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A MetalSucks Exclusive: Return from The Graveyard — King Diamond on His Near-Death and New Life

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Metal has grown to the point where our elders are aging and, in some cases, falling ill. Ronnie James Dio’s death from cancer in 2010 was a stark reminder of the fragility of life, as was his bandmate Tony Iommi’s announcement that he is fighting lymphoma.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

In late 2010, metal almost lost another senior statesman when King Diamond (aka Kim Bendix Petersen) suffered several heart attacks at age fifty-four.  King was a lifelong smoker; he later learned his family has a strong history of heart disease. His condition required triple bypass surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation that strained his physical, mental and spiritual limits. On several occasions, he says he wanted to die.  Throughout the ordeal, King gained strength from his wife, Livia, and his fans; he said that support was crucial to his rehabilitation and eventual recovery.

King Diamond is now healthy, healed and performing. But that doesn’t mean he was unaffected by the ordeal; his experiences in surgery and after will work their way onto his next album. We let the digital recorder run for more than an hour and assembled an oral history from King’s narrative. “If you have something good, don’t save it for five years,” King told MetalSucks. We’re privileged to share his story of the road back – and his thoughts on the future.  The King is alive; long live the King. 

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The first surgery took four hours. That was just a camera going up and looking at my veins and heart through my leg. I was alert and talking to the surgeons. Then I got the news from a surgeon who said that things don’t look good at all. That was it. I was fucking not ready for this. It’ s not like I suddenly believe in God because this happened to me. That’s the way I am as a person; I need proof. But I have seen that there is more to things than meets the eye. I felt like I brought something back from the other side because I was there. For a few hours, I was dead.  Several times, I felt face-to-face with death.

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The operation took seven and-a-half hours. For about three or four hours you are really not here. There’s a roller coaster of emotions. You are lying on a gurney outside of an operation room and you say goodbye to your wife, maybe for the last time. You have to say goodbye and you don’t want to.

We tried to get some power from our late cat, Magic. She led the path for us. We had necklaces made from the experiences with three rings that were custom made by my jeweler. I wasn’t allowed to have mine on during surgery so Livia kept both in her hands. She was told things would take five hours and that if it wasn’t done that didn’t mean things had gone wrong.  Seven plus hours later they finally came out and said it was over and I was in intensive care. She came there and was forewarned I had a tube breathing for me. They pretty much collapsed my lungs to operate. So you have to learn to breathe again almost from scratch. You have almost zero lung capacity. It hurts so bad to blow in this machine to get your lungs working. You have to work for every breath.

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They kick started my heart. I feel like I brought something back.  That’s a feeling I just have.

When I came to the first time I couldn’t see Livia.  I could only see in black and white. I saw what looked like three doctors standing over me. I could have been in a spaceship because I didn’t recognize them as human doctors but they were doctors, no doubt.  Then I experienced the feeling of choking, not being able to breathe. I tried to blink my eyes. I felt like I had no control over my breathing. It was the worst feeling I have ever experienced, the worst.

I just wanted it to stop. If they had heard my thoughts they would have heard me begging them to kill me, Please, I can’t stand this shit.  I got so frustrated that Livia said I was trying to pull the tube out of my open throat. Livia called [the hospital staff] and they practically grabbed me and tied me to the bed. You are tied down; you can’t do shit; you can’t communicate. You absolutely want to die. That’s Metallica’s “One.”

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Two days later, stubborn as hell, I’m up walking. I was in the hospital ten days.  I felt like I was in a King Diamond song. They kept saying you need to walk to get your strength back before we left you go.

At night, when Livia went home to take care of things, I’d go and look out so I could see her get the car in the parking lot.  I had wires still in me going into my heart so they could kick-start the heart if needed. Walking the halls felt straight from The Graveyard album. I was walking from nurse station to nurse station. I kept thinking I need to walk and get strong to go home. You have to do this shit. Then you get to the point where they are ready to let you home but you have to have this examination.

Finally, they said I could get my stuff and go home. It was a good thing Livia knew how to change the bandages when we got home.

