Uriah Heep and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Lee Kerslake dead at 73

Lee Kerslake
(Image credit: Fin Costello / Getty Images)

Lee Kerslake has died at the age of 73. The drummer, who played on many of Uriah Heep's albums and on Ozzy Osbourne's classic Blizzard Of Oz and Diary Of A Madman, succumbed to prostate cancer after a long illness.

The news was confirmed by former Uriah Heep member Ken Hensley, who wrote, "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.

"I know many of you were praying for him not to suffer and I thank you for that and, now that Lee is at peace, our thoughts and prayers should turn to his wife Sue who will need all the support she can get at this time."

Lee Kerslake was born in 1947 in Dorset, in the West of England. His first band were The Gods, whose members at various times included future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, keyboardist Ken Hensley (who would perform alongside Kerslake in Uriah Heep) and bassist Greg Lake. Kerslake played on the band's two albums, Genesis and To Samuel A Son.   

By the time To Samuel A Son was released at the end of 1969 The Gods were no more, having moved on to back former Rabble Rousers' singer Cliff Bennett in prog rockers Toe Fat. 

The band secured a US deal with Rare Earth Records, Tamla Motown’s ‘progressive’ label, and released their debut, self-titled album. But after an American tour with Derek and The Dominos, both Kerslake and Hensley departed. 

Kerslake hooked up with the National Head Band for one album, Albert One – a mix of blues, folk and progressive rock – while Hensley joined Uriah Heep. And in November 1971, Kerslake followed suit. 

He played on Heep's classic Demons And Wizards and Magician's Birthday albums, and forged a long career with the band, a period only interrupted by his stint with Ozzy Osbourne, playing drums on Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman.

Kerslake sued Ozzy in 1998 to gain an improved royalty share, only to have his drum parts removed entirely and re-recorded when the albums were reissued in 2002.

In 2007 he left Uriah Heep due to ill health, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. His final performance with the band came in December 2018, when he briefly joined them onstage in London, adding percussion and backing vocals to Lady In Black.

In January 2019 Kerslake attended a ceremony at the Hall Of Heavy Metal History in Annaheim, CA, where he was presented with a pair of platinum discs for his work with Ozzy by Hall CEO Pat Guesaldo. 

Kerslake had flown from The UK to California to accept the awards after being given months to live by his doctors. In the wake of the news he wrote to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne to request the recognition. “I would like to get a couple of them to put on my wall before I die," he said. "It’s on my bucket list."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.