Resilience – The Story of Rick Allen & Def Leppard

For those of us who love good old classic rock, Def Leppard and their epic songs such as “hysteria” are a good enough reason to headbang! As much as I would love to focus on the band’s musical prowess, let’s envision a drum solo by Rick Allen, also known as ‘The Thunder God’.

Rick joined the band in Nov 1978 at the age of 15. While Def Leppard was revolutionizing the world of rock, there was a dramatic turn of events. The final hours of 1984 weren’t quite celebratory for Rick who was involved in a tragic car accident that resulted in the amputation of his left arm. A drummer without an arm – most of us would choose retirement over a musical career. I can’t imagine what the 21-year old’s state of mind must have been.

Rick Allen was destined to be an ambassador of resilience. After accepting the harsh reality, through countless hours of practice and collaboration with some brilliant engineers, in 1986, Rick was back on the center stage playing his custom kit and paving the way for Def Leppard’s glory days.

Rick’s life and the band’s approach to retaining him as the drummer oozes life lessons that cannot be ignored.

An Epitome of Resilience

At 21, Rick had the choice to bury his dreams and lead a life of grief and self-pity. Considering the gravity of the situation, this choice would have been perfectly justified. However, Rick chose the unthinkable. His grit and tenacity allowed him to be reminded of his 3 perfectly functional limbs and perhaps, how his left foot could compensate for his missing, quintessential left arm. With no real tutorials available for one-handed drummers, Rick was on his own. What resulted was a unique drumming style. Most normal, 4 limbed drummers wish they could replicate some of Rick’s works!

Not only did Rick Allen turn out to be a legendary drummer but also became the founder of The Raven Drum Foundation – a charity with a mission to serve, educate, and empower veterans and people in crisis.

Brotherhood Over Glory

With the kind of revolution that Def Leppard had sparked, they could have chosen to replace Rick with any drummer of their choice. However, the men from Def Leppard chose brotherhood over glory and decided to support Rick’s new and challenging lifestyle in every way they could. Though the future seemed amorphous, the band considered these 2 years (1984 – 1986) as an investment rather than a meaningless hiatus. Can you imagine what an exhilarating experience it must have been for Def Leppard fans to see their ‘Thunder God’ back in action? Needless to say, the album Hysteria which was recorded post-Rick’s return to the throne, reached the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 in July 1988.

The positive vibe that engulfed Def Leppard’s concert venues and the subliminal message of ‘resilience through brotherhood’ that the band conveyed to their fans just by continuing to have Rick as their drummer was far more awe-inspiring than the fame any song could fetch.

In life, we often brood over our losses than optimize what is left. I am reminded of a line from the song “Storm” by the band Flying Colors“Somethings only can be made in the storm”. Trying to function as a hard-rock drummer without a limb was probably considered an anomaly by the world around Rick but he was determined and nothing could deter him from pursuing his innate passion.

We are surrounded by a society that does not essentially promote core life values such as patience, compassion, etc. Life at the speed of light seems to be the mantra and anything that comes in the way must be axed. If Def Leppard expelled Rick Allen, the world would have been one legend less and The Raven Drum Foundation may never have existed.

Whenever Def Leppard or Rick Allen decide to hang their boots, the world will remember them for their resilience while “Let’s get rocked” will continue to ring loud in our ears. Perhaps, this is a perfect juncture to ask ourselves what the people around might associate us with beyond our job titles and accomplishments.

What I’ve experienced through losing my arm, I wouldn’t change. The human spirit is so strong.

–Rick Allen

What does resilience mean to you? If you have a story of resilience, please share.


Ranjith Abraham
Ranjith Abraham
Ranjith Abraham is a pharmaceutical professional focussed on patient safety through accurate labeling. He is also the songwriter/piano player for Miles Apart, a global musical endeavor that enables friends around the globe to collaborate and create music virtually. He believes in storytelling and in the mantra that no matter how trivial our offerings are, we must allow the recipients to define their worth. Though challenging, Ranjith is grateful for the opportunity to parent his son and daughter. Born and raised in India, he now lives with his wife and kids in Philadelphia. Ranjith draws inspiration to write from life lessons that are tucked away in the insignificant happenings around him. His passion for music/photography fuels creativity and helps him genuinely connect with people. A firm believer of the equation ‘Leadership = Servanthood’, Ranjith’s vision is to positively influence people so they can impact their world through timely and meaningful contributions.

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