Richie Faulkner says “the power of heavy metal” kept him alive during his onstage aortic aneurysm

Richie Faulkner playing live
(Image credit: Mariano Regidor/Redferns via Getty)

Last year, Judas Priest electric guitar hero Richie Faulkner suffered a major aortic aneurysm in the middle of the band’s set at the 2021 Louder Than Life music festival in Kentucky.

In a series of subsequent updates issued to the general public, the severity of Faulkner’s medical emergency soon became more and more apparent. After undergoing a life-saving open heart surgery at the nearby Rudd Heart & Lung Center, the guitarist took to social media to say that “people with this don’t usually make it to the hospital alive”.

Not long after, though, Faulkner was back in the saddle, shredding on Instagram live just 10 weeks after his surgery and linking up with Demon Hunter in the studio to track a guitar solo.

In the latest issue of Guitar World, Faulkner sat down to discuss his miraculous road to recovery, and revealed the key force that kept him alive in the aftermath of the emergency – the power of heavy metal.

As Faulkner explained, “One question I had for the doctors was how I was able to go on for so long, because, yeah, once these things rupture you’ve usually got minutes and you’re gone. 

Richie Faulkner

Richie Faulkner performing live on June 30 2022 (Image credit: Mariano Regidor/Redferns via Getty)

“They think that maybe my adrenaline was so high because we were playing,” he continued, “and that my heart was pumping hard enough and fast enough to keep me going long enough to get pumped up with more adrenaline and keep me going to the hospital. 

I can literally say the power of heavy metal kept me alive. I was literally, possibly saved by metal

“So I can literally say the power of heavy metal kept me alive long enough to save my life. I was literally, possibly saved by metal.”

Elsewhere, Faulkner discussed his extensive road to recovery, reflecting he first reunited with his guitar four days after he came home from hospital – a mere two weeks after being hospitalized – as he harbored fears that his fingers wouldn’t work like they used to pre-accident.

“One of the first things I worried about was whether I would still be able to play,” he admitted. “When I woke up in the ICU I think one of my first questions was, ‘What’s happening with the tour and what are we going to do?’”

As for reacquainting himself with the six-string, he commented, “You want everything to be exactly the way it was, but you’ve been through this intense trauma. You don’t know if you’ve lost too much blood to your brain and if your fingers will ever be able to function like they did. I was determined but I was also worried.”

Progress was slow and steady, interrupted by periods of tiredness and frustration, but Faulkner was constantly buoyed by a “sense of accomplishment” and the prospect of reaching the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

It’s an amazing feat, given just how severe Faulkner’s medical emergency was. Without going into too much grisly detail, the guitarist was on the operating table for 11 hours after his aorta – the main artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso – ruptured.

According to Faulkner, the aortic aneurysm proved to be “a lot more severe than what [the doctors] anticipated”.

“Partway through, they had someone come out and tell my other half to call for my family to come to the hospital because they didn’t know if I was going to make it out.”

He did make it out, though, and now has some serious battle scars as a result of the emergency. As Faulkner explained, parts of his heart have been patched up with metal plates, since the invasive surgery “caused a lot of damage”.

I’m more metal than ever. I’ve literally got a heart of metal

“I’m more metal than ever,” Faulkner offered. “I like to joke that I’ve literally got a heart of metal. But I know how serious it was and I know I would have died if I didn’t have these miracle doctors.”

For those of a strong disposition, the whole in-depth conversation with Richie Faulkner about his triumphant comeback – including some eye-watering surgery detail – can be found in the latest issue of Guitar World, which is available now from Magazines Direct.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.