The Tragic Facts About Deep Purple’s Career
via Deep Purple Official / Youtube
The genuine elements of a tragic event—peril, devastation, and disorder—were all present in the real-life occurrence that served as the inspiration for Deep Purple’s most well-known song, the 1971 classic rock anthem “Smoke on the Water”.
While recording an album in the Swiss resort town of Montreux, the band witnessed the central casino complex engulfed in flames due to a flare gun fired during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Despite the frantic rush for exits and ensuing chaos, no fatalities occurred, yet the incident left a lasting, haunting impact on Deep Purple. Although the Montreux casino incident didn’t amount to a full-fledged tragedy for the band, it didn’t shield them from other traumatic experiences that would shape their lives.
Over the years, Deep Purple members continued to grapple with life’s challenges while striving to produce enduring hard rock classics such as “Hush”, “Woman from Tokyo”, and “Kentucky Woman”. Listen to their iconic classic below as you read through the tragedies the band withstood.
A found member suffered partial lung loss in childhood
During his childhood, Ian Paice, a founding member of Deep Purple, experienced a medical ordeal that fueled a peculiar urban legend. Contrary to the persistent myth suggesting the surgical removal of one of his lungs, Paice clarified that he indeed possesses more than one lung, albeit not two complete ones. The backstory of the legend lies in the truth of Paice’s childhood medical trauma.
In 1954, at the age of 6, Paice relocated to the United Kingdom with his British parents, transitioning from a comfortable life in post-World War II Germany. The shift brought the family to a stark reality of post-war Britain, marked by financial constraints and a lack of central heating in their new home.
Paice recounted the challenging circumstances, stating, “We went to a house where there was no central heating and it was cold and drafty.” Subsequently, he contracted pneumonia, which progressed to tuberculosis—a formidable challenge to treat during the 1950s.
In response, surgery was performed to remove the infected portions of his left lung, including the lower lobes, leaving behind a distinctive scar on his chest. Despite the partial loss, Paice’s clarification dispels the misconception surrounding the removal of his entire lung.
Their original bassist survived a car crash that killed a bandmate
Nick Simper, the original bassist in Deep Purple’s foundational late 1960s lineup, contributed to some of the band’s major hits such as “Kentucky Woman” and “Hush”, while also co-writing “Wring That Neck”.
Prior to his involvement with Deep Purple, Simper played bass for Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, a group recognized for their elaborate pirate costumes and chart-topping hits like “Shakin’ All Over” and “I’ll Never Get Over You” in the late 1950s.
Following various lineup changes and commercial setbacks, frontman Johnny Kidd sought to revitalize the band in 1966 as the New Pirates. Simper joined this iteration, but their plans were tragically cut short due to a fatal car accident.
On October 8, 1966, Kidd’s car collided with another vehicle during the early morning hours, resulting in serious injuries to the at-fault driver and the death of his passenger. The 30-year-old Kidd lost his life in the accident, while Simper survived, enduring a broken arm, broken nose, and superficial injuries.
The band’s bodyguard mysteriously fell in an elevator shaft and died
In 1975, Deep Purple embarked on a tour of Asia and Oceania. Following performances in Hawaii and Australia, the band received a request from a concert promoter in Indonesia to add a stop in Jakarta in December. Initially informed of a single show at a small theater, Deep Purple was surprised to find out they were booked for two concerts at Senyan Sports Stadium.
The first show drew approximately 100,000 attendees, and based on gate receipts, tour manager Rob Cooksey estimated the band’s earnings at $750,000. Despite receiving only an $11,000 payment, Cooksey confronted the promoter and his associate, leading to a heated argument.
Unfortunately, the argument led to a tragic incident: the band’s bodyguard, Patsy Collins, fell six stories down an open elevator shaft. His injuries, sustained during a confrontation, proved fatal, but whether it was an accident or murder remains unclear.
Police arrested Cooksey and band member Glenn Hughes on murder charges, though Hughes was released in time for the second show. Cooksey spent a night in jail, and the band was essentially forced to perform at gunpoint. Deep Purple, deceived and coerced, ended up paying bribes to leave the country after being swindled in the tumultuous events that unfolded.
