Remembering Def Leppard Guitarist Steve Clark

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Steve Clark

He was on a six month informal leave of absence from his band. Def Leppard were the best-selling rock group of the 1990s. But their guitarist Steve Clark was haunted by a sadness and lack of confidence that all the success in the world couldn’t help him overcome, and the result was an addictive compulsion to drink to major excess and consume most any drug he could get his hands on. The issue came to a head when the classic rock band were making their fifth album, Adrenalize, and multiple stays in rehab had failed to help Clark.

Clark, born April 23, 1960, had joined the Sheffield, U.K.-based band in 1978, impressing them with his ability to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” in full. Ironically, Clark had already seen his fellow guitar player Pete Willis fired from the band for alcoholism. But the group assured Clark that his place in the band was safe, and that they simply wanted him to address and overcome his substance abuse issues.

The night before, Clark and a friend went out to a local pub. The guitarist promised his fiance, Janie Dean, that he would not get drunk. They returned by midnight to Clark’s London home to watch a video.

The next day, January 8, 1991, Clark remained on the couch where Dean would often let him sleep off his previous night’s excesses. When she finally went to wake him, Clark was cold to the touch and there was a trail of blood on his lips.

The coroner ruled that the cause of his death was a respiratory failure due to a compression of the brain stem caused by a mixture of alcohol, painkillers and an anti-depressant. Clark’s autopsy found codeine, Valium and morphine in his system. His alcohol content was three times the British legal driving limit.

He was 30 years old.

Clark was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 29, 2019, along with his bandmates Rick Allen, Vivian Campbell, Phil Collen, Joe Elliott, Rick Savage and Pete Willis.

The band offered this tribute to Clark in 2020.

Def Leppard have a massive stadium tour with Journey in 2024. Tickets are available here and here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. Baby girl Bren
    #1 Baby girl Bren 9 January, 2020, 00:36

    Sure do miss you STEVE CLARK.

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  2. Redneck Girl
    #2 Redneck Girl 14 May, 2020, 19:09

    So sorry about Steve didn’t know but I just love yall Music and I love watching him Play he is Dam good. He will be Missed A Graet Deal. R.I.P. STEVE HEAVEN GOT A GUITAR PLAYING ANGEL

    Reply this comment
  3. Wolf
    #3 Wolf 8 January, 2021, 08:37

    30 years ago today since his passing and I remember where I was and the friend I was with when I found out. It was a shock.

    Reply this comment
  4. TyStick
    #4 TyStick 11 January, 2023, 17:05

    Steve Clark brought something special to Def- Leppard. His unique guitar sound created some great music. He is missed. I still love Def Leppard, but I’m glad I got to see them in their hey day.

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