This section looks at the fateful day in 1984 when Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident near Sheffield and his subsequent recovery and return to drumming.
"It was an unbelievable feeling, an emptiness."
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash 35 years ago today in Sheffield, England on New Year's Eve 1984.
34 years have now passed since the tragic accident that took away his left arm. Read the story of that day as told by the band.
Rick, who celebrated hislast 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 after trying to overtake another car.
Rick lost control of his left hand drive Corvette Stingray coming off of a sharp left hand turn. The car flipped over 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, another district nurse and a policeman all stopped to help. One of the nurses, Eileen Pierce, later married another of the police officers who attended the scene, Roger Pierce. (Note - Not the people shown in Behind The Music).
Surgeons managed to reattach the arm but sadly on 4th January 1985 it had to be amputated due to an infection. Rick then 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.
Rick returned to drumming with the band after a new electronic drum kit was developed. Sadly local Sheffield electrician Pete Hartley, who designed his first foot pedals, passed away in 2015.
Read the story of that day including excerpts from the Animal Instinct biography, 1985 news quotes and a 2007 UK article.
Also included are photos from the accident aftermath looking away from Sheffield and back towards Sheffield. Taken just after the crash by the local press during the clean up.
1984 Accident Scene Aftermath Photos
The Accident - Animal Instinct Biography 1987 Quotes
Two men sat in their Alfa Romeo, waiting to make a left turn on to the A57 road to Sheffield, when they saw the shiny black 1984 Corvette Stingray zip by on the main road. They didn't see who was actually at the wheel, but they were certain this guy was some kind of jerk. Burning rubber like that in a fancy American sports car that would have cost any decent working-class Englishman over a year's wages - whoever Mr. Corvette was, he deserved a good scare.
Rick Allen had no idea there was another car behind his new Corvette until the Alfa Romeo came roaring past him on a bridge. Rick had been out for a pleasant afternoon spin with his girlfriend, Miriam Barendsen, enjoying the lush green glow of the English countryside west of Sheffield on an unseasonably warm New Year's Eve. Rick had even opened up the Stingray's sunroof to soak up the sunshine and fresh air on the way back to Sheffield. Miriam was spending the Christmas holidays with Rick's family before she and the twenty-one-year old drummer returned to Holland where he was in the middle of recording a new album with his band Def Leppard. That afternoon, the two of them had nothing on their minds but the gorgeous weather, the promise of some jolly new Year's Eve festivities and the brand new year ahead of them.
The Alfa Romeo brought them out of their reverie - fast. Once the Alfa Romeo passed them, instead of letting the Stingray just eat his exhaust, the driver slowed up. Rick's temper started to get the better of him. He was out for a pleasure cruise, not a game of chicken. Rick tried to pass the Alfa a couple of times with no luck. This went on for almost four miles. The Rick found an opening and pulled up alongside the Alfa. For a brief moment, Rick was window-to-window with the two punks, evil grins growing in twisted upward curves on their faces as they dangerously edged their Alfa closer to the Corvette, practically trying to push Rick and Miriam right off the road.
Rick was really mad now. He hit the accelerator and the Corvette took off at Indy 500 velocity. But with the sudden rush of speed and the disadvantage of driving an American left-hand drive vehicle on an English road, Rick didn't see the left-hand curve up ahead until it was too late. The Stingray whipped around the corner and hit a brick wall, taking a lot of the bricks with it as the car skidded along the wall, flipped over and finally landed on its roof. The Alfa Romeo took off like a shot. Police later questioned two men in connection with the accident, but they denied everything.
Miriam was trapped in the passenger seat. Rick, thrown free of the car, was in a field on the other side of the brick wall. Though he had landed on his head, a decade of playing rock & roll drums for a living had already exacted its quota of brain damage. But his left arm had been ripped off at the shoulder. Within two minutes of the accident, a nurse [Doreen Billington] who lived nearby was tending to his injuries. Another nurse, who was passing by in her car, pulled over and bandaged his shoulder where the arm had been severed. The nurses, who later declined to be identified, also found the arm and packed it in a bucket of ice until the ambulance team arrived. Miriam, badly bruised, was helped out of the car and comforted at a nearby house.
Less then twenty minutes after the accident, Rick Allen was in the casualty ward at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, under heavy sedation. Later, though, he would recall being completely conscious in those first few minutes after the crash. Standing in that field on the precipice of total shock, suddenly realizing his left arm was no longer attached to his body, he screamed out to Miriam, "God, I'll never play drums again!".
Crash Aftermath/Rick's Corvette Stingray - Photo Gallery
The Accident - Animal Instinct Biography 1987 Quotes
Rick Savage Accident Reaction
"It was an unbelievable feeling, an emptiness," Sav says, still with considerable pain. "I've never been close to anybody that died or had something terrible happen to them before. It was a feeling I'd never experienced."
"The fact that it was New Year's Eve made it worse. It's always a time, especially around my house, where people forget whatever troubles they've got. They have a drink and the world's at peace for at least twelve hours. It was a new year, 1985, and I was thinking about future years, that Rick would never be the same again. How the hell can you celebrate New Year again, even in 1995, without thinking about this?. It would always be a reminder to him."
While Mensch and the other Leppards kept British Telecom working overtime, a surgical team at Hallamshire hospital led by micro vascular expert Robert Page sewed Rick's arm back on in a delicate four hour operation. Rick was still under sedation when Sav and Russell visited him at the hospital on New Year's Day. Sav was pleasantly surprised by the colour in Rick's left hand. "I though great, the blood is going through. It's working."
