Bill Ward Was Left With Third Degree Burns After This Black Sabbath Prank Went Wrong

In addition to being one of the most famous metal bands of all time, Black Sabbath is particularly known for pranks, stunts, and general showmanship that has toed — and sometimes crossed — the line between mere rock 'n' roll tomfoolery and serious bad taste. Lead singer Ozzy Osbourne famously bit the head off a dead bat onstage; got arrested and banned from San Antonio, Texas, for urinating next to the Alamo; and threw a television out of his hotel room window.

No one was more familiar with the many stunts of Black Sabbath than the band's own drummer, Bill Ward, who was a regular target for off-the-wall pranks. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi recalled several of these Ward-directed pranks, including a time when the band attacked the drummer with gold spray paint until things got serious. "He started having convulsions," Iommi told the outlet. "The ambulance people gave us a right bollocking: 'You idiots! You could have killed him.' They gave him adrenaline and we had to use paint stripper to get it off. He looked like a beetroot by the end." Still, that (paint)brush with death was not enough to deter the band from pulling dangerous pranks on Ward.

Tony Iommi set Bill Ward on fire

Black Sabbath had a penchant for setting people on fire. "It was our party piece," Tony Iommi told The Guardian, "which almost worked until the last time we did it." The incident in question played out in front of music producer Martin Birch, who was scared of the band at the best of times, as Iommi told Gibson TV (on YouTube) in 2020. "Bill walked in, and I said, 'Bill, can I set fire to you?'" Iommi recalled. "And he said, 'Not just now, I'm busy.' 'Okay then.' And he went out into the drum room, fiddling about his drums, and then he came back: 'Okay, I'm ready now. Do you want to set me on fire?' I went, 'Okay.'"

A horrified Birch looked on as Iommi poured two bottles of rubbing alcohol on Ward and then lit the fire. "It soaked into his clothes and I lit him, and it went up like a bomb," Iommi said. "I put too much on. Instead of it just burning enough, it burnt through his trousers, burnt all his legs, and so he had to go to a hospital. He had third-degree burns. He was rolling on the floor, and I thought it was part of the joke, so I'm still pouring the stuff on him. It was absolutely mad." Perhaps it's no surprise Ward quit Black Sabbath in 1980.