Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
On this very day in 1982, the incredibly gifted guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash. He was just 25 years old.
Since teaming up with Ozzy Osbourne and playing a key role in the Prince of Darkness’s post-Sabbath solo success, Rhoads was flying high. Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman had put Ozzy back in the limelight and the band were in Knoxville for a show at the Civic Coliseum on March 18, 1982. It was Randy Rhoads’ last gig.
After the show, the band left Tennessee for Florida where they were playing a festival in Orlando. Stopping for a rest break and to run some repairs, the caravan stopped at some property in Leesburg, Florida. There were just two houses on the property. One of them belonged to Ozzy’s bus driver, Andrew Aycock.
Early on the 19th, while the entourage was resting, Aycock rose and—being a pilot—took advantage of the property’s airstrip and collection of airplanes. Aycock took keyboard player Don Airey and tour manager Jake Duncan for a flight on a ’55 Beechcraft Bonanza F-35. After that, Aycock took off again, this time with Randy and hairdresser Rachel Youngblood. After that jaunt, Aycock took Rhoads on another flight. It was a terrible mistake.
Aycock took to flying dangerously low, almost at treetop height, and began to buzz the tour buses. He flew past the buses three times, but on the fourth pass, just ten feet or so above the ground, according to the sheriff’s report, “the wing of the plane struck a tour bus, cart-wheeled into a tree and crashed into the roof of the house.” The plane exploded and burned on impact with the house. Rhoads, Youngblood and Aycock died instantly.
Rhoads had to be identified by his jewelry and Aycock through dental records. Toxicology tests declared Rhoads had no drugs or alcohol in his system, just some traces of nicotine. Cocaine was found in Aycock’s urine.
A day later, a devastated Ozzy Osbourne gave a statement to the investigators. “At approximately 9:00 a.m. on Friday, March 19, 1982, I was awoken from my sleep by a loud explosion. I immediately thought that we'd hit a vehicle on the road. I got out of the bed, screaming to my fiancée, Sharon, ‘Get off the bus.’ Meanwhile, she was screaming to everyone else to get off the bus. After getting out of the bus, I saw that a plane had crashed. I didn't know who was on the plane at the time. When we realized that our people were on the plane, I found it very difficult to get assistance from anyone to help. In fact, it took almost a half-hour before anyone arrived. One small fire engine arrived, which appeared to squirt three gallons of water over the inferno. We asked for further assistance, such as telephones, and didn't receive any further help. In the end, we finally found a telephone and Sharon phoned her father.”
Sharon told authorities: “I went to bed around 11:30 p.m. the night of the 18th. The next thing I knew, I woke with a huge bang and the bus was rocking. My bed was at the back of the bus. I ran to the front of the bus to look out of the windows, I had no idea where I was or what had happened. There was glass everywhere in the bus; everything was upside down. The bus driver’s ex-wife said: ‘Don't look, don't come out.’ I left the bus and saw flames coming from a house, and a big hole in our bus. I ran screaming trying to find out what had happened, but no one would say. Then I found out. I asked for a phone. I was told by a man, who I did not know, that there was no phone and to keep my mouth shut and I did not see anything. I told him to go to hell and then I found a phone. I did not see the crash. All I saw was fire.”
Rock and roll lost one of its most gifted and dedicated guitarists on this day in 1982. Rhoads had helped Ozzy regain his crown and was so determined to develop as a player that he was taking guitar lessons while on the road and had seriously considered studying for a degree in classical guitar at UCLA.
Ozzy has no doubt of Rhoads’ genius:
“Had he lived, I truly believe he'd have been one of the greatest guitar players that ever walked the earth.”