Def Leppard's Rick Allen and 10 More Miraculous Rock Recoveries

Rick Allen, left, with Def Leppard
Twenty-eight years ago this week (New Year's Eve), Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen became famous. Well, he was already famous, we guess, for being the drummer for one of the finest pop-metal bands of all time. But on December 31, 1984, Allen became even more famous for being pretty much the only pop-metal drummer in history with a single, solitary arm.

Rick Allen was born with two arms, you see. Back in '84, he was riding high -- a rich and desirable rock star with no reason to suspect he was not invincible. That illusion was shattered when Allen got caught up street racing on the back roads of Sheffield, England, in his Corvette.

Allen lost control of the car while racing an Alfa Romeo and was launched from the vehicle when it struck a stone wall going about ten trillion miles per hour. (Wear your seat belts, folks!) His left arm was severed in the accident, and although doctors were able to reattach it, the arm had to be removed again due to infection. For drummers, there aren't many more devastating injuries than that.

But of course, Rick Allen had no intention of giving up his passion and career. With the help of sophisticated electronic triggers and pedals, he learned to play with only one arm. It's one of the most - nah, fuck it, the most miraculous tale of recovery in rock and roll history.

It's not quite unique, however. Other rockers have beaten life- and career-threatening injuries and gone on to demolish audiences across the globe. Here are ten more of the most incredible recoveries in music history:

10. Gloria Estefan
Gloria Estefan isn't just the biggest Latin crossover star in pop history -- she's also the toughest. In 1990, Estefan was traveling on tour with her husband and son when her bus was involved in a head-on collision. Estefan's spine was broken in the accident, sending the diva to the ICU wondering if she'd ever walk again.

Miraculously, she did. Two titanium rods and a year of physical therapy later, Gloria made a full recovery and resumed her ten-month tour.

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Photo by Groovehouse
9. Dave Mustaine
In 2002, during one of Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine's many visits to rehab over the years, the guitarist fell asleep in a chair with his arm draped over the back. If this is your preferred napping position, we suggest you knock it off immediately. Mustaine managed to compress and damage a radial nerve in his left arm, leaving him unable to even make a fist with his left hand.

Doctors didn't like his chances of ever playing that sick solo in "Holy Wars" again. Mustaine disbanded Megadeth and began making other plans for his life. Amazingly enough, though, Dave made a full recovery in record time, regaining his arm strength and "re-teaching" his left hand how to play in a matter of months. A new Megadeth was assembled, and Mustaine now shreds on.

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8. Tony Iommi
A crippling injury that should have derailed Tony Iommi's playing career permanently instead helped to create the sound of heavy metal guitar. Black Sabbath's iron man lost the tips of his left middle and ring finger to a stamping machine while working in one of Birmingham, England's many factories. It was his last day on the job.

Determined to make it out of the industrial blight, Iommi fashioned himself plastic caps for his fingers and re-learned to play using light-gauge banjo strings, down-tuned to make fretting easier. The thick, wailing sound that came out of Iommi's Gibson was pure evil, pushing his riffs into a new category of music that would soon be widely imitated worldwide.

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Regarding Rick Allen's car crash. He WAS wearing his seatlbelt. The problem was, from what Ive read, he either didnt fasten it completely or the latch was faulty.

MadMac topcommenter

I love that Mustaine claimed he lost the use of his arm after a motorcycle accident--those oh-so-kewl rockers and their Harley scooters--come to find out he just slept funny.

Kimberly Branson
Kimberly Branson

Some honorable mentions: country singer Barbara Mandrell and her children surviving a head-on collision in 1984; Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings recovering from serious injuries sustained in a spring 1969 van crash that killed Thompson's costume designer girlfriend Jeanyne Franklin and Martin Lamble, drummer of Thompson and Hutchings' band band Fairport Convention; Nancy Nevins reuniting with her band Sweetwater more than two decades after she and her friend were broadsided by a drunk driver December 8, 1969, critically injuring her and causing her voice to drop by half of what it once was; and producer emeritus Quincy Jones, who enters the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thirty-plus years after he was found with a double-brain aneurysm that would have ended his great life and career had it not been removed in time.


@DSchiller That what the man says, but I'm not sure I buy it. Then again, he was there and I wasn't.


@MadMac Could be that he was shy about admitting his 14th or 15th trip to rehab. It's not like he was a young kid paying for some mistakes by that point -- he was already officially old when he screwed up his arm. 

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