The band witnessed concert fans attacked by army dogs
Deep Purple’s Indonesian woes didn’t end there. In the 1960s, Suharto orchestrated a military coup in Indonesia, establishing himself as a dictator and executing hundreds of thousands of suspected communists.
When the hard rock band arrived in Jakarta in December 1975, the country was fraught with political tension, marked by Indonesian troops invading Timor and a terrorist attack on the Indonesian consulate in Amsterdam. Despite this, thousands of fans lined the streets to welcome Deep Purple, the first Western rock band to perform in Jakarta.
The initial concert already foreshadowed trouble, as it led to the death of the band’s bodyguard. The coerced second show descended into violent chaos, with rowdy fans, mostly teenagers, facing aggression from stadium security—members of Suharto’s military—using trained Dobermans, machine guns, and flamethrowers.
Glenn Hughes, the band’s singer and bassist, recounted witnessing children torn apart by dogs and suspected deaths. Bribes were necessary for the band to leave Jakarta, as Hughes described the situation, “It was just the worst. And they wanted more money on the plane before we could go. Machetes were drawn.”
A guitarist died from a drug overdose
Deep Purple faced the departure of founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in 1974. Singer David Coverdale recommended Iowa-born guitarist Tommy Bolin, known for his work on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum LP. Bolin successfully auditioned and contributed to Deep Purple’s 1975 album Come Taste the Band.
Tragically, Bolin’s time with Deep Purple was short-lived. On December 3, 1976, after performing a solo show in Miami, Bolin spent the night drinking with his roadies. Around 3 a.m., girlfriend Valoria Monzeglio found him on the bathroom floor.
Although she mentioned a fall, no corresponding head injury appeared in the autopsy. Two roadies moved Bolin back to bed, but by just before 8 a.m., he was discovered unresponsive. Emergency personnel attempted revival but were unsuccessful.
An autopsy, revealing bruising consistent with intravenous drug use, led authorities to speculate on two days of drug use, likely heroin. Bolin’s urine tested positive for morphine, cocaine, alcohol, and lidocaine, with the cause of death officially attributed to over-intoxication from multiple substances. Tommy Bolin passed away at the age of 25.
Deep Purple’s unlucky guitarists
Bolin’s untimely death was just one of the tragic stories that follow Deep Purple’s guitarists. In 1970, Deep Purple faced a setback when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had a severe reaction to a flu shot before a San Antonio show, rendering him too ill to perform.
Promoter Joe Miller suggested a replacement: local musician Christopher Cross, who would later achieve Grammy success with his soft-rock eponymous debut album a decade later.
Two years afterward, Blackmore’s health again posed a challenge, this time due to hepatitis. Hospitalized for a couple of months, he couldn’t fulfill his Deep Purple duties. During this period, Randy California, known for his association with Jimi Hendrix and as the frontman for Spirit, stepped in as the guitarist.
California, whose real last name was Wolf, tragically lost his life at the age of 45 during a beach outing in Hawaii in 1997. While swimming, a massive wave submerged him, and despite rescuing his son from the riptide, California himself was swept into the ocean, and his body was never recovered.
Deep Purple was even caught up in a NASA tragedy
Kalpana Chawla, a devoted fan of Deep Purple, took her passion for the band into space as a mission specialist on NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. During the mission, she brought along two Deep Purple CDs, Machine Head and Purpendicular, and her daily wakeup song was “Space Truckin'” from Machine Head. Chawla even exchanged emails with members of Deep Purple while in space.
Tragically, on February 1, 2003, as the 16-day mission concluded, Columbia faced catastrophic technical difficulties during re-entry, resulting in the spacecraft breaking apart. Investigations revealed a hole in the left wing that allowed gases to enter, leading to sensor failure and equipment breakdown. All seven crew members, including Chawla, perished instantly.
Within an hour of learning about the Columbia disaster, Deep Purple composed “Contact Lost” as a tribute to Chawla. The song became the concluding track on the band’s 2003 album Bananas.
