This Day in History (October 26)

Oct 26, 1984: An Ozzy Osbourne fan commits suicide

History.com

Nineteen-year-old John McCollum is found shot to death on his bed in Indio, California. Although it was quickly determined that the fatal wound was self-inflicted, McCollum’s parents believed that singer Ozzy Osbourne was actually responsible because their son had been listening to Osbourne’s album, Blizzard of Oz, which contains the song, “Suicide Solution,” when he killed himself.

In their lawsuit, McCollum’s parents claimed that there were hidden lyrics in the song that incited the teenager to kill himself. They claimed that listeners were urged to “get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot.” Osbourne, a popular star of heavy metal music, responded that “Suicide Solution” had no hidden lyrics and was actually an anti-suicide composition written about a fellow musician who drank himself to death.

Although it is generally legal in the United States to express any viewpoint or feelings, it is not legal to directly incite specific and imminent violent actions. But since this standard is hard to prove, virtually every attempt to hold an entertainer responsible for allegedly inciting action has failed. For instance, in 1981, an appellate court held that NBC and the producers of a television-movie, Born Innocent, could not be held liable for the rape of a nine-year-old girl, which had allegedly been inspired by the show.

A California court dismissed the McCollums’ lawsuit in 1988, ruling that John’s suicide was not a foreseeable result of Osbourne’s song.

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