In 1982, 25-year-old Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne in Florida. Rhoads was a heavy metal guitarist who founded Quiet Riot and co-wrote songs for Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo albums, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman.
Despite the tragic nature of his death, Rhoads was an incredible talent who left behind a lasting legacy. His fast and furious solos defined the sound of 80s metal and inspired many young guitarists. His tragic death came too soon, but his memory and musical influence will live on forever. Last year, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, honoring his immense contribution to the world of music.
Rudy Sarzo, who played with Rhoads in the late–70s, was present at the crash and nearly boarded the plane that day. He recounted the tragedy in his book, Off the Rails: Aboard the Crazy Train in the Blizzard of Ozz. Sarzo vividly remembers the day of the crash and how it has affected him ever since.
“There’s a reason why I wrote the book,” Sarzo told Yahoo Entertainment. “I wrote it because I have to go back. Sometimes I go back as a spectator, and that way, I avoid feeling the pain again. I go back and I actually see myself in the place at the moment, but I’m disconnected from it because it’s like I’m watching myself go through this. But for this [Yahoo interview], I had to go in as myself, rather than as a witness. But it is my choice to do that — because it is very important that I am able to convey the emotion of what happened that day.”
There was a “single motivation“ for Quiet Riot in their early days on the Sunset Strip: to get a record deal. This was according to bassist Rudy Sarzo, who joined the band a year after moving to Los Angeles from Florida. When they didn‘t get a deal, guitarist Randy Rhoads considered giving up on his dream of being a rock star. Sarzo explains that, before joining Ozzy Osbourne‘s band, Rhoads was “a very different Randy,” still living at home and teaching guitar at his family‘s music school eight hours a day. Rhoads was comfortable with his life, he had a girlfriend, structure, and a teaching gig, but Sarzo says his mother advised him to take Osbourne‘s offer, as it might be his only chance to become a recording artist.
It turned out that mother knew best, as Osbourne and Rhoads worked perfectly together. “And it was a metamorphosis. Randy found complete creative freedom in playing with Ozzy.” Sarzo explained. “Randy was an incredibly creative human being. You know, when you spend your days on tour recreating [an album onstage], you’re not creating anymore; you’re recreating what you just did. And that did not work for Randy. He needed the outlet to be creative every single day. So, what he would do is he would perform variations. He would take what he recorded to the next level, every single night. He decided he was going to play a little bit differently every night, just for the sake of being creative. He challenged himself every time. And I saw that. I mean, what you hear on the records, by the time that he was onstage performing, it was like beyond what he had done in that moment.”
But this joy was not to last. On March 19, 1982, only a year after Sarzo had joined Osbourne’s band, their tour bus made a stop to repair its AC unit. “It always starts as just another day,” Sarzo recalled. “It was just another beautiful morning, after playing the night before in Knoxville, Tenn.”
While the air conditioner was being repaired, the bus driver and private pilot, Andrew Aycock, took a single-engine plane out for a few spins—without permission. Rhoads was afraid of flying, but he wanted to take aerial photos for his mother. He had unsuccessfully tried to get bassist Rudy Sarzo to come along; Sarzo chose to rest before the show instead.
“Now, I was raised in Florida, and the Diary of a Madman tour started off in winter, and we had been touring up North. So, finally, we had got to the sun! I grew up in the sun, so this was great. And all wanted to do was just get to the hotel and lay by the pool. It was going to be our day off. And this was the first time that I ever turned down any adventures that Randy and I would do on the road,” Sarzo recalls. “That is scary, because I used to take so many chances back then. Just the fact that it would happen in Florida, where I grew up. … If it would have happened in any other city, there was a possibility that I would’ve joined Randy [on the plane]. I can’t really say there was any premonition that kept me from getting on that plane. It was a destiny.”
The death of Randy Rhoads, one of the most influential guitarists of all time, was an avoidable tragedy. Aycock made three attempts to buzz the tour bus; on his third attempt, the plane’s wing clipped the top of the bus, causing the fiery crash. Aycock, Rhoads, and the band’s makeup artist, Rachel Youngblood, were killed instantly.
“I was awakened by this boom — it was like an impact. It shook the bus. I knew something had hit the bus,” Sarzo recalled “I opened the curtain, and I saw the door opening as I was climbing off my bunk. There was Sharon, Ozzy running out. There was a door that divided the [tour bus’s] front lounge from the sleeping area, and as we entered the lounge, there was glass blown out of the window on the passenger side of the bus. And I looked out and I saw our tour manager [Duncan] on his knees, pulling his hair out and yelling, ‘They’re gone!’ And we didn’t know what was going on.
