Colossus of Rhoads

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Posted October 10, 2007 in Feature Story

 It’s been 24 years since that fateful day

You were scooped up and taken away

And there you would stay

I still hear the music you played!

As if it was just the other day

 

Your light shined bright

With all its might

And the music made us dance into the night

It filled us up with delight!

 

Love to you!

Mary, Berdoo

—Fan poetry recently left at the tomb of Randy Rhoads

 

As famed urban interment grounds go, Paris may have its Père Lachaise. But San Bernardino has Mountain View Cemetery.

Like most memorial parks, both have lush acres of well-manicured green grass and gardens pockmarked with concrete and marble monuments to the dead. But both aren’t renowned simply because of this alone—it’s because of who’s buried in them. At Père Lachaise, there’s Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Alice B. Toklas, Marcel Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, and, most famously, the much-graffitied final resting place of Jim Morrison. The celebs are a bit more B-grade at Mountain View—Wild West figurehead James Earp, actress Sunny Sue Johnson (she was in Flashdance), Indy car driver Swede Savage.

There’s one particular tomb in Mountain View that gets more attention than any other. It lures people from all around the globe, who pay tribute to its occupant by leaving behind lipstick-stained kisses on its sculpted marble base, full bottles of Jack Daniels in its vestibule, lighted memorial candles and tear-stained miss-you notes. And condoms—used ones, from amorous couples who’ve somehow gotten away with having sex on the concrete slab directly in front of the crypt.

Such is the eternal drawing power of Randy Rhoads.

Monday will mark the 25th anniversary of Rhoads’ death in a Florida plane crash, an accident that occurred when the young guitar phenom was playing lead in the touring band for Ozzy Osbourne, with whom his legacy is most closely linked. Rhoads’ riffs on Ozzy songs like “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Flying High Again,” and his session work on the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman albums, influenced an entire generation of headbangers, even though Rhoads was really more of a classical music guy. What floored everyone a quarter-century ago was how he applied those classical techniques to heavy metal—in a genre often derided by rock snobs with a universe of synonyms for “stupid,” here was a guy whose speedy, fretboard-burning talents were so obvious and overwhelming, it had to be seen—and heard—to be believed.

Born in Santa Monica and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Rhoads was close to his grandparents, who lived in San Bernardino, which is why he’s interred at Mountain View. And on Monday, upwards of 1,000 people—some from Europe, Asia and South America—are expected to descend upon the cemetery. 

“I’ve met thousands of people who’ve visited his memorial,” says Rhoads’ boyhood friend and former Quiet Riot band mate Kelly Garni. (Rhodes was in Quiet Riot before their early-‘80s slew of hit pop-metal singles.) “It still amazes me how his popularity continues to grow.” Garni visits the Rhoads mausoleum at least once a year from his home in Henderson, Nevada.

An average of 200 people gather at the site every March 19. (Rhoads would have turned 50 last December 6.) According to cemetery head groundskeeper Lorrie Lowman, Rhoads’ grave is by far the most visited.

“I’d never heard of him when he was alive, but I know who he is now. Sometimes I think he’s as popular as Elvis Presley. Young couples come here from around the world just to sneak in and make love at his grave. We have to dispose of a lot of condoms,” explains Lowman, who’s worked at Mountain View for 20 years. “For as popular as he is, I’m surprised that there isn’t one of those Behind the Music biographies on him. From what I’ve learned, he sure deserves a lot more.”

Lowman says she cares less about Ozzy Osbourne—however, some of her caretakers have seen him at the cemetery. According to 29-year employee Robert Hatt, Osbourne has been a regular visitor at the Rhoads tomb, yet strives not to be noticed. “We talked years ago, but since, when Mr. Osbourne visits, I just nod or wave. I never approach him. He’ll sneak in for a couple of minutes, usually in a plain-looking rental car. As far as I can tell, he’s by himself and is very serious. You can tell he doesn’t want to attract attention. He’s for real,” says Hatt. His co-workers say they’ve spotted him around the time of Ozzfest, staged annually up the 215 at Hyundai Pavilion.

The Rhoads crypt has also become a hotbed of overzealous fans pilfering their own souvenirs. Brass nameplates and a decorative metal guitar illustration have vanished over the years. Heavy cement benches were also purloined, which caused the Rhoads family to install iron gating in front of the monument’s vestibule, says Lowman.

“We perform a lot of extra maintenance around the Rhoads grave site—it’s just part of our job. He has earned our respect, even though we never knew him.”

Lowman says that along with condoms, some visitors have left Bibles filled with marijuana, along with an abundance of beer and liquor bottles, thousands of guitar picks, and a moderate amount of money. When informed that the 25th anniversary of Rhoads’ death is expected to draw massive crowds to Mountain View, Lowman blurts “Oh shit.”

But she adds that her cemetery is more than willing to accommodate them. “We don’t even think about it. We’ll set up tables and electrical outlets and anything else for a Rhoads tribute.”

