo of Bon and Rosie in bed together.
Further research indicates Rosie was cremated on March 6 at Fawkner Memorial Park, in the north of Melbourne, and the ashes returned to her family.
Rosie’s demise is at odds with her rich heritage. She was born in the Tasmanian city of Launceston, hailing from a respected family that settled in the insular state two centuries ago. She was actually of Spanish descent through her father, and likely Irish descent through her mother. Remarkably, she may not even be the most famous person in her family. According to a family member’s obituary, her great-great-great grandfather, Alexander (Alejandro) Garcia, was born in Spain but emigrated to England at a young age and fought under the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Garcia was subsequently posted to St. Helena where he guarded the exiled Frenchman.
“Whole Lotta Rosie” appears on every AC/DC live album. Concertgoers are usually treated to a giant inflatable just in case some have missed the point. What’s your preference – Bon Scott in 1977? Or Brian Johnson in 2009?
I must admit to a special affinity for the latter video, having seen AC/DC the week beforehand in Brazil, and also having seen the Rolling Stones several times at the River Plate Stadium. Either way, vale Rosie, a true Aussie battler.
NOTE: If you liked this wee item, try my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
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