Rick Allen is a true survivor. It is a miracle that he survived that near-tragic car crash on New Year’s Eve in 1984 on a Yorkshire country lane but even after losing an arm, the drummer was just thankful to still be alive.
Returning to the stage seemed like a pipedream so when he managed to do so in August, 1986 it was an extremely poignant moment that saw Allen defeated the odds.
The incident that nearly stole his life took place as Allen misjudged a turn outside of his native Sheffield and drove his Corvette through a stone wall into a field. Following the collision, his car then flipped several times with the drummer being ejected from his driving seat.
Both Allen and his girlfriend were wearing seat belts, however, he says it wasn’t properly fastened which is why the damage was so severe.
“I left the car and landed in a field, and I think my arm was left in the car,” Allen told the BBC’s Fighting Back in 1992. His memory of the event is non-existent as he went into shock at the time of the incident, which is a side effect but one that can prevent PTSD from occurring and it is undoubtedly a blessing that he doesn’t recollect the scarring event.
“My mind and my body let me in on this whole thing very gradually,” he says. “It wasn’t something that just hit me, ‘Oh, my arm’s gone.’ It was over a two or three week period that I actually realised that the whole thing was gone.”
He initially first thought that his life of playing music was over at this mere age of 21 and he couldn’t even listen to anything without being reminded of the fact his dream had been seemingly cut short so early on in his career.
“In order to keep me from sliding down the bed they put this huge piece of foam at the bottom of the bed, which I could sort of press my feet on and push myself up if I needed to,” Allen said. “After listening to music for a few days, I realised I could still play quite a lot of the parts from some of my favourite songs just using my feet.”
He continued, “I think that’s one of the things that really helped me—I didn’t give myself very much downtime. I never gave myself any sort of time to ‘recover.’ From a mental point of view, I thought it was because I threw myself straight back into work again. And from a work point of view, yeah, I was proving to the rest of the guys in the band that I could do it.”
The band took a hiatus following the incident to see if there was any chance that Allen could get back up to speed and that’s exactly what he did. Def Leppard decided to make their return in the most emphatic way possible with a prominent slot at Monsters of Rock Festival at Donnington Park — where the drummer didn’t miss a beat during his appearance.
Listen to Allen’s rock star reception at Donnington, below.