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Memory Lane: Remembering the Elton John ticket scandal and praying for Ozzy

Share your memories — good and bad — of concerts at Sudbury Arena

By Vicki Gilhula

Religious leaders asked the mayor to cancel Ozzy Osbourne's concert at Sudbury Arena in 1983. 

Sudbury was one of four Canadian dates on the heavy metal rocker's Speak of the Devil tour.

Several concerts in the United States were cancelled after parents and church groups protested and claimed Osbourne worshipped Satan and encouraged promiscuous behavior and drug use among teens.

Rev. Jean Paul Regimbal, in an open letter to Sudbury Mayor Peter Wong, accused city council, by not stopping the concert, of allowing the "public rape" of young people's minds, and failed to act upon "factual evidence" that Osbourne incited his audiences to take part in perverted sex, satanic worship and murder-suicide. (The Globe and Mail, March 30, 1983)

Osbourne's notoriety came from his rowdy lifestyle, stage antics and lyrics such as, "Wine is fine, but whiskey's quicker, suicide is slow with liquor, take a bottle and drown your sorrows," in the song "Suicide Solution."

His bad boy reputation intensified when he bit off a bat's head at a concert in Iowa in 1982.

Apart from one incident involving a bat, ''he has never mutilated an animal,'' Osbourne's wife, Sharon, told the media covering his North American tour in 1983.

The show went on in Sudbury while Baptist church members held a prayer vigil outside the arena.

Rev. E. Paul Acton said the vigil was designed not to criticize Osbourne. Rather, the participants hoped to present a positive message to fans that "there is hope in heaven.'' 

Five thousand fans attended the March 28, 1983 concert by the Osbourne, who launched his solo career after being fired from the English band Black Sabbath.

The Globe reported Osbourne gave a toned-down 75-minute performance in Sudbury. He had suffered chest pains the week before at a concert in Illinois and had to be hospitalized.

The Ozzy Osbourne concert was not the only time a Sudbury concert caught the attention of national media.

A controversy known as "Ticketgate" was sparked when it was reported the mayor and councillors could jump the line and purchase up to eight tickets each for the Elton John concert at Sudbury Arena March 2, 2008. 

Ordinary fans had faced long line-ups in the cold to purchase their tickets or play a waiting game for online tickets. The concert reportedly sold out in 45 minutes. 

The practice of reserving tickets for any event at the arena – since revoked – did not amuse Elton John fans. There was a backlash against Mayor John Rodriguez and councillors. 

The mayor did not attend the concert. Instead, he welcomed Elton John to Sudbury privately before the concert. It was one of only two concerts the British rock star gave in Ontario that year. The other concert was in Kitchener.

And although more than half of the tickets purchased by councillors were returned to the box office, citizens were not pacified. 

A few weeks after the concert, The Toronto Star reported a "scandal in the wind." (March 27, 2008). 

The provincial Ombudsman office announced it would investigate "Ticketgate" following a complaint alleging councillors had held a private meeting Feb. 20, 2008 to discuss matters related to the concert and the controversy about their reserved tickets.

Four provincial investigators interviewed 17 people including the mayor, councillors and city staff.

In his April 2008 report, Ombudsman André Marin scolded councillors. He wrote the closed-door meeting, reported to have lasted about 10 minutes following a Priorities Committee meeting, was "close to the legal line."

"This is not a case where vindication should be claimed. It is a case where councillors should reflect on their actions from the vantage point of the ordinary constituent, and ask themselves whether, in the throes of a controversy such as this one, they should have closed the door," Marin wrote.

He also noted, "It is always worrisome when elected officials appear to be gaining personally from their positions, or when they appear to prefer their own self-interest to that of the people they serve."

You can read the ombudsman’s report here.

Sudbury Arena has hosted numerous rock and pop superstars over the years. The list is impressive because Sudbury is a mid-sized Canadian city. The arena has a concert capacity of about 6,000 and is not known for its acoustics.

Bob Dylan, Def Leppard, AC/DC,  Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and Michael Bublé have all appeared at Sudbury Arena.

On their last concert tour, British rockers Dire Straits stopped in town March 21, 1992 between gigs at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and Winnipeg Arena.

Shania Twain began her first 19-month world tour in Sudbury in 1998.

Send your memories of concerts at Sudbury Arena with Sudbury.com readers. Send stories to mgentili@sudbury.com or vgilhula@gmail.com. Your memories will be part of a follow-up story on Oct. 27.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.