Feature: The tragedy of Def Leppard’s Steve Clark

Steve Clarke

As  Janie Dean showed an interior decorator around their plush London pad 22 years ago today, little did she know that her other half, Def Leppards Steve Clark was lying dead on the Sofa. She hadn’t bothered to wake him as after he rolled up drunk the night before. After all ‘nothing woke him after a night on the drink’ she later commented. A couple of hours later she realised the horrific truth, finding him blue in the face with blood coming out of his mouth. Screaming ‘wake up’, it was left to the interior decorator, still in the house, confirmed he was dead. Steve Clark then became, sadly, probably Sheffield biggest Rock n Roll casualty.

An early Def Leppard picture, Steve Clark 2nd left
An early Def Leppard picture, Steve Clark 2nd left

Steve Clark was born 30 years prior to his death in 1961, right here in Hillsborough, Sheffield. Showing an eye (or should that be an ear) for music early in life, his Taxi driver father buying him a guitar at aged eleven – perhaps influenced by seeing The Shadows with his mother aged just six. It was hearing Led Zeppelin that led the young Steve to switch to electric guitar, and subsequently join local covers band Electric Chicken. Around 1978 he met original Def Leppard founder and guitarist Pete Willis. Asking to join the band, Clark was given an audition where he played all of  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ without accompaniment.

A Young Steve Clarke
A Young Steve Clarke

A fully fledged member of the band, Steve Clark made some telling contributions to the success of a band that has gone on to sell 100 million albums. He contributed both music and lyrics for the bands first four albums including the worldwide hit albums Pyromania and Hysteria. Musically, according to the other band members in interviews, he was more likely to contribute riffs and guitar parts, although he did write all the music for some of the bands songs, including ‘wasted’ on the bands debut album On through the night . More importantly, it was Steve who threatened to quit, right as they started out, unless the band stopped rehearsing and actually went out and played. Singer Joe Elliot went out and scored them a gig that paid the princely sum of £5.

After Willis was asked to leave the band (ironically for drinking), after Pyromania, the band hired Phil Collen into the band, and it was this partnership that many suggest contributed to the success of the band. The best of friends they were nicknamed the Terror twins in honour of their twin guitar assault, although they only worked together on the Hysteria album. Collen was thought of as the technician of the two, with Clark the more creative player, his low slung guitar his trademark.

But as time went on all was not well with Steve Clark the person, despite the money, fame and travelling the world. He developed a drink problem, and suffered it seems with bouts of depression. Not a happy drunk either according to many, this would often push him over the edge with his mood swings. He began to suffer with shakes when trying to play because of his alcohol abuse, which upset him, and he would storm off and have a drink, taking things full circle. Rehab was attempted and failed, and as a last resort Clark was given, unofficially, six months off the band. He never went back.

Rare interview with Steve Clark

The night of his death Clark promised girlfriend Janie Dean he was only popping out for ten minutes and definitely wasn’t drinking. Four hours later he arrives back to their Chelsea ad smashed with one of his drinking buddies in tow. Dean had pleaded with him not to drink and take prescription drugs (which he was taking for cracked ribs, the result of one of his other drunken nights out) and it was this concoction (his autopsy report state he was three times over the legal limit) that caused his untimely death. Tellingly maybe, there were also antidepressants in his body.

Def Leppard Hysteria photoshoot
Def Leppard Hysteria photoshoot

In the aftermath of his death, there was a family mess with various tabloid stories of fallout between his father and Dean, inevitably centred around money. Def Leppard carried on, and still do, as the biggest selling Sheffield artists of all time. And buried back in his home city in the cemetery at Loxley, lies Steve Clark. At peace.



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  1. Megan Kennedy
    May 17, 2015

    That is so sad but I don’t Blame the Guys for being so furious about this and I want to tell Rick and his guys that they are all in my Prayers and I will still always Love them as a good band because I love there drummer and so does my dad because my dad has always wanted to be like him

  2. F. Hobson
    September 17, 2015

    So tragic. Love Def Leppard.

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