Vocalist Ian Gillan described it as a “musical version of grieving” and emphasized its significance in recognizing heroes who sacrificed their lives for pioneering work. Guitarist Steve Morse donated his songwriting royalties from the track to the families of the deceased Columbia astronauts.
The tough Ian Paice suffered a stroke
Ian Paice can’t seem to catch a break. During a summer 2016 concert tour, Deep Purple unexpectedly and without explanation canceled multiple scheduled performances in Denmark and Sweden.
Paice later addressed the situation on the band’s website to quell speculation and rumors, stating that the cancellations were his responsibility. Paice revealed that a serious medical issue had prompted the decision.
He woke up one morning unable to feel his right side and lacked the ability to move his right hand. Seeking medical attention in a Stockholm hospital, Paice received a diagnosis of a transient ischemic attack, a small stroke that serves as a warning sign for potential serious medical issues.
Although scans showed no damage, Paice experienced lingering effects such as stinging in his right hand and numbness in parts of his face. While he made a full recovery, he will need lifelong medication. Remarkably, he returned to drumming after missing his first Deep Purple concerts since 1968.
Another founding member suffered a stroke and died while undergoing cancer treatment
Jon Lord, an iconic figure in the legacy of Deep Purple, played a foundational role as the band’s keyboardist and organist. His musical contributions and compositions shaped the sound of Deep Purple from its formation in 1968 until 1976. After a hiatus, Lord rejoined the band in 1984 and continued playing with the band until 2002.
On August 9, 2011, Lord shared a heartbreaking message on his website, revealing the challenging news of his battle with cancer, specifically a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
In his message, he communicated his decision to take a hiatus from performing to undergo necessary treatment and seek a cure. Despite the grim circumstances, Lord expressed optimism, stating his full expectation to return to good health the following year.
However, fate had a different plan. Less than a year later, in July 2012, the keyboardist passed away at the age of 71. The official cause of death was reported as a pulmonary embolism, a complication that occurred while he was undergoing ongoing cancer treatments at the London Clinic.
Yet another guitarist infected with terrible luck
After leaving progressive rockers Kansas, Steve Morse joined Deep Purple in 1994, contributing as a guitarist for nearly three decades. In March 2022, following a few performances, the band announced on its Facebook page that Morse would be taking a leave of absence from touring due to a “family matter”.
Morse elaborated, revealing that his wife, Janine, was battling cancer, emphasizing the need for him to be by her side amidst the uncertainties.
Sadly, less than four months later, Morse, faced with his wife’s ongoing medical challenges, decided to make his temporary departure permanent. In July 2022, he shared on Deep Purple’s Facebook page that Janine was dealing with stage 4 aggressive cancer, requiring lifelong chemotherapy.
The guitarist expressed the difficulty of committing to long or distant tours due to the unpredictable nature of their situation at home. With his blessing, Morse endorsed Simon McBride as his replacement, allowing him to assume the role of Deep Purple’s full-time guitarist.
The tragic love story of their lead singer
While producing his 1982 solo album Magic for the Gillan project, Ian Gillan, the lead singer of Deep Purple, crossed paths with a woman named Bron. She was a member of a backing singers’ collective known as the Cucumbers. Their connection deepened during challenging times marked by stress and heartbreak. Eventually, Ian and Bron Gillan married in 1984.
In 1991, Bron faced a heart ailment, leading to a significant surgical procedure. In response to this event and to express his emotions, Ian dedicated his solo song “Don’t Hold Me Back” to Bron. He explained, “It was about my wife and her heart operation, you know? She was in hospital at the time, and ‘we’re breaking into your open heart.”
Tragically, in November 2022, Bron Gillan passed away at the age of 67 in Exeter Hospital in the U.K. Ian Gillan, in January 2023, acknowledged the loss of his wife of 38 years, emphasizing the difficulty of finding the words to dignify her memory.
He shared on his website, “I’m pulling the arrow from my eye whilst trying to follow the light and, getting back on my feet whilst struggling to walk with half of me missing.”