It may sound gruesome, but some of your favorite past and present rock stars faced adversity in their lives when they lost a part of their body. But they kept rocking! Just as nothing could stop them from their rock ’n’ roll dreams, maybe you’ll find some inspiration in their stories.
5 Paul Stanley (Kiss)
Under all that makeup and glam, frontman Paul Stanley of KISS was hiding a secret for many years. Born with a rare congenital ear deformity called Grade 3 Microtia, Stanley’s outer ear was underdeveloped and he was mostly deaf in that ear.
It was not until 1982, when Stanley was 30, that he had five surgeries to reconstruct his ear. He became good friends with his surgeon, who passed away in 2017. “My dear friend Dr. Frederic Rueckert has died at 95,” Stanley tweeted. “He truly changed my life when he constructed my right ear from my rib. God Bless You.”
“I had nothing more than a stump on the right side of my head, and my ear canal was also closed, so I was deaf,” lamented Stanley. “That left me unable to tell the direction of sound, and more importantly, made it incredibly difficult for me to understand people when there was any kind of background noise or conversation. These problems would lead me to instinctively avoid social situations.”
Stanley chronicled his ear struggles, including the taunting and bullying from his schoolmates, in his 2014 book, Face The Music: A Life Exposed.
4 Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
Tony Iommi, legendary guitarist for the iconic founders of Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath, was working in a sheet metal factory when he was just 17, when he lost the tips of his ring and middle fingers on his right hand in a terrible accident. That day, which was set to be his last day on the job, he was working on a big machine that cut metal sheets with a device much like a guillotine. With virtually no training, Iommi was manually sliding the metal sheets along the conveyor belt when the “guillotine” caught Iommi’s two fingertips and sliced them off.
Depressed and believing he would never play the guitar again, Iommi was visited in the hospital by his boss, the factory manager, who told him a story about a jazz guitarist named Django Reinhardt, who played guitar with only two fingers after losing his others in an accident. This spurred Iommi on to try to play again, fashioning fake plastic fingertips out of soap bottles, and designing his own lighter strings so he could press them down easier.
While the lighter strings and the looser tuning made it easier for Iommi to play, it also gave his guitar a heavier sound, pioneering an entirely totally new version of rock ‘n’ roll called Heavy Metal.
3 Jerry Garcia
Any Deadhead worth his weight in Patchouli oil knows that guitarist Jerry Garcia was missing his right middle finger. But, many believe (due to an erroneous urban legend), that Garcia had cut off his own finger as a way to avoid the draft. Not true. Jerry lost his finger in a childhood mishap when his older brother Tiff accidentally axed off his finger while they were chopping firewood at a campground. Sadly, the finger was forgotten at the site when his parents raced him to the hospital.
Garcia was philosophical about the experience, stating, “We were up in the mountains at the time, and my father had to drive to Santa Cruz, maybe about thirty miles, and my mother had my hand all wrapped up in a towel. And I remember it didn’t hurt or anything. It was just a sort of buzzing sensation. I don’t associate any pain with it. For me, the traumatic part of it was after the doctor amputated it, I had this big cast and bandages on it. And I thought for sure my finger was under there. I just knew it was. And that was the worst part, when the bandage came off. ‘Oh, my God, my finger’s gone.’ But after that, it was okay, because as a kid, if you have a few little things that make you different, it’s a good score. So I got a lot of mileage out of having a missing finger when I was a kid.”
2 Leslie West (Mountain)
Leslie West of Mountain suffered from Type 2 diabetes for a long time, eventually leading to complications that required him to have the lower half of his right leg amputated.
In June 2011, while flying to Mississippi for a show, West’s leg began to swell and his foot went septic. It was decided that his leg needed to beamputated.
“The doctors tried for two days to save it to no avail. The decision to amputate was one that was necessary to save his life as the infection was spreading throughout his body,” said his wife, Jenni West.
After the amputation, West began playing shows in a wheelchair.
1 Rick Allen (Def Leppard)
Rick Allen of Def Leppard has a miraculous fairy tale ending to his story of losing an arm. Allen, the band’s drummer, lost control of his Corvette on New Year’s Eve 1984 and crashed into a stone wall near his home in Sheffield, England. He was thrown from the car through the sun roof and his left arm was torn off.
Initially, the arm was re-attached, but infection caused it to be amputated.
Allen says, “Coming round in hospital after my accident, I was told that I would be there for at least six months but I had a lot of visitors including Mutt Lange, our producer, who lit a fire under my ass, and some Hare Krishnas who brought really healthy food each day. In the end I left within a month.”
Just 20 months after the accident, Allen rejoined his bandmates at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, playing a customized e-drum kit made by Pete Harley. At the show, there was a groundswell of energy from the audience, when lead singer Joe Elliott introduced Allen.
He says, “The roar of the crowd was so loud, I burst into tears. I thought, ‘Shit… if I cry on these pedals will I get electrocuted?’ Thirty years on, that day remains in the top five moments of my life. Each time I’ve returned to Donington I’ve realised that it saw me become a man.”