Tony Iommi on Cancer Diagnosis: 'I Dont Want to Die, I Want to Carry on and Do What Im Supposed to Do'

Black Sabbath guitarist discusses his battle with lymphoma and the shocking effect Bill Ward's departure had on him.

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Guitar legend and Black Sabbath co-founder Tony Iommi recently discussed the effect cancer diagnosis had on his life. Apart from describing the initial shock, the guitarist also expressed firm determination to win the battle and continue with his goals.

"I thought, Bloody cancerous lymphoma? Well that's it. I've had it," Iommi told Guitar World while discussing his first reactions to lymphoma diagnosis.

"Once they diagnosed it, I had to start the treatment right away," he continued. "And it knocked me about. Id go through stages thinking, 'Can I do this?' And then: 'Of course I can do this.' I dont want to die. I want to carry on and do what Im supposed to do."

The treatment consisted of an aggressive chemotherapy and radiation course, fighting the cancer but also severely affecting Iommi's immune system. As some of the photos from that period clearly show, he was losing weight and getting weaker, putting the new Black Sabbath record and essentially his entire career on hold.

"They thought I would pack up," Iommi said. "But I asked the doctor, 'Is it okay if I work?' And he said, 'Yes, you've just got to be careful.' So I'd go in the studio and play for a bit. Then I'd get tired and I'd have to go and sit down. The guys would tell me not to push it."

The rest of the band supported Iommi's opinions, admitting that the possibility of guitarist passing away was definitely in their minds.

"Tony and I were on the Heaven & Hell tour with Ronnie James Dio, and six months later Ronnie was dead," bassist Geezer Butler said. "We didn't have any inkling that was gonna happen. When Tony got the cancer, obviously that was in his mind. We didn't know how he'd respond to the treatment.

"So it was like 'Let's get the album done at all costs, as long as Tony's up to it.' So we'd write for three weeks, and then he'd go for his treatment and we'd all have three weeks off. But it didn't affect his playing at all. In fact I think it really encouraged him and kept his mind off the cancer, which is the best thing you can possibly do if you have that."

Finally, Iommi talked about Bill Ward's departure from the band, calling it a shocking decision.

"I was shocked. We were hearing stuff from lawyers, like, 'I'm not happy with this. I'm not happy with that.' We waited a long time for Bill and we wanted to sort it out," guitarist said. "But at the end of the day, especially after I was diagnosed, I thought, 'F--king hell, that's it. We've got to get a move on. I might pop off next year!' So I emailed him and said, 'Bill, we can't wait any longer. We've got to get on with it.' And that was it."

Described as "a masterpiece" by singer Ozzy Osbourne, the upcoming Black Sabbath record "13" is set for a June 10 release via Vertigo/Universal Records. As the group's nineteenth album, it's the first one to feature Osbourne on vocals since 1978's "Never Say Die."

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Tony Iommi practically risked his life to make the new Sabbath album guys. Everybody buy a copy to show your support.
    This has been a bad year for older rock stars so far, but I get the strange feeling that Iommi's not going to be stopped for a long time yet.
    After what hapened with Dio, I can see where he's coming from. Tony, I hope you continue on headbanging.
    This man drudged through ****ing CANCER for the sake of the music. That's quite inspirational. Can't wait to see them in July!
    It makes me mad to think that Tony recorded the album while battling cancer, yet Bill left because he wasn't offered enough money? I bet Bill would have a different perspective on life if he too came down with cancer.
    The king of the riff. Can wait to hear the new album! Get better Soon!!!
    Glad the band has brought things up and tried clearing the air. I'm sure it's uncomfortable to discuss this sort of thing but it is better that things are said openly then continue to let fans think all kinds of things in the gap in between. Just love Tony Iommi, his magical fingers and mind have brought such a dimension to my life. Since forever (okay, since 1976, which feels like forever) I've loved Black Sabbath. They, -Tony-, produce the most perfect sounds of doom ^V^...\m/-O-\m/ ^V^ Long live Tony. Bless these men, and may their US tour and album sales surpass their every dream.