Dubbed “Metal God” by Judas Priest’s voracious fans, Rob Halford is the quintessential heavy-metal icon, with an imposing stance, the shaved head, the menacing glare, and a seemingly futile voice, in the sense that it has quashed the dreams of many a tribute singer. Hits such as “Painkiller,” which contains some of the most challenging vocals in metal, “Living After Midnight,” “Heading Out to the Highway,” “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and Riding On The Wind’” have helped Priest sell more than 50 million albums.
But the Rob Halford fronted heavy onslaught is more than shredding guitars and piercing vocals. It is the epitome of everything metal: black leather, silver spikes, and that untouchable, bad-ass attitude.
Rob is particularly terrifying on social media, where he regularly celebrates “Caturday” by wearing a seemingly endless supply of kitty T-shirts while fans post parodies of Priest song titles like “Meowing for Vengeance,” “Hell Bent for Catnip,” and “Some Hairballs Are Gonna Roll.”
Surprised? Don’t be. Rob is not the monster the self-appointed DEFENDERS of righteousness contend. In fact, he’s quite the opposite: well-mannered, pleasant, and remarkably candid.
But Rob wasn’t always like that.
“It’s really leading a double life,” Rob Halford says of living privately as a gay man before coming out live on MTV in 1998. “It was a very strong alpha-male, macho image, not only in rock ‘n’ roll, but in the world in general… It led me down my drug-and-alcohol phase.”
Rob Halford almost died in the mid-’80’s from an overdose of sleeping pills, after years of alcohol abuse and the suicide of his then-partner.
Today, sober for 33 years, Rob Halford still has trouble shutting his brain off.
“I’m like the heavy-metal Michael Jackson,” he says of their respective battles with insomnia. “It’s a nightmare for me to sleep.”
Sobriety has been a long and painful road, but it is one on which Rob has been grateful to walk.
“After all those years that I’ve gone onstage in a bit of a haze, I suddenly realized how great and wonderful and glorious it is to be sober and to be consciously aware of everything going on around you,” Halford says.
But sometimes awareness can be just as painful as haze, as Rob learned when Judas Priest was sued in a very public, precedent-setting civil trial that remains a relevant case in mass-media study today. The suit alleged that in 1985, subliminal messages in “Better by You, Better Than Me” drove two young fans to shoot themselves in the head. One of the boys died instantly, and the other sadly perished from an overdose three years later.
“I was terribly confused, angry, upset,” Rob Halford says of the accusations. “It’s a very strange, nebulous area, this whole discussion about subliminal messaging… But to utilize it as a weapon against us, I thought, was terrible.”
The case rocked the heavy metal world, and though the band ultimately prevailed, Rob says “there were no real winners.”
“The main tragedy was the death of those beautiful children,” he says. “Music was their light source.”
Rob has credited friends, fans, sobriety, and the power of human resilience with helping him cope.
“Life is still a beautiful thing for me, and I look back on those moments still with a tremendous amount of sadness and grief,” – Rob Halford
Staying sober is of paramount importance to min, but admits that even after all this time, he is sometimes tempted.
“It’ll come out of the blue, and you’ll go, What the fuck is going on?, most importantly is not to be alone when those feelings kick in.”
Halford says that today he has the tools to deal with whatever life throws at him. “You wrap yourself in the music, and the music heals you and helps you get through those difficulties.”
“You’re blessed by the people that love you and help you, and your own self-strength and determination to pull through.”
Judas Priest – Victim of Changes (Live Vengeance ’82)