Rock music is known for excess, and perhaps nobody knew better about the volatile and debauched nature of that world than Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.
He ended up in great pain multiple times, all thanks to his bandmates’ pranks.
There are conflicting versions of some of these stories.
This is partly because memories differ, and partly because there may have been some excess (or an excessive amount of excess) going on at the time.
But the common thread here is that the members of the band used to do what they thought were pranks on Ward and he would get injured or even hospitalized.
In one story, the band was working in the studio when guitarist Tony Iommi turned to the drummer.
“Out of the blue” – those are his words – he asked, “May I set you on fire, Bill?”
Ward said not now, and that was that.
But at the end of the session, Ward reportedly said something to Iommi like, well, should we all go home or did you still want to light me on fire?
Iommi grabbed the studio’s supply of rubbing alcohol, tossed it onto Ward, and lit it.
The guitarist said “he went up like a bomb.”
Worse, Iommi thought Ward was screaming and shouting as part of the joke, so he dumped more rubbing alcohol on the guy.
Ward ended up with third degree burns, and it’s said that his mother called Iommi up to yell at him.
That may be the most amazing detail of all, that the band’s mums were weighing in on Black Sabbath’s legendary offstage depravity.
Lighting the drummer on fire was, by the way, far from the only dangerous prank the band pulled on him.
One time they were staying at the home of the owner of a big paint company, so they covered Ward in gold paint, which caused him to go into convulsions.
Iommi said EMTs had to strip all the paint off the hard way, which meant more skin loss.
And then there was the time Ward was taking a, um, rest stop, apparently on the side of a hill.
Depending on the account, either Iommi or singer Ozzy Osbourne sprayed Ward’s exposed parts with a can of spray paint or another aerosol chemical, which also turned out to be poisonous.
Ozzy wrote in his memoir later that “two seconds later, Bill blacks out, falls headfirst over the railing and starts rolling down the hillside.”
Ward, to I suspect zero surprise, left the band in 1980, though he reunited on occasion with the others.
Iommi did say that they mostly kept in touch remotely, adding, “I can’t paint him gold by email.”
In the fall of 2020, two wealthy neighbors in southern California were at odds over a large outdoor glass art installation one had installed.
In one of their dueling lawsuits over the project, one claimed that the neighbor who had installed the art work retaliated against the complaints by blasting loud music, including repeatedly playing the theme from “Gilligan’s Island.”
I guess at least he didn’t light the guy on fire.
Photo via Wikicommons