Monday brought sobering news to metalheads across the globe with the announcement that Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, 63, has been diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. The news came as a shock to fans who were understandably excited about the Nov. 11 announcement of a new Black Sabbath studio album and world tour (for coverage of the Nov. 11 announcement, please see Black Sabbath reform for new album, world tour).
The full announcement of Iommi’s sickness can be found on their official Facebook profile, and reads as follows:
“With the news that Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with the early stages of lymphoma, his bandmates would like everyone to send positive vibes to the guitarist at this time. Iommi is currently working with his doctors to establish the best treatment plan–the “IRON MAN” of Rock & Roll remains upbeat and determined to make a full and successful recovery.
This comes as Black Sabbath–Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums)–are writing and recording their first album in 33 years in Los Angeles (still set for release this fall) with producer Rick Rubin. They will now go to the UK to continue to work with Tony. Further information will be released as it becomes available.”
For long-time fans of Black Sabbath the news is even more dire, due to the sickness and subsequent death of singer Ronnie James Dio in May of 2010 from stomach cancer. Dio had replaced original singer Ozzy Osbourne after Ozzy’s firing in 1979 and contributed to several classic Black Sabbath albums, including Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules and Dehumanizer. In recent years Dio reunited with the band under the moniker Heaven & Hell for the studio album The Devil You Know, in addition to contributing vocals for several successful tours.
What Iommi’s sickness means for the future of Black Sabbath is entirely unknown at this point. For the time being it appears that the band is intent on finishing their next (final?) studio album, still scheduled for a fall 2012 release from Vertigo/Universal. However, on Monday the band reportedly made their first concert cancellation, according to Billboard.com, as headliner of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for the weekends of Apr. 13-15 and Apr. 20-22 in Indio, CA. The band reportedly cancelled just before the official Coachella announcement on Monday.
This buys some time, but according to the band’s official website the next scheduled appearance will be in Moscow on May 18 in Moscow, Russia. Will Iommi be in playing shape at that time? According to early reports the lymphoma was caught in the early stages. Although it has not been made clear, it is presumed that Iommi has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as opposed to non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL). Hodgkin lymphoma is more common and at times can be more easily treated, but both types of cancer are deadly and often fatal. Successful treatment usually involves radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, both of which can lead to other health problems in the future (if successful). For more information about lymphoma, see the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Iommi’s illness is heartbreaking, no doubt about it. Iommi, the “glue” that held Black Sabbath together through the years, in fact the only permanent member, may be faced with a terminal illness. He may be gone from this world as quickly as Dio left us. But Iommi’s a fighter. Here is a professional guitarist who lost two fingertips at the age of 17 in a factory accident. Most everyone would give up under such circumstances, but not Tony Iommi. That being said, cancer is entirely unpredictable and it is in some ways silly to think that all our heroes will find the determination to “kick its ass”. Everyone’s body is different and responds differently to cancer and its treatment.
If you’re reading this please send some “positive vibes” toward Tony, as requested in their Facebook statement. Otherwise, “keep your fingers crossed” for Tony, or pray for him, or just enjoy all the great music he’s given us all these years. As a Black Sabbath fan I am hoping for one last album and hopefully at least a few shows. But at this point I’m mostly just keeping Tony and his family in my thoughts. In closing, give a listen to an underrated classic from Never Say Die!, Black Sabbath’s final album with Ozzy. Here is a link for the title track “Never Say Die“, entirely appropriate under the circumstances.
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