What Really Happened To These Famous Groupies?

The period of rock music from the late 1960s to the early 1980s is etched into the collective memory as a high-water mark in popular culture, notable for pillars like shredding guitar licks, preening and shirtless singers wailing on arena stages, and throngs of excited groupies waiting backstage. Categorically female, young, and often underage, these hardcore fans would meet their rock idols after shows on tour stops, or follow them around on tour as subservient companions. Their stories are sometimes deeply disturbing; since some groupies were not old enough to legally give consent, their experiences with adult rock stars can be interpreted as sexual assault and exploitation, even if the women did not describe them as such. The specters of substance use and obvious power imbalances also raise questions about the conduct of the musicians involved.

The women wore the somewhat derisive "groupie" label with pride, but why? Well, for a start, they got to be part of the exciting and glamorous world of rock 'n' roll at a big moment in its history. And very frequently, they got to be intimate with the people making a generation's classic music. After '70s-style hard rock fell out of favor and other forms of popular music replaced it, the culture surrounding the scene faded, too. As the rock stars moved on with their lives, so too did this seedy golden age of groupies. The women took with them their memories and experiences into the next chapters of their lives and did plenty of interesting things in the decades that followed. Here's what happened next for some of the most famous groupies, the ones so closely identified with rock's biggest era.

Sable Starr

Among the musicians and hangers-on who frequented popular early '70s Los Angeles haunts like the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and the Rainbow Bar and Grill, Sable Shields, who went by the name Sable Starr, was troublingly and accurately referred to as a "baby groupie." Using a fake ID to gain entry to shows, the extremely underage Starr was statutorily abused by many rock stars — she was coerced by members of Roxy Music and the J. Geils Band, and entered into relationships with the much older David Bowie, Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls, and Iggy Pop, who had a particularly bad reputation in the music world. Starr considered her encounter with Randy California of Spirit to be the loss of her virginity — she was 12 years old at the time.

Starr would tire of the rock 'n' roll world and moved out of Los Angeles to the relatively quiet Reno, Nevada. She worked there at a local casino for at least the final 16 years of her life, dying from a cancerous brain tumor in 2009 at the age of 51.

Connie Hamzy

At the age of 15, Connie Hamzy — a resident of Little Rock, Arkansas — arrived hours early to a Steppenwolf concert, since her mother didn't want to deal with traffic or parking around show time. Backstage, Hamzy met the band's drummer, Jerry Edmonton, who exploited her in what would be the first of many illegal encounters for the teenage Hamzy that would lead to her becoming a highly active rock associate. 

"I was determined to become a famous groupie," Hamzy told Little Rock television station THV11 in 2019. By the time she was age 17, she was name-checked in Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band," with lyrics mentioning a trip to Little Rock where the band experienced "Sweet, Sweet Connie doin' her act." Throughout the '70s, '80s, and beyond, Hamzy romanced members of Eagles, Van Halen, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, and more.

When she wasn't hanging out with rock bands as they rolled through town, Hamzy worked as a substitute teacher in Little Rock for more than a decade, until the administration got wind of her groupie activities. "I think after a while the heat was just too much for 'em," Hamzy said. She claims to have been engaged twice — with the rings to show for it — but never married. Hamzy died at age 66 in August 2021, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Connie was a character," cousin Rita Ann Lawrence said. "She was very colorful. She was always in the news."

Tawny Kitaen

When she was about 16 years old and attending high school in La Jolla, California, Tawny Kitaen joined the world of rock star support systems, moving in with her boyfriend — guitarist Robbin Crosby — and serving as the hairdresser and stylist for his band, Phenomenon. That group would turn into '80s hair metal band Ratt, and Kitaen helped promote the group as the cover model for its first two records, the "Ratt EP" and "Out of the Cellar" album. Just after Ratt found major success, Kitaen and Crosby split up, and she hit the road with Van Halen at the behest of her new boyfriend, the band's tour manager Pete Angelus.

Kitaen parlayed her experience posing on rock album covers into posing in rock videos. She factors prominently in the success and the untold truth of Whitesnake, starring in the clips for the band's hits including "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love." She'd be briefly married to Whitesnake singer David Coverdale and would give acting a try, notably co-starring in the Tom Hanks movie "Bachelor Party" and the sitcom "The New WKRP in Cincinnati." In May 2021, Kitaen died at home in Newport Beach, California. An autopsy indicated that the groupie-turned-actor died from heart disease triggered by prescription drug abuse and hardened arteries. She was 59.