“So, I follow Sharon out of the tour bus, and there’s the wife of the bus driver, standing frozen on the doorway at the exit of the bus,” Sarzo continued while notably shifting to the present tense. “Sharon pushes her to one side and we go out, and I look over where our tour manager is on his knees, and there’s a colonial-style house. And the garage is on fire. I still don’t know what’s going on. But some pieces of information start falling into place. Sharon’s trying to get out of Jake what is going on, and he just keeps yelling: ‘They’re gone! They’re gone!’ And then it’s revealed that they were on a plane, and it crash-landed into the garage and it exploded on impact.
“I look at people’s mouths that are moving. I can’t hear what they were saying. This helplessness, this hopelessness, just overtakes me — realizing that fire, they’re being consumed by it, Randy and Rachel. … This was 40 years ago; there was no technology. To let the fire department police know that this had happened, it took a while. It actually took people that were on horseback who saw the flames and smoke and called in the police. We were stranded there for two hours, with no first responders coming on site.
“Now, there’s a 99 percent disbelief. One percent of me is probably embracing what just happened — like, this really happened. The other 99 is denying it. All I hear is a low hum. I’ve never heard anything like that before. And hopefully I’ve never hear it again.”
Sarzo explained that the aftermath was just as horrible, having to deal with reality as they were leaving the site of the tragedy. The survival guilt hit them very, very immediately and they were still feeling shell-shocked and despondent hours later in their hotel room. Sarzo wandered outside and ended up in a church, where he had an encounter with his boss that resonated with him for life.
“I’m in the very last row of the church, just trying to find some peace of mind and some answers. And I keep hearing somebody in the front really in pain — more pain than me, because I was in shock. Of course I was in pain, but I was too shocked to really feel pain. I was numb. And this person was like, moaning and groaning, really in touch with their emotions. I had no idea who it was, and it got to a moment that I said, ‘I gotta look.’ And then I realized it was Ozzy — in the same church with me, going through this painful experience. So, we all dealt a little bit different, because Randy meant different things to everybody. With Ozzy, Randy was the person that was able to help him break away the from Sabbath shadow and come into his own. Randy to me was a mentor and a brother, and the person that gave me a career by introducing me to Sharon and Ozzy. We all had different connections with Randy emotionally. But they were all wonderful.”
“After Randy Rhoads died, nothing was ever the same again. My reference of being with Ozzy was Randy. He’s the one that got me in the band. So, once he wasn’t there anymore, I lost my family within Ozzy,” Sarzo explains. “I’m not saying that Sharon and Ozzy were not wonderful with me, because they were. But they were very, very different from me. Randy and I basically came from the same background — I was raised in Miami, and Randy was from L.A., and then you have Ozzy, who was from Birmingham, England, raised in the rubble of World War II. So, Ozzy had a whole different outlook on life, doom and gloom, while mine and Randy’s was sunny. Once that [bond with Rhoads] was gone, it was like, ‘Wow, this is just doom.’ … When Randy passed away, it was very difficult, to say the least, to continue without him.”
Sarzo believes that if the increasingly ambitious Rhoads had lived, he would have eventually left Osbourne’s band and returned to school. “Randy wanted to get his master’s degree in music and enter the New York studio scene,” Sarzo told Yahoo Entertainment.
“A lot of people complain that they think that Sharon and Ozzy are hiding footage of Randy era, but I was there.” Sarzo said with sadness, “I know how much footage was actually taken of us performing live, which is like virtually nothing.” He continued, “There might be some B-roll that the local news station was allowed to take of the first couple of songs in certain cities, but there would be no sound to go along with that.” Sarzo then passionately stated, “But we played live in front of a lot of people, so there were a lot of witnesses for Randy’s incredible talent and his amazing, amazing display. … And that’s why it’s important to me, when people want to know about Randy, that I’m able to share with them.”
Rhoads’ toxicology test revealed only nicotine, but Aycock’s had tested positive for cocaine, which Osbourne has admitted Aycock did the night prior.
The death of Randy Rhoads, Rachel Youngblood, and Andrew Aycock from a plane crash in 1982 is considered one of the biggest tragedies in rock history. The preventable accident took the lives of three people and has left a huge scar on the world of music to this day.
In 2015, Osbourne, Serj Tankian, Tom Morello, and other artists released Immortal Randy Rhoads – The Ultimate Tribute, an album dedicated to Rhoads.