October 26, 1984: 19-year-old John McCullum committed suicide in his home in California. His parents brought a lawsuit against heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne and his CBS record label. The McCullums were convinced that the song “Suicide Solution” from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Oz album, played a part in their son’s death. They claimed the song had hidden lyrics which incited their son to kill himself and that the song urged listeners to “get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot.” HI Osbourne responded that the song was actually anti-suicide, written in response to a musician who drank himself to death, HI supposedly AC/DC’s Bon Scott. WK
The crux of the lawsuit depended on the idea that while it is legal to express a viewpoint or feeling, it is illegal to directly call for any specific violent responses. Specifically, in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that “expression advocating violent or otherwise illegal behavior only loses First Amendment protection if the expression is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless behavior, and is likely to result in such action.” TJ Because this is hard to prove, similar lawsuits brought against other entertainers have generally failed. On December 19, 1986, a judge in California refused to reinstate the lawsuit.
Resources and Related Links:
- Ozzy Osbourne’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- HI History.com: An Ozzy Osbourne fan commits suicide
- TJ TJcenter.org: The Issue: Audience Reaction to Art: Who Is Responsible?
- WK Wikipedia.org: Suicide Solution