Cleo Odzer

The public fascination with the subculture of groupies within the larger subculture of countercultural rock n' roll was such that in 1969, Earth Records released "The Groupies," an audio documentary about the phenomenon. The LP consisted wholly of interviews with the most prominent and well-known of the women who hung out offstage with rock musicians. Cleo Odzer was profiled and interviewed on the record and in Time. "It's all one big ego trip," Odzer said. Identified as an 18-year-old doppelgänger of Jane Fonda, Odzer's most famous rock star romance was with Keith Emerson of progressive rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, to whom she was engaged but did not marry.

After participating in those anthropological studies of groupies as they happened, Odzer went on to focus her academic curiosity on such subjects. She earned a doctorate in anthropology from New York's New School for Social Research after researching sex workers in Thailand, and later wrote one of the first books ever published about sex in the age of the internet. Odzer moved to Goa, India, home to a large population of American and European expatriates and published a lot of material on anthropology and human sexuality. The ex-groupie and academic died in March 2001 at the age of 50 from AIDS-related medical issues.

Barbara Cope

Barbara Cope started attending rock shows in the mid-1960s in Dallas then spent many years on and off the road as a member of multiple rock bands' entourages. Cope entertained a lot of musicians in her late teens and early twenties and became a legend among major male rock stars due to her specialty. Cope, cryptically known as the "Butter Queen," "did loads of wonderful things with butter," Keith Richards said in "33 1/3: The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street." The Butter Queen never divulged the exact details or manner of her method. "Those who know, know, and those who don't, wish they did," Cope said on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1987, adding that she'd probably allowed about 2,000 musicians to be privy to her very dairy ways, including members of Traffic, the Beatles, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, who mention heading into Dallas to hang out with "the Butter Queen" in its 1972 song "Rip This Joint."

Cope retired from touring and the groupie lifestyle in the early 1970s at the age of 22. She lived quietly in Dallas, occasionally attending rock concerts but not really participating in backstage activities. In January 2018, the home Cope shared with her mother caught fire. Neighbors extracted both women from the blaze, and the elder of the two survived. Cope didn't — she was 67 years old.

Cathy Smith

Cathy Smith abandoned her education at age 16 in 1963, and after catching a band called the Hawks at a Hamilton, Ontario, bar, she fell hard for the drummer, Levon Helm. The band would rename itself the Band, and Smith would give birth at age 17 to a child she placed into adoption. Helm was likely the father but denied parentage to the child born to a teenager, although Smith was also abused by Hawks members Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. She left the orbit of that group for a personal relationship with married singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and a musical partnership with Hoyt Axton, writing songs and singing backup with his band.

While playing with Axton, Smith began taking heroin and cocaine and then moved on from fraternizing with celebrities to selling them drugs. Smith played a role in the tragic death of John Belushi. On March 5, 1982, Smith personally injected Belushi with the potent and voluminous mixture of heroin and cocaine that would kill him at the age of 33. Interviewed by police and then released from custody, Smith would be charged for her role in the comic's death after admitting culpability in an interview. "I killed John Belushi. I didn't mean to, but I am responsible," Smith told the National Enquirer. Re-arrested, Smith agreed to a plea bargain and she pleaded guilty to drug and involuntary manslaughter charges. She served 15 months in prison and was deported to Canada upon her parole, where she settled in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, and gave anti-drug diversion lectures. Smith died in 2020 at age 73.

Cynthia Albritton

At the height of its popularity in 1977, makeup-clad theatrical metal band Kiss released the album "Love Gun," which included the track "Plaster Caster," a celebration of a woman who utilizes a very hands-on process to make molds of male genitalia. The song is about a real person with the nickname "Plaster Caster": artist and rock n' roll groupie Cynthia Albritton. While studying art at the University of Illinois in 1968, Albritton went backstage at a Jimi Hendrix concert and asked the guitarist if she could make a plaster re-creation of his main reproductive organ. Albritton used the same process, employing dental molding compound, to create reproductions of many male rock star's erect private parts, including members of Journey, the Dead Kennedys, and the MC5. Albritton kept up her sexually-charged art practices through the 1980s, and she'd later show off her work in a documentary and at many gallery shows devoted to her work.

Albritton ultimately retired back home in Chicago, and in April 2022 she died from reasons not disclosed publicly. The former groupie was 74 years old.