***

The surgeon made me promise I would start walking a half-mile a day when I got home. So you start walking. For months, I had to confirm with Livia that she could see me and hear me and feel me – that I was here. I felt like a ghost walking around in limbo. I had to have that confirmation that she could see and hear me, touch my shoulder. I needed that for quite a while. It felt like I shouldn’t be here. But these good people were able to give me a second chance

I was sleeping in a chair for one hour at a time and would wake up with horrible nightmares. I could still barely breathe. I told [Livia] not too long ago that I was trying to stay awake to beat death just because I was breathing so badly, I was worried about dying in my sleep. I also couldn’t lift a cup because the whole front [of my body] was just clipped open, sawed open.  It’s grown back together now and I have metal down my chest. It’s been braided together around the bones in the chest. I have a long braided, thick metal rod under the skin.

***

Music was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even think about it. I was in a totally different mode. It was survival mode. I had to get better for Livia and the cats.

I got so much positive stuff from the fans and everyone around, the label. That’s another big reason I made the effort.  I felt positive that people wanted me. But they weren’t like “get better so you can play again and sing again and make albums.” It just proves we have the best fans in the world because they understood.

I was going to doctors. Constantly testing the blood, machines. Then it’s going to rehab. Some of these people [in rehab] had gigantic stitches all over. I got one of the best surgeons; I was lucky.

He had no idea until after the whole thing that I played in a band. When he checked up on us he said: “you never said what you do. “ I just said I needed to put my trust in you and let you do your best. Rehab was really hard in the beginning. Lifting your arms up to my shoulders was hard. I was forbidden from driving a car for a while.

***

I had to change my diet and become a nutritional expert, eat much better food. I stopped smoking, haven’t had a drag. Livia quit, too. We walk at least five days a week. I felt the benefits during two shows we did recently. My voice is now clearer than when I started singing. It was like always driving a used car and suddenly you have enough money to buy a new car. It felt brand new! That’s how my voice feels. I breathe different now than I used to. I played some festivals. In the past it would been like [makes a gasping noise]. Now I go off stage and start talking to close friends.

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[Hellfest] felt really good. Some of the smoke blew the wrong way halfway through the set and it was like standing in thick fog and you are breathing this shit in and it kind of shot my voice down. At the beginning of “Black Horsemen” I had to work so hard to get the sound out. Everything else was so good with the voice.

I feel like I used to live in a house with ten windows and now I have twenty windows in the house. There’s so much I can see and I pay more attention to what I do see. My philosophy hasn’t changed but I don’t take anything for granted.  The band is doing different things; it’s a good thing for everyone, including the fans. We just signed a new deal with Metal Blade.  It was ready before we played the shows. These weren’t test shows but they were for me. We’ll be doing three more albums worldwide and it will be Metal Blade all over. We have new booking agents, a new lawyer. There are a lot of new things. We set up a new fan club. All those waited until we showed we could execute those shows.

***

We are getting new gear to write so we can really sync up on ideas. I expect a lot of myself in my songwriting on the (next) one. I also can’t wait to go in the studio and see what this new voice feels like. We have thirteen shows that have been confirmed; some of them we are waiting to hear from promoters. We aren’t done booking.  I guarantee fans are going to go home with memories they won’t forget.

***

I never expected a thing like this. I smoked cigarettes for a long time. That contributed to the possibility [that I would get sick]. But I never ate bad food. I’ve always stayed away from fast food because I simply didn’t like it.  Seafood, for instance, I like shrimp. I found out it’s the worst thing you can eat if you have problems with cholesterol.  I had no idea! How would I know?

Livia is practically a nutritionist now. She’s read up on so much and we went to meetings with a nutritionist.  We continued from there and I changed my eating habits. When they took my blood before my operation they saw my (cholesterol) figures were off the charts. They said there’s no way no matter how you tried this could happen; it has to be hereditary. I found out later that I had an uncle who died at 55. My cousin had a stent put in three weeks before this happened to me. So, you open your eyes.

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I’ve been given a second chance – there’s no doubt about it. How long? I don’t know. I’ll take what I can get. I’ll try to do things better than before. If you have something good, don’t save it for five years. Then it never happens; you had a great idea and you never manage to do it. So we aren’t going to save things for a later date. Let’s do everything as good as we can.

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