During a recent appearance on Dean Delray's "Let There Be Talk" podcast, former OZZY OSBOURNE guitarist Jake E. Lee spoke about the passing of his onetime BADLANDS bandmate Ray Gillen. The singer, who also had a brief stint with BLACK SABBATH in the mid-1980s, died in December 1993 from an AIDS-related disease in a New York hospital. He was only 34 years old.
Lee said that he has a "theory" about how Gillen — who apparently wasn't a heroin user — contracted AIDS at a time when the disease became an epidemic among homosexual men and intravenous drug users.
"When [Ray and I] first got together, we were talking to make sure we were compatible," Jake recalled. "And so drugs came up. We both said, 'Yeah, I did coke.' It was in the '80s. 'But no problem. I don't still do it.' And then I said, 'You ever shoot up?' 'Cause I never have, 'cause I hate needles. And he said, 'I did one time.' And I said, 'Oh.' He goes, 'It was with my uncle.' His uncle was a biker, and he had a Harley, and he was so different from his father — this wild guy on a bike, and apparently gay. And he just kind of idolized him, and he wanted to try heroin one time, I guess. This is what Ray told me. And so he shot up with his uncle — one time, just to see what it was like and to have a little bonding moment. But then, maybe two years after that, I remember Ray telling me that his uncle was diagnosed with AIDS. And, to me, it must have happened that one time that he did it with his uncle."
Lee confirmed that Gillen didn't share with him he had contracted AIDS. "He never told me," the guitarist said. "But in between the first and the second [BADLANDS] record, he started getting really thin and didn't look quite as healthy. And I never asked him