36 Years Ago: Ozzy Osbourne Exonerated in ‘Suicide Solution’ Fan Death Lawsuit
It’s always tragic when a metal fan dies, and his death goes on trial for all to see, be it the 19-year-old Lamb of God fan who died in Prague, resulting in the Manslaughter case against vocalist Randy Blythe, or the two boys that allegedly tried to kill themselves in a suicide pact for their favorite band Judas Priest; there’s nothing victorious about a musician winning a case that involved an unnecessary death.
One of the most publicized metal death cases wrapped up on Aug. 7, 1986, when a judge threw out a lawsuit that claimed Ozzy Osbourne and two record labels encouraged a teenager in California to shoot himself in 1984. The 19-year-old, John McCollum, had been listening to Ozzy’s “Suicide Solution” the night he committed suicide with a .22 caliber handgun.
His parents filed suit in civil court in October, 1985, claiming that it was criminally negligent of Osbourne to include “Suicide Solution” on the 1980 album Blizzard of Ozz, and that his labels Jet and CBS Records shared in the responsibility for the young man’s death. The suit stated that all three parties acted irresponsibly because they released the track “with the knowledge that such [a song] would, or at the very least, could promote suicide.”
McCollum was suffering from alcohol abuse and emotional problems when he chose to end his life. His parents insisted that young, impressionable adults were particularly susceptible to being influenced by Osbourne's music and that, therefore, Osbourne, Jet and CBS should be held accountable.
Osbourne has always insisted that he wrote “Suicide Solution” as a warning about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Ozzy Osbourne, "Suicide Solution"
The case was originally thrown out that December when a judge ruled that Osbourne had the absolute First Amendment right to write a song about suicide. In August 1986, the California Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, insisting that there was nothing in the song that presented a clear and present danger.
"Musical lyrics and poetry cannot be construed to contain the requisite 'call to action' for the elementary reason they simply are not intended to be and should not be read literally,” Superior Court Judge John Cole said. “Reasonable persons understand musical lyrics and poetic conventions as the figurative expressions which they are.”
Furthermore, added the judge, the defense failed to provide evidence that would prevent Osbourne from being fully protected under the First Amendment. “We have to look very closely at the First Amendment and the chilling effect that would be had if these words were held to be accountable,” Cole said.
Cole added that even if Osbourne had intended to express that suicide was preferable to the rigors of daily living, he had the constitutional right to make such a statement.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.