The Def Leppard Show That Almost Ended Brian May’s Queen Career

Def Leppard, formed in 1977, quickly established themselves as part of the new wave of British heavy metal movement of the early 1980s. Their most successful period was between 1980 and the early 1990s. Their iconic lineup consisted of Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collen, and Vivian Campbell, who are still considered acclaimed musicians in 2022. In 2019, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Joe Elliot’s friend and one of the best guitarists in the world, Brian May.

May mentioned the tragedies Def Leppard went through, as Rick Allen lost his arm and Steve Clark passed from alcohol poisoning. When Clark died, the first phone call Elliott got was from Biran May, and he also admitted that when Freddie Mercury had died, the first phone call May got was from Elliott. The two have established a beautiful friendship over the years, and Elliott even saved May’s life on stage from an accident that could have been fatal.

How Did Joe Elliott Save Brian May’s Life?

When Def Leppard was first formed, they would open for bands, and one day Queen’s Brian May went to see the new and upcoming band. He, unfortunately, missed their performance, and to make up for it, he went backstage to meet them. A while later, in September 1983, May decided actually to watch Def Leppard perform and then remarked that he had ‘never seen an audience react like that.’

After that show, Def Leppard asked Brian May to perform with them on stage, and the guitarist quickly agreed. Def Leppard’s dangerous stage acts were also a part of the show that night, and May almost burned alive. The flames got very close to May at one point, and he didn’t realize until Elliot pulled him away, saving his life. In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speech, May told the story and stated that he wouldn’t be standing there if it wasn’t for Elliott.

Here is the story of how Brian May almost burned alive:

“Okay, cut to September ’83, I’m in Los Angeles, again we’re recording an album, which, this time, is ‘The Works,’ I think, and I go out. This time, Def Leppard is playing the local arena, which is the legendary L.A. Forum. I go down there, very inconspicuous, I sit in the back, and when these boys hit the stage, I have to tell you — I have never seen anything like it. I’ve seen some great shows in the Forum, but I’ve never seen an audience react like that.

They got to their feet, they never sat down, and they screamed and shouted the whole way through the performance. Def Leppard killed that night. I went backstage to see them afterward, they invited me, and just like when we first played in the States, all their moms and dads are there — very proud moms and dads, and I get introduced to them. And the boys say, ‘Will you come out and play with us tomorrow night?’ So I said yes, and the rest is history.

We played ‘Travelin’ Band.’ It’s history because I nearly lost my career and my life because this is Pyromania and the production has all kinds of fire. Joe warned me, he said, ‘Watch out for the fireworks at the end, just be careful.’ But I’m at the end, we finish ‘Travelin’ Band,’ we’re up, behind the drums, and there’s a kind of chasm in front of us where the fire’s about to come out — I have no idea.

I’m gone, I’m like giving it all this, and Joe’s going, ‘Brian, Brian!’ And I’m thinking he’s just kind of appreciating me, you know? He’s going, ‘Brian, Brian, the fire!’ Anyway, this huge sheath of flame comes up in front of me, and just in time, Joe’s dragged me out of it — otherwise, I wouldn’t be here tonight. So early on in their career, Joe Elliott saved my life!

You can watch the speech below.