Posted: 21 May, 2016
AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson has spoken out about his career-jeopardising hearing loss, saying that his ears have sustained such severe damage that it was a case of needing to put his health first to stop himself from going completely deaf.
Johnson was forced to stop touring with the iconic Australian band this year, with Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose stepping in to cover for Johnson for the remainder of the band's Rock or Bust world tour.
"[About eight years ago], I was at Watkins Glen [automobile race track located in Watkins Glen, New York], and I was getting ready to race," Johnson said in an interview with Doron Levin, host of 'In The Driver's Seat'.
"I think I was number three on the grid. And I just bought a brand new helmet, and I stuck it on, and the boys were going, 'Brian, quick, you're gonna miss the thing.' So I ran over. And I stuck this helmet on, and for the first time ever, I forgot to put my eargplugs in. And what happened was, off I went, and after about thirty-five minutes, my left ear just [let out] a little pop. And I went, 'What the heck was that?'
"But it was fine. All that happened was I suffered tinnitus for about six or seven months, but it cleared up and then I was fine again, because we did another tour after that and I was fine. But, unfortunately, on stage, you don't have any defense. So when we started the tour, I was just fine; we were just rolling along and rolling along. And I think just age and that industrial noise every night on stage… I mean, you're in a rock and roll band. What the hell do you expect?
"In Sydney, before Christmas, I was in the hospital on nine different occasions working with this wonderful doctor called Doctor Chang, and he had perceived that one night, we were playing Winnipeg at this huge stadium outside and it was raining cats and dogs, and it was absolutely freezing cold. And I caught a fever, and so did… well, Angus [Young, AC/DC guitarist] already had a fever.
"We were dripping wet, soaking wet, absolutely freezing, and then straight after the show, we had to get on an aircraft and fly straight to Vancouver, which was a two-and-a-half-hour flight, and unfortunately, the fluids went up into my sinuses and then around my ear. But we had to carry on. We did a gig there, then we did San Francisco, then we did Los Angeles, and then we came home for a two- or three-week break, and then off we went to Australia. And my ears still hadn't popped. And I was getting worred because my right ear, my good ear, is just about totally deaf.
"And when I got [to Australia], that's when Doctor Chang found out that the fluids had crystallized and had been eating away at my ear. So my good ear, I lost… I don't know what percentage, but it was enough to make things very difficult. So they worked on me. They had tubes in my arm, I was getting liquids and steroids into the system to try to break it down and clear it up.
"But he did look me in the eye with that horrible look that doctors have when you know something bad's coming [laughs], and he just said, 'Yup. I'm afraid you're not gonna get that back. But we can work with you, and we'll try it.' So we did. And we did all the gigs in Australia — that was great — and then we came back and I did ten shows in America, but I'm afraid after that, when I went for my second check, that's when they said, 'You're killing your ears.'
"The [other members of AC/DC] saw the chart, 'cause I'd been getting checked regularly, and they saw there was a massive dip, and if I had kept on going, there was every possibility that I would never hear again. And Angus and Cliff [Williams, AC/DC bassist], they just said, 'Jonno, you've gotta think of your health.' And everybody else said, 'Brian, your health comes first. You've done a whole year on the road, you've done everything. We wanna finish.' And that's what they did.
"What people don't understand is, it is what it is. It's like a young sports player getting an injury. I feel sorry for them [when they're] 24 or 25 and they have an injury and it ends their career and it's an awful thing. But I'm lucky. I'm 68 — I'm 69 later this year — and I've had a pretty good run. I've been in one of the best bands in the world. [The doctor] didn't tell me I had cancer or something terminal. And I had so many good times with the boys and I've had such a lucky and great life, and I'm just thankful, really, that I came out of it in one piece."