John Lawton, the lead singer of UK classic rockers Uriah Heep in the late 1970s, has died at the age of 74. According to the band, Lawton’s death was unexpected and “incomprehensible,” as he had no known illness at the time of his passing on June 29th.
The vocalist joined Uriah Heep in 1976, replacing original singer David Byron. Lawton appeared on three studio albums — Firefly (1977), Innocent Victim (1977), and Fallen Angel (1978). He was let go from Uriah Heep in 1979 amid tensions within the band.
Prior to his stint in Uriah Heep, the British-born Lawton was the lead singer of the German rock band Lucifer’s Friend, who were early pioneers of heavy metal. He rejoined the group in 1981, and then again when they reunited in 2014, and was an active member of the band at the time of his death.
Uriah Heep announced Lawton’s passing with a Facebook post that read as follows:
“It is with deep regret that we share the devastating and tragic news of the sudden and totally unexpected passing of John Lawton on 29. June 2021. Contrary to reports, there was no illness involved, which makes his passing incomprehensible. He went peacefully with his wife at his side. John will be greatly missed. A private funeral service to celebrate John’s life will be held following his wishes, with only family and close friends attending. We would appreciate that the family’s privacy is respected during this difficult time.”
An identical statement was posted on the Facebook page of Lucifer’s Friend, as well.
In speaking about Lawton in an official bio posted on the Uriah Heep website, lead guitarist Mick Box said, “Image-wise he wasn’t quite what we were looking for, but his pipes were perfect and so we went for the music end of it.”
It’s been a particular melancholy period for Uriah Heep, as they’ve also mourned the passings of founding keyboardist and songwriter Ken Hensley, who died in November of 2020, and classic drummer Lee Kerslake, who lost his battle with prostate cancer in September of last year. Kerslake also famously played in Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band.
Our condolences go out to John Lawton’s family, friends, and bandmates during this difficult time. Watch highlights of Lawton singing with Uriah Heep in the YouTube video below, followed by a more recent performance of the Lucifer’s Friend song “Moonshine Rider.”