Rick Wakeman health: Rock legends doesn’t ‘remember much’ of his excess years

Rick Wakeman, 70, was born and raised in West London and always had a passion for music. He attended the Royal College of Music before quitting and becoming a full-time session musician. It was a decision that proved fruitful and he played for the likes of other legends including David Bowie, Elton John and Cat Stevens. He later joined the band Yes and played on some of their most successful albums before venturing on to a solo career. A life of heavy drinking and smoking took its toll on the star’s body and he had numerous near-death experiences.


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Speaking to The Mirror, Rick said: “In my 20s, I lived the ultimate rock’n’roll life. I was a heavy drinker and smoker back then.

“I am a very extreme sort of character as I don’t do things by halves. But when I drank, I drank like a fish.

“I was very aware that if I tried the drug element I would end up going the whole hog and I wouldn’t be alive today.

“But my lifestyle played an enormous part in what happened in 1974. That day I hadn’t been to bed for four days.

“I don’t remember much.

“I felt very numb during the day and airy, which is the best way to describe it. I found it very hard to concentrate. I remember coming off the stage. I fell into a choir and told people I was fine.

“I thought I was just knackered after the series of shows and I had finally finished and my body was reacting. I got home and I woke up in the morning and felt bloody awful.

“I crawled up to bed and Roz, my first wife, called the doctor. The next thing I know there’s an ambulance outside.

“I can remember at hospital very clearly being pushed down the corridors of the hospital and the words I could see on the door were ‘cardiac arrest unit’ and that was the moment I thought, ‘Ah, this is not good.’

The doctor had told Rick that he had had a minor heart attack.

Shockingly, the doctors had discovered that he had in fact had two heart attacks previously but they were so minor he never knew.

“I was only 25. Three years later, I stopped smoking altogether because I did realise it was absolutely ridiculous. It took a few more years to stop drinking.”

The NHS said: “A heart attack is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

“A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life threatening.

“Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling weak or lightheaded or an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.

“A coronary heart disease is the leading cause of heart attacks.”


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Doctors had warned Rick that “his drinking days were over’” when he was diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis.

Rick said: “They did blood tests and he sat me down and said my organs could recover if they were treated with decency.

“But he said at the moment they were not working anywhere near how they should. The bad news was that if the doctor couldn’t get them going again, then I would die and he said he couldn’t tell which ay it would go.

“He offered me help but I quit drinking on my own and I haven’t had a drop since.”

Alcohol Rehab Guide said: “Alcohol abuse can affect your body both inside and out. Even though you’re unable to see the damage drinking causes to your internal organs, it’s important not to ignore the warning signs.

“Over time, heavy drinking can weaken the heart, impacting how oxygen and nutrients are delivered to other vital organs in your body. High levels of triglycerides contribute to the risk of developing dangerous health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

“Some of the early cardiovascular effects, like high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, can lead to a host of problems down the road.

“Long-term consequences of excessive drinking may include cardiomyopathy, stroke and sudden cardiac death.”

“I think the moral of the story is that people who have never had a day’s illness in their lives should get checked up. My mother had never had a day’s illness in her life and never thought to have checks.

“Then, at 78, she discovered she had breast cancer and passed away the next year. But if she’d had a check two years before, they could have done ­something about it, they could have saved her.

“Now I am returning to Journey To The Centre Of The Earth for the first time since my heart attack and I feel healthier now than I did back then,” Rick concluded. 

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