Kerslake’s former Uriah Heep bandmate Ken Hensley confirmed the drummer’s death in a statement (via Louder), “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that I share with you that Lee Kerslake, my friend of 55 years and the best drummer I ever played with, lost his battle with cancer at 03:30 this morning. He died peacefully, praise The Lord, but he will be terribly missed.”
Uriah Heep guitarist Mick Box wrote on Facebook, “Lee was one of the kindest men on earth, as well as being a brother he was an incredible drummer, singer and song writer! He had a passion for life bar none and was much loved by the fans, as well as anyone who crossed his path!”
Kerslake served as drummer on both of Osbourne’s revered albums with guitarist Randy Rhoads, 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and 1981’s Diary of a Madman; Kerslake died one day shy of the 40th anniversary of Blizzard of Ozz.
After stints with U.K. bands like the Gods and Head Machine, Kerslake joined Uriah Heep in late 1971, first appearing on the metal act’s fourth LP, 1972’s Demons and Wizards. Kerslake would drum on eight more Uriah Heep studio LPs before his first run with the group concluded with 1978’s Fallen Angel. Soon after, he was recruited to join Osbourne — recently fired from Black Sabbath — and his new band that included guitarist Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley.
“We got Lee Kerslake literally just before we went in the studio, and it was just, like, four guys having a blast with each other,” Osbourne told Rolling Stone in a 40th anniversary piece for Blizzard of Ozz, Number Nine on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums. “We were all getting fucked up on coke and booze, though Randy wasn’t. Randy never did much drugs. He smoked cigarettes; he didn’t drink much.”
However, Kerslake’s contributions on Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman — as well as those of Daisley — were later removed and rerecorded when the album was reissued decades later, the result of a lengthy legal fight between the Osbournes and his former bandmates over royalties and songwriting credits; drummer Tommy Aldridge was ultimately credited as drummer on Madman after Kerslake’s exit before the album’s release.
Following Kerslake’s terminal cancer diagnosis, the drummer and Osbourne resolved their issues, with Osbourne recognizing Kerslake’s contributions by sending him platinum records.
“I’ve written to Sharon and Ozzy recently, a personal letter basically asking them to kindly send me platinum album certifications for Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, to hang on my wall before I die. It’s on my bucket list. I hope they will come to terms with it and say yes. I went belly-up bankrupt when I lost the case to Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne in the courts,” Kerslake said (via Ultimate Classic Rock). “It costs me hundreds of thousands and I had to sell the house, and then started to get ill. … But a platinum certification on my wall for these albums would be fantastic. … It would say I helped create those albums.”
In January 2019, Osbourne obliged:
Kerslake and Daisley’s contributions were later restored on the 30th anniversary editions of the LPs. Following his split from Osbourne, Kerslake — with Daisley briefly in tow — rejoined Uriah Heep for a stint that ran from 1982’s Abominog through his semi-retirement from the band in 2007.
It’s been 39 years since I’ve seen Lee but he lives for ever on the records he played on for me, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Lee Kerslake RIP pic.twitter.com/xWqVR0VJn6
— Ozzy Osbourne (@OzzyOsbourne) September 19, 2020