“Randy Rhoads was a God and continues to be one,” says Mike Stewart, a radio personality at KCAL 96.7 for 31 years. “I still get a lot of people calling in song requests, asking where he’s buried and if it’s alright to visit. Kids continue to adore him, but I’m not sure why. He was so big, though—it’s great to have him here.”

Jim Hayes, 37, of San Bernardino, came to the Rhoads monument on a recent Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to “the best.” Hayes says he was at Mountain View on the 20th anniversary of Rhoads’ death and met Randy’s brother, sister, and his mother, Delores Rhoads.

“Ozzy sent white gardenias,” Hayes says. “I also met this guy from Japan who comes to San Bernardino every year.”

“I’m a Big Bopper/Buddy Holly-type guy,” says another visitor, Robert Delgado, 67, from 

Fontana. “This is my first time out here. I heard a lot about Randy Rhoads, but I know very little about him. I wanted to find out what everyone was talking about.”

The Rhoads site is a very eye-catching white granite memorial, just to the left of the Highland Avenue entry gate, standing about 12 feet high. Evidence of previous visitors can be seen by the lipstick kisses that mark the walls, poems taped to the sidings, and, on this day, a note from one Paul Vanderwaal and friends from New Zealand: “TO RANDY: YOU CLASSIC GENIUS.”

On top of the tomb, there’s this inscription: “An inspiration to all young people.”

“I’ve never heard of him, but my cousin has,” says cemetery groundsman David Rodriguez, 20. “There was 

a couple who rode the bus here from Texas, just to come to the Rhoads monument. They played a song, kissed, and left within five minutes. People come to him everyday.”

Garni says Rhoads would have disliked his big burial monument, which cost an estimated $150,000 to construct (and, contrary to popular belief, was not paid for buy Osbourne). “Randy was humble and shy, and once he became a rock star, he didn’t like the scene at all. At first, I was embarrassed for Randy and the big temple they built for him. But now, it’s more like a church—a good place for people to meet.”

Randy’s mother, Delores, says fans from around the world come by and visit where she still teaches, at her Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood. “They tell me that Randy not only inspired them musically, but that he inspired them to overcome personal problems. His fans are very dedicated and sincere. I’m more than glad to talk about Randy. Music was his world.”

“People come by now more than ever,” says Randy’s brother, Kelle, himself a classical music composer. “They come to my mom’s music school to see if it’s real—they want to see where Randy got his start. People come by and just gawk.”

For months, various Randy Rhoads websites and message boards have been spilling over with quipperquack about the March 19 pilgrimage to San Bernardino. The England-based RandyRhoads.tk message board is filled with fans seeking flight and hotel queries, and driving directions to Mountain View. A film crew is also supposed to be shooting a Rhoads documentary at the cemetery Monday.

“March 19 is going to be massive,” says Kelle Rhoads. “It’s been 25 years since my brother died, and I think a lot of people will be there.”

Hayes advises that those planning to attend the Rhoads tribute Monday should get there early. “I don’t know what time they open the cemetery, but it would be a good idea to arrive at six in the morning.”

Like most people who knew Randy, Garni says that the young axeman had a superstar aura at an early age. “When he was 12, you could look at him and know he would be someone special. Randy got popular due to the freedom of expression that Osbourne gave him, but it was his quiet charisma and magical talent that fed the growth of his immortality.”

Like many rockers who’ve died before they turned 30, Garni says that the early passing of his best friend undoubtedly contributed to his legend. Indeed, the Rhoads mythos runs deep due to the numerous rumors surrounding his life. Yes, there was a Randy Rhoads from San Bernardino—but no, it was not the Burbank-raised metal icon. Yes, Ozzy’s wife Sharon said she slept with Randy. Yes, Randy performed in San Bernardino’s Swing Auditorium on the 1981 Blizzard of Ozz tour. Yes. Randy successfully snuck into a 1973 Alice Cooper concert at the Swing—he and Garni found a door open the night before the show and creeped in, then raided the concession stands, which were filled with cigarettes and candy, pigging out all night until they were woken up at six in the morning with belly aches by the Cooper road crew. Yes, he’s incorrectly rated by Rolling Stone as the 85th best pop guitarist behind Neil Young and Eddie Cochran. Yes, Randy was more of a wallflower in his private life than a rock star—by most accounts, he was more interested in studying and teaching guitar than touring.

And his celebrity continues to gain nutrients from beneath the San Bernardino soil.

“It’s never been quite the same without Randy Rhoads,” says Mike Stewart, “but I always pay my respects. The ghost of Randy Rhoads still haunts people.”

 

Fan note recently left at the tomb of Randy Rhoads:

The Six String God from Katman, 1/28/07

You were and still are my most inspirational musician in the mind and heart. I saw you play on Feb. 28, 1982 (when Ozzy bit the head off the bat). I have a radio show I do and I have a mandatory Randy segment. I worship your abilities to play the guitar like nobody but yourself, and yourself alone. You are still the best guitar player to walk the earth! You will be in my heart.

 


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