30 Years Ago: An Ozzy Osbourne Fan Commits Suicide, Leading to ‘Suicide Solution’ Lawsuit
On October 26, 1984, 19-year-old John Daniel McCollum shot and killed himself while lying on his bed listening to an Ozzy Osbourne record at his home in Indio, California. His parents went on to sue the singer, alleging that the lyrics to Osbourne’s song ‘Suicide Solution‘ were a “proximate cause” for their son’s death.
“(He’s) a perfectly normal kid there, who really doesn’t show any signs of any depression at all, and happy and all of a sudden, six hours, he’s dead. No one (could) explain it, the only thing we know is he was listening to this music,” explained McCollum’s father Jack.
According to a police report, the former Black Sabbath star’s 1980 solo debut ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ was found on McCollum’s turntable, cued to side one, which concludes with ‘Suicide Solution.’ A photo from the scene shows he was still wearing his headphones.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him,” Daniel’s mother stated, “and I just kept saying, ‘Why? What was the reason? You know, he was fine. And then my daughter, I was talking to her and I said ‘Why, why did he kill himself?’ And she said, ‘It was the music he listened to, mom.'”
Feeling that the lyrics (“Made your bed, rest your head / But you lie there and moan / Where to hide? Suicide is the only way out”) from the song by their child’s “idol” pushed him into making this horrible decision, the McCollums sued Osbourne and CBS Records in 1986.
“The boy must have been pretty messed up before he ever heard an Ozzy record,” Osbourne solemnly stated in a television interview at the time. “I mean, I can’t help that, you know? I feel very sad for the boy, and I felt terribly sad for the parents. As a parent myself, I’d be pretty devastated if something like that happened. And I have thought about this, if the boot was on the other foot, I couldn’t blame the artist.”
Osbourne also insisted that the young man had misinterpreted his song’s meaning. “(It’s) solution as in liquid, not a way out. The song’s about the dangers of alcoholism — alcohol will kill you just like any other drug will… it’s just a terrible case of misinterpretation, as far as I’m concerned.”
If successful, the McCollum lawsuit would have had huge consequences not just for Osbourne, but for artists in every conceivable creative medium. The creators of any film, television show, book or piece of music could potentially have been held liable for the actions of those who watched, read or listened to it.
However, the case was dismissed by the state of California in 1988, with the court declaring that McCollum’s suicide was not a forseeable result of Osbourne’s song. The family of another young man, Michael Waller, brought a similar lawsuit against Osbourne that same year, alleging that subliminal messages hidden within ‘Suicide Solution’ caused their son to kill himself on May 3, 1986. Their case was also unsuccessful.