AC/DC’s Brian Johnson Had Suicidal Thoughts After Axl Rose Replaced Him in 2016

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Jason Squires/WireImage)

During AC/DC’s 2016 tour, a hearing issue forced frontman Brian Johnson to bow out of the rest of the tour. He was replaced by Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. In a new memoir, Johnson revealed that the replacement led him to feel “something close to despair.”

The memoir, titled The Lives of Brian, details in part the controversial replacement, and how Johnson dealt with the loss. He was forced to leave the 2016 Rock or Bust Tour, or risk complete deafness. He was unable to hear the tone of the guitars on stage, and his condition was extremely serious.

“I just didn’t f—ing care anymore,” Johnson writes in his book, via American Songwriter. “I’d always thought that the best way to go out would be at 180 mph, flat-out around a corner. You’d hit the wall and boom, it would be over, just like that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to die […] I just wouldn’t have minded all that much.”

So chronicles Johnson’s mindset during that tumultuous time in his life. He recalled the difficult decision to tell his manager that he needed to be sidelined. “I called Tim, the tour manager, on my mobile right there in the room to tell him that I just couldn’t continue,” he writes. “It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life — the pain of it made worse over the weeks that followed when the tour simply went on without me. It was a sheer cliff. I didn’t tumble down, I was in free fall.”

AC/DC Frontman Brian Johnson Chronicles Difficult Decision to Step Away From 2016 Tour in New Memoir

Axl Rose replaced Brian Johnson on the tour, and Johnson says that he did a “great job.” But there was still the disappointment of having to step down. “It’s like finding a stranger in your house, sitting in your favorite chair,” he writes. “But I bear no grudges.”

Johnson told Rolling Stone in 2020 that during that time he was getting by on reading lips and muscle memory of AC/DC’s famous songs. He found the whole ordeal “crippling […] standing there and not being sure” of what he was performing.

Eventually, he received a device that “uses the bone structure in the skull as a receiver,” he said, and was able to return to the stage. Though AC/DC has not performed live since the Rock or Bust Tour, they did record the 2020 album Power Up together. The album reunited the four surviving members of the band: frontman Brian Johnson, lead guitarist Angus Young, bassist Cliff Williams, and drummer Phil Rudd. Songwriter and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young passed away in 2017. His son Stevie Young took his place in 2014.