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Def Leppard Tour History Fan Archive.
Rick Allen's 1984 Car Accident 31st Anniversary - Part Three

Thursday, 31st December 2015

Rick Allen 1986.
Screenshot by dltourhistory

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash 31 years ago today on New Year's Eve 1984.

Read part three of his story.

Rick, who turned 52 last month, was driving back from the Ladybower Reservoir outside of Sheffield, England on the A57 road with girlfriend Miriam Barendsen when he was involved in an accident.

Rick lost control of his left hand drive Corvette and hit a wall. His seatbelt came undone and took off his left arm as he was thrown through the sunroof. Luckily a local nurse and a policeman passing by stopped to help. According to Phil Collen in 2013 the pair later married each other (they both appeared in the 1998 Behind The Music show).

Surgeons managed to reattach the arm but sadly on 4th January 1985 it had to be amputated. He left hospital on 29th January 1985 and was back with the band at Wisseloord Studios in Holland on 22nd February. Rick managed to recover to play drums again within 3 months of his accident and has continued to be the drummer with Def Leppard to the present day.

Read Part Three of the story containing excerpts from a 2007 Mojo Magazine feature on the Hysteria album. This article had a few errors (details/dates of Rick waking up/band going back to work...etc) but contains newer band quotes from 2007.

The Accident - Mojo Magazine 2007 Article/Interviews Quotes


When their 21-year-old drummer lost his left arm in a near-fatal car crash, it should have been all over for Def Leppard. Instead, they went on to make hard rock's equivalent to Thriller. The cost? Two million pounds and the eventual death of their guitarist. But even that couldn't stop them.

He didn't see the sharp curve in the road until it was too late. Speeding along a country lane just off the A57 near Sheffield, Rick Allen was taking his Dutch girlfriend Miriam for a spin in his new Corvette Stingray. On this clement New Year's Eve afternoon in 1984, he was in a mood to celebrate. Eight weeks earlier he'd turned 21 and, as the drummer in Def Leppard, he was also a member of the most successful British hard rock act to hit America since Led Zeppelin, thanks to the six million album sales racked up by their most recent album, Pyromania. Now, he was home for Christmas.

As he hit the bend, Allen lost control of the car, the vehicle smashing through a dry-stone wall and rolling over several times. When the car came to a shuddering halt Miriam was trapped in the passenger seat but uninjured. Allen, whose seatbelt had not been properly secured, was thrown from the car. His left arm, severed at the shoulder, remained in the vehicle. When the ambulance crew reached him the first words heard from a medic were; "You're still alive!".

Twenty-two years on, Rick remembers very little about the crash itself. What remains etched in his mind is the immediate aftermath: those moments when his body went into shock and entered a different state of consciousness, what he calls "an ancient part of myself".

Choosing his words carefully he says, "The only way I can describe it is that you go into a kind of survival mode where all your normal senses disappear. Whatever consciousness is there, all it's bothered about is surviving. Everything else is shut down. You just go to this place where there's no pain, and in that place you're able to decide whether you're better off dying or staying here."

"It's not a decision you make alone. In that state it's like you're in a communion with people that you know or have known in the past. You're disembodied, almost - it's like realising that they physical body and the consciousness are two separate entities. As I was taken to the hospital, I remember being above the ambulance and observing the whole scene, and then coming back in, a kind of integration."

It was at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield that Allen's condition was stabilised and his arm reattached. The first person to arrive at the accident scene had been a midwife who lived nearby; she had packed the arm in ice that she had ready for her New Year party. Allen's family rushed to the hospital and called the band's manager Peter Mensch, who relayed the news to the other members of Def Leppard.

Singer Joe Elliott was at his house in Cobham, Surrey, where his family were staying over Christmas. "After Mensch called I was just bawling my eyes out." he recalls. "My Granny just didn't understand what was going on. My Dad put his hands on my shoulders and stuck this whisky in front of me and said, 'Drink it'."

Guitarists Steve Clark and Phil Collen caught the first available flight from Paris, where they shared an apartment. Bassist Rick Savage was in Sheffield and was first to the hospital. He remembers exactly the blunt words Mensch said to him: "Your drummer's just severed his arm in a car crash." "It took a while to compute exactly what he'd said, I went numb." Savage admits. "But my first reaction was, That's it, he's finished..."

On January 1st, 1985, Joe Elliott was sitting at Rick Allen's bedside with Rick's brother Robert. Rick had been administered morphine and was slipping in and out of consciousness. There was thick bandaging around his left arm. Robert said to Joe, "Touch his hand, it's warm." When he did, he felt sick.

The following day [Note - it was actually on 4th January], surgeons had to remove the left arm - the wound had become infected with gangrene. "That was my lowest point," Joe says. Elliott kept reminding himself that it could have been worse. Rick had come close to dying, and during the first 24 hours after the accident, it was feared he'd loose both arms. Now, while the doctors were optimistic, the band were not.

"I could envisage the meeting," says Rick Savage. "We would call it quits. We've had a short career that's ended up being successful. Or...fuck, do we get another drummer? None of us wanted that."

On January 4th, Rick regained full consciousness. "I'll be fine," he told Joe. In his heart he didn't believe it. "I didn't think I'd be able to do anything again," he now admits. But with his blessing the band went back to work without him. The next day, the four shell-shocked band members returned to Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland, to try and continue working on the follow-up to Pyromania. Two days later, they received the first of several phone calls from drummers requesting an audition. "Some American guy," Joe sneers. "Hey man, I heard you need a new drummer. Well, I got two words for you pal: Fuck off!.". Whatever the future held for Rick Allen and Def Leppard, Joe Elliott was certain of one thing: "Rock was in the band until he said he wasn't."

In the second week of January, Mutt visited Rick at the hospital. They spoke at length about the accident, about Rick's projected recovery, how he could rebuild his life. Then they talked about playing drums. Rick demonstrated how he could play complex rhythms with his feet. In turn, Mutt explained how modern technology could help him: how an electronic drum kit would allow Rick to replicate patterns using his right hand and left foot that he would previously have played with two hands.

Before Mutt departed, Rick had one last question. "I just said to him, 'Mutt, we really need your help'. We're not in a good place at the moment. Would you spend some time with us and see if we can get this record made?.".

It was hard for Mutt to refuse. While designers at the Simmons drum company set to work on making his new kit, Rick made rapid progress in his physical rehabilitation. Just two weeks after the accident he made his first attempt at standing up. Unbalanced, he fell to the floor. A week later he'd learned how to walk again, how to shift his weight to steady himself. He developed new life skills: how to eat, or tie his shoes; with one hand. Rick Savage reflects: "He had to rethink everything he'd ever learned. That takes a lot of fucking guts. And when he told us how he could play drums again, we thought, even if he can't do it completely on his own, if it means we have another drummer as well as Rick, at least he's still in the band, still with us."

Allen was discharged from hospital after six weeks, not the six months the doctors predicted. After a further two weeks at his parents' home in Sheffield, he flew out to join the band at Wisseloord. His new customised Simmons kit had been set up in Studio 4. Every day for three weeks he would practise alone while the band worked with Mutt and Nigel Green in Studio 2. He would meet the others for coffee breaks, but at all other times the door to Studio 4 was firmly shut. "He'd been in there just playing and playing," Joe says. "He wanted to make all the mistakes on his own. And then he called us all in one day and said, 'Listen to this.' He played When The Levee Breaks. We all ended up crying. From that moment, I think we all started to believe."

Read Part Two of Rick Allen's accident story

Read Part One of Rick Allen's accident story