He was on a six-month informal leave of absence from his band. Def
Clark had joined the Sheffield, U.K.-based band in 1978, impressing them with his ability to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” in full. Ironically, Clark had already seen his fellow guitar player Pete Willis fired from the band for alcoholism. But the group assured Clark that his place in the band was safe, and that they simply wanted him to address and overcome his substance abuse issues.
The night before, Clark and a friend went out to a local pub. The guitarist promised his fiance, Janie Dean, that he would not get drunk. They returned by midnight to Clark’s London home to watch a video.
The next day, January 8, 1991, Clark remained on the couch where Dean would often let him sleep off his previous night’s excesses. When she finally went to wake him, Clark was cold to the touch and there was a trail of blood on his lips.
The coroner ruled that the cause of his death was a respiratory failure due to a compression of the brain stem caused by a mixture of alcohol, painkillers and an anti-depressant. Clark’s autopsy found codeine, Valium and morphine in his system. His alcohol content was three times the British legal driving limit.
He was 30 years old.
Clark will be inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 29, 2019, along with his bandmates Rick Allen, Vivian Campbell, Phil Collen, Joe Elliott, Rick Savage and Pete Willis.