29 Years Ago: Def Leppard Drummer Rick Allen Loses Arm in Car Crash
In one of the scariest and ultimately inspiring stories in recent rock history, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen nearly lost his life and did lose his left arm in a car accident on Dec. 31, 1984.
The crash occurred when Allen was speeding on a country road near Sheffield, England. He misjudged a curve, crashed through a stone wall and flipped his car several times. Wearing an improperly fastened seat belt, the musician was ejected from the vehicle, although as he told the BBC, “I think my arm was left in the car.” A medical professional who fortunately lived nearby packed Allen’s arm in ice, but attempts to re-attach it to his body failed due to infection.
Although he was lucky to even survive the crash, Allen’s position in one of rock’s biggest bands — still riding high on the back of their 1983 commercial breakthrough ‘Pyromania’ — was obviously in jeopardy. Amazingly, neither Allen nor his bandmates gave up, with the musician realizing in the hospital he could still play the drum parts to many of his favorite songs with his feet.
With his bandmates’ full support, Allen set about learning to play on a customized drum kit that allowed him to trigger the snare drum with the foot normally used for his hi-hat pedals. Just 20 months later, in August of 1986, after a test run at a small pub, he triumphantly returned to the stage with Def Leppard at the ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival at Castle Donington.
A year later, the group released their long-awaited follow-up ‘Hysteria,’ which amazingly, not only solidified their place in the rock hierarchy, but sold even better than ‘Pyromania.’ They remain among rock’s most popular concert draws to this day, and since an inspiring visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2006, Allen has dedicated himself to helping war veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of incurring injuries similar to his own.
As Allen told ABC News in 2012, “I didn’t know what my life would be like after that terrible day. It was the darkest time in my life … My desire is to encourage a support system for warriors, de-stigmatize PTSD, share their stories and offers alternative ways to pave the road to resiliency and health.”
Watch Rick Allen Discuss His Accident on ‘Fighting Back’