The Fiery Pranks of Black Sabbath: How Tony Iommi Set Bill Ward on Fire

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath unintentionally set drummer Bill Ward on fire in a prank, causing third-degree burns on Ward's legs.

Bill Ward and Tony Iommi
Bill Ward and Tony Iommi

Pioneers of Heavy Metal and Prank Culture

From the echoing halls of rock history, the name Black Sabbath resounds with unrivaled force. Their legacy goes far beyond powerful riffs and haunting lyrics, extending into notorious offstage antics and pranks. If there was a boundary to overstep, they didn’t just edge past it – they blew through it with the power of a Marshall stack at full volume.

An Art Form Born from Boredom and Excess

In the adrenaline-fueled world of Black Sabbath, pranks transcended mere pastime, morphing into a form of art. So influential were they, it could be argued they created the “rock ‘n roll prank”. One notable instance involved their drummer, Bill Ward, being painted head-to-toe in gold. Sounds harmless enough, right? That is, until you discover it led to convulsions and a stern lecture from paramedics. A clear case of a joke taken too far, fuelled by boredom, alcohol, and more.

A Scorching Tradition

Despite the golden drummer episode, the band didn’t pull their punches. Instead, they turned up the heat. Literally. Setting Bill Ward on fire became a twisted tradition for the band. The process was simple: douse Ward in rubbing alcohol and set him alight. Usually, the alcohol would simply burn off, leaving no physical harm – a somewhat questionable definition of harmless fun.

The Incident that Ignited a Crisis

Fast forward to 1980, during the mixing sessions for their post-Ozzy Osbourne record, “Heaven and Hell”, in London’s Town House Studio. Tony Iommi, the band’s lead guitarist, casually asks Ward if he could set him on fire. After what we can assume was a moment’s thought, Ward agrees. However, this time the alcohol soaked into Ward’s clothes, creating an uncontrollable human torch.

The Terrifying Aftermath

The aftermath was as catastrophic as one might expect. Ward suffered third-degree burns and required immediate hospitalization. Onlookers, including music producer Martin Birch, were understandably horrified. Iommi, the instigator of the ill-fated prank, was left with a burdensome guilt and an admonishing call from Ward’s mother, who demanded he “grow up” and expressed fears about her son potentially losing his leg.

The Departure of Bill Ward

In the aftermath of this shocking event, Ward left Black Sabbath without even a farewell to Iommi. The final prank had crossed a line and may well have been the catalyst for his decision to part ways with the band.

A Lesson from the Annals of Rock History

This incident left a permanent scar on the band’s history, symbolizing the end of an era marked by reckless pranks. It served as a harsh wake-up call and a stark reminder that having fun should never eclipse safety. After all, unchecked humour can swiftly escalate into a disaster. As for Black Sabbath, their music continues to inspire, but their fiery pranks? Those are best consigned to the annals of rock ‘n roll history.