The Death of Randy Rhoads
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One of rock’s enduring mysteries unfolded on March 19, 1982, as 25-year-old Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads — despite having a reported fear of flying — perished in a fiery crash at Leesburg, Fla., after a joy ride in a Beechcraft Bonanza. When it was over, the dead included Rhoads, one of the era’s most promising young guitarists, as well as Rachel Youngblood, a 58-year-old seamstress and cook for the Osbourne band, and Andrew Aycock, a 36-year-old bus driver with an expired pilot’s license.
Aycock had, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board, commandeered the 1955 single-engine aircraft from the nearby Flying Baron Estates after deciding to stay the night at plane owner Jerry Calhoun’s home — a Georgian-style mansion adjacent to the airstrip. Aycock, who lived nearby, was reportedly friends with Calhoun, a country singer. Osbourne, his manager and future wife Sharon, bassist Rudy Sarzo, drummer Tommy Aldridge and keyboardist Don Airey were asleep in an adjacent tour bus.
Aycock made as many as three passes over the home, apparently in a joy-riding attempt to buzz over the other band members. On the final pass, the plane clipped the tour bus, spun out of control, hit a nearby pine tree and then nose dived into the house. The ensuing fireball killed all three passengers, who were left unrecognizable by the flames. Rhoads had to be identified by his jewelry. Remarkably, no one was injured in Calhoun’s home.
“I was awoken from my sleep by a loud explosion,” Osbourne later said in a sworn statement. “I immediately thought that we’d hit a vehicle on the road. I got out of bed, screaming to my fiancee Sharon: ‘Get off the bus!’ After getting out of the bus, I saw that a plane had crashed. I didn’t know who was on the plane at the time.”
The report issued from the NTSB, which investigates plane crashes like Rhoads’, said this tragedy was the result of of poor judgment: “The pilot, who was a rock group driver, took an aircraft from the hangar without permission to joy ride members of the group,” the report states. The FAA conducted toxicology tests on the plane’s occupants, concluding that Rhoads had only nicotine in his system. Aycock reportedly tested positive for trace amounts of cocaine.
Fans have had an uncommon struggle coming to terms with Rhoads’ sudden end, despite the fact that similarly sized Beechcraft planes have been involved over the years with the deaths of several famous musicians — including country music star Jim Reeves and, in what’s become known as the Day the Music Died, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The shy Rhoads was said to hate flying and, moreover, was known as a dedicated player who would spend nights off practicing, rather than joining in the debauchery that typically surrounded the rock star life.
Nevertheless, Rhoads’ shooting-star of a career had lasted less than 10 years, first as a co-founder of Quiet Riot (at just 16) and then as a spark for Osbourne’s initial foray in solo work after leaving Black Sabbath — a brief but important period that included both 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and 1981’s Diary of a Madman. Raised by a single mother, Rhoads’ training in classical music gave him a cliche-free sound unique to rock. He was buried in San Bernardino, California, where a yearly vigil has followed on the guitarist’s Dec. 6 birthday.
“We had a great rapport together,” a still-mourning Osbourne told Guitar Player just months after Rhoads died. “We loved each other very dearly. I swear to God, the tragedy of my life is the day he died.” Nearly three decades later, talking about Rhoads after their collaborations were reissued, Osbourne admitted that he still takes antidepressants to deal with the loss: “Randy gave me a purpose; he gave me hope.”
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