Joe drove up from London on January 2nd to visit Rick on his way back to Wisseloord Studios in Holland where the rest of Def Leppard were scheduled to resume recording, if possible. Along with Sav, Joy, and Rick's older brother and ex-Leppard road manager Robert, who had been keeping a bedside vigil and acting as de facto press liaison since the accident, Joe went into hospital via the laundry door to dodge the local reporters and photographers at the front step. Upstairs, he was greeted by Rick's parents and Miriam, sporting two king-size black eyes and a badly swollen face.
"I hated every minute of being there. I just didn't want to see him in that state. I'd seen this guy as a ripping, young, muscle-packed drummer that made John Bonham sound like rubbish. I don't mean any disrespect to Bonham or Led Zeppelin. But to me, this guy was the best rock drummer in the world. And in that bed, I was seeing a body that would never work the same again. I felt so bad for him, because I knew how much playing the drums meant to him."
On January 3rd, Def Leppard - minus their drummer - reconvened at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland to resume work on their fourth studio album. The mood both at the studio and at the hotel in nearby Ood Loosdrecht was bleak, but the band had decided to continue recording in spite of Rick's condition. Indeed, they voted to continue, largely, because of it. "Most of Rick's parts at that time had been done," Joe argues, "so apart from the mental anxiety for the first week that we were obviously going to suffer, there was nothing physical to stop us from carrying on. But we also knew that if Rick had been conscious, if he'd been in any state to say anything about it, he would have said 'Get on with it.' We had to do it for him."
Two days later, during a late night session at the studio, the band received a fresh shipment of bad news. Rick's reattached arm had become infected and Dr. Page's surgical team, very reluctantly, had taken his left off off again, this time permanently. "When we heard about the arm coming back off, everybody cried," Sav says grimly. "Finally, we decided, for both his sake and ours, that we had to go back to work. It strengthened our resolve. Because we knew he wouldn't want us to sit around crying over him. He wanted us to go in there and do it right."
Daily Star - 2nd January 1985 Article Quote
Miracle Op For Rock Star Rick
Millionaire rock drummer Rick Allen has had his left arm torn off in an horrific car crash.
But doctors stitched it back in a miracle of micro surgery.
And last night a hospital spokesman said: "We are hopeful we will be able to save it."
Rick 21, whose British group Def Leppard are superstars in America, is described as "critical but stable" after the four-hour operation.
The accident happened on New Year's Eve.
Rick was thrown out of his black Chevrolet Stingray when it left a winding moorland road near his home city of Sheffield and overturned several times.
The arm was torn off at the shoulder.
Rick's Dutch fiancee, 22-year-old Miriam Barendsen, suffered head injuries and had to be cut free from the wreckage.
Rick - and the arm - were taken 10 miles to Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital where the operation...
Donington 1986/2009 - Photo Gallery
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."
Accident Scene 1989/1998 - Photo Gallery
"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."
1989 Rock Of Ages The Def Leppard Story - Def Leppard Interview Quotes
Joe Elliott - "One of the worst things you could ever imagine happening to a band, happened to us on New Year's Eve 1984."
Rick Allen - "I took my girlfriend out, up to the Ladybower Reservoir just to show her the sights and everything. And as I was driving back down the road. Back down to the A57, down to the main road. This Alfa Romeo came flying round the corner and overtook me on the bridge. So I just sort of carried on about my own business but this guy ended up slowing down so I caught up to him. And every time I wanted to try and overtake this guy he would put his foot down. I'm going I can't deal with this at all you know. And Miriam's sitting there going 'Don't lose your temper, don't lose you temper.' I'm going 'No, I'm fine, I'm fine.'.
"But this went on for four about miles. So I kinda lost my rag a little bit. And with it being a left hand drive car. You know obviously driving on the left hand side of the road, when I finally did punch the accelerator I didn't see this left hand turn and I ended up braking my car in a big way. And that's - I think the seatbelt actually took my arm off. It came unclipped and just came across my chest and just took it off. I think the arm stayed in the car and I left via the sunroof. But apparently I was conscious for the whole thing and I think that's what actually saved my life in the end."
Huw Weekes (Yorkshire TV Calendar News) - "The accident happened on the A57 Manchester Road at Moscar on the moors above Sheffield. Rick's car failed to negotiate a sharp bend, went out of control and collided with a wall, rolling onto its roof. The wreckage of his car, a powerful Corvette Stingray, bares witness to the force of the crash. Rick was thrown through the windscreen, his left arm completely severed. His Dutch fiancee Miriam Barendsen suffered head injuries. She was dragged clear of the car by rescuers. At the Royal Hallamshire hospital surgeons spent four hours sewing his arm back on. But it'll be some days yet before they know whether the microvascular surgery has been successful."
Read moretalking about this day plus documentary video footage.
Rick's Drum Kit - In Studio 1989 Photo Gallery
Rick Allen - December 2014 Interview Quote
"It was obviously an awful time you know losing my arm, especially being a drummer. But honestly it's really become a blessing. It's something that I've been able to share with others. Especially some of our wounded warriors and just being able to share my life experience and inspire others. What a great deal. You know it's really become something very special and it's something that's very healing to myself as well. Not only to the men and women that I work with but to me."
The exact location of where car came to rest coming off a sharp corner going back towards Sheffield. The view looking away from Sheffield as seen in the first photo above with the same pavement (sidewalk), and telephone poles shown. The fire engine was parked in the driveway of the house you can see (quite possibly where one of the district nurses lived). The remains of the stone wall can be seen and a newer wire fence.
share this page:
explore def leppard tour history