Pennie Lane Trumbull

While some groupies desired to be around famous men, a woman named Pennie Lane (her real name: Pennie Trumbull) adopted the lifestyle because she just plain loved everything about rock music. She served as the leader of a groupie collective that called themselves The Flying Garter Girls, and they enjoyed the music and company of many major bands of the early '70s.

In 1974, Trumbull realized that three years of tour life was quite enough, and at age 20, returned to her hometown of Portland. She enrolled at California State University, Northridge, her tuition fully paid for through a fencing scholarship. Trumbull continued in school, earning an advanced degree and worked in marketing in California, fitting in a 10-year marriage along the way. She opened Pennielane, a lamb farm on an island outside of Portland, as well as a winery. When filmmaker Cameron Crowe turned his experiences as a teenage music journalist in the early 1970s into the 2000 movie "Almost Famous," he based the character of Penny Lane, an enchanting groupie or self-styled "band-aid" portrayed by Kate Hudson, on his old friend, Trumbull. According to Crowe, production studio DreamWorks gave Trumbull a handsome sum for her life rights, which she planned to use to establish a retirement home for rock musicians.

Bebe Buell

Upon her high school graduation, Bebe Buell moved from her hometown in Virginia to New York City and found work as a model. Living a fast-paced life in an entertainment capital granted her both proximity and access to rock stars. The first four men she dated were all prominent male musicians: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, and Todd Rundgren. The latter relationship went long-term, both professionally and personally. They wrote songs together, and Rundgren connected Buell with the photographer who would capture the images for her 1974 "Playmate of the Month" pictorial for Playboy. Years into her partnership with Rundgren, Buell met Steven Tyler's Aerosmith and when Rundgren was off on tour in 1976, she retrieved the singer when he was too drunk to get home and they had an affair. Nine months later, Buell gave birth to a daughter, actor and model Liv Tyler, who realized at age 11 the untold truth of Rundgren — that he wasn't her father, but Tyler was.

While raising a daughter, Buell moved from the periphery of the rock world into the creative forefront. Beginning in 1981, Buell released a string of singles and albums, including "Covers Girl," "Gargoyle," "Bored Baby," "Sugar," and "Baring It All."

Chris O'Dell

Under a broad definition, Chris O'Dell qualifies as a groupie. While her romantic entanglements with rockers were brief, she was constantly around musicians backstage, at their homes, and in record company offices in the capacity as an employee or manager. Born and raised in Oklahoma, O'Dell befriended the Beatles' press agent Derek Taylor, who convinced her to move to London in the early 1970s after her high school graduation. She landed an office job with the Beatles' self-run company, Apple Records, where she earned the trust of Ringo Starr and George Harrison. The latter's 1973 B-side, "Miss O'Dell," is an affectionate ode to that O'Dell.

O'Dell helped connect Starr and Harrison with Leon Russell when he was recording an album in London, and the pianist and the label worker became a couple for a while. O'Dell moved in with Russell in California for a little while, and he wrote "Pisces Apple Lady" and "Hummingbird" about her. When the romance fizzled out, O'Dell returned to London and became a concert tour for major acts. Over the decades, she's run things on the road for the Rolling Stones, Santana, and Bob Dylan, who had another career that might surprise you. O'Dell wound down her long career in entertainment working with other bands in various ways, including Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Boston, and the Electric Light Orchestra.

Pamela Des Barres

Perhaps the quintessential groupie of the 1960s and 1970s, Pamela Des Barres made her place in rock history known to millions because she's based her accomplished professional life upon her recollections of making friends, creating music, and getting intimate with some of the 20th century's musical luminaries. Hanging out on Los Angeles's rock club-heavy Sunset Strip, Des Barres cozied up to many rock stars. Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, whom you wouldn't want to meet in real life, and the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger competed for her affections, and she enjoyed a close relationship with the Who's Keith Moon. By 1969, she'd moved into music herself, and Miss Pamela, as she was known, became the central figure in the GTOS, a one-album-wonder of a rock group assembled by Frank Zappa and populated entirely by L.A. groupies.

From 1978 to 1991, Des Barres was married to Michael Des Barres of the glam rock bands Silverhead and Detective, and she reinvented herself as a storyteller and chronicler of rock history with an emphasis on the groupie experience. She's since published four books, including "I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie" and "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up." She also hosts the "Pajama Party!" podcast, where she interviews veteran musicians and fellow former scene-sters, runs workshops for women writers, and conducts tours of Los Angeles's rock history hotspots.

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