The New York Times' headline read, "Metal-Head becomes Metal-God." The August
1997 story by Andrew C. Revkin was about Tim "Ripper" Owens, a devout Judas
Priest follower from Ohio who played in a Priest cover band. When original
Priest vocalist Rob Halford quit the band in 1992, two fans sent the group a
grainy videotape of Owens, whose singing voice bears an uncanny resemblance
to Halford's. After viewing the tape, the band auditioned, and subsequently
hired, the young American to be its new vocalist.
The day after the story ran, Revkin was contacted by "Clueless" producer
Robert Lawrence. "He called me at the Times and said, 'This has got to be a
movie,'" Revkin said.
Nearly four years later, Judas Priest are about to release their 15th
album, Demolition (their second with Owens), and Warner Bros. Pictures and
Bel Air Entertainment are preparing for the September 14 release of the film
"Rock Star," which tells Owens' incredible story ... or does it?
In October 1999, the studio happily reported that the movie — which was
originally to be called "Metal God" after the Judas Priest song "Metal Gods"
— was based on the life of Owens, but now the company is backpedaling.
Early this week a Warner Bros. spokesperson said it had nothing to do with
Judas Priest or Tim Owens. Since then, the spokesperson has relented a tad and conceded
that it was inspired by Revkin's New York Times article.
Initially, Judas Priest were interested in the project, and Warner Bros.
wanted the band to write music for the soundtrack. However, the group wanted
creative input on the film, and that soured the deal, said Revkin, who was
hired as a creative consultant for the movie.
"They wanted to see screenplays and stuff," he said. "If you were Warner
Bros. and you were gonna throw $30 million into making a movie, would you
want a bunch of middle-aged former heavy metal stars to have creative
When Judas Priest discovered the movie script didn't follow Owens' actual
story, they completely distanced themselves from the picture, and insisted
that Warner Bros. make no reference to them in the film. Now the studio is
being extremely cautious about even mentioning the name Judas Priest, lest
the band take legal action.
"This is the thing that's sort of not very good for us," sighed
Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton, during a phone interview while the
band was on tour in Europe. "Everybody still thinks it's the story of
Ripper, but it isn't."
Maybe not, but there are striking similarities. In the movie, Mark Wahlberg
plays the singer of the cover band Steel Dragon, and he gets hired by the
outfit he idolizes after two fans send that group a video of him performing.
Like Judas Priest, the group's departing singer is gay.
"Yeah, but Rob [Halford] quit Judas Priest nearly a year before he was
replaced," argued Bob Chiappardi, president of Concrete Marketing, whose
company was hired to help plug the movie. "Here, the singer gets thrown out
in the middle of a tour, and two weeks later his replacement is playing in
front of huge stadiums. And obviously, Ripper didn't run off and become
Chiappardi added that "Rock Star" takes place in the 1980s, and the hedonistic
revelry Steel Dragon partake in is strictly fictional, as is the love story
between Wahlberg and co-star Jennifer Aniston. "Ninety percent of the movie is
based on pure rock star mythology," he said.
This year, Judas Priest are reissuing their entire Columbia Records back catalog and releasing an album on their new label, Atlantic. At one point they might have hoped "Rock Star" would offer them some useful publicity. Now they fear it will provide exactly the opposite.
"They fabricated things and decided to pull away from my story and make their own because I guess mine was too normal," said Owens. "There's no telling what they put in there. If I could sue, I would."
"When the final thing comes out," concluded Tipton, "if people have misconstrued it with our story, then we will have to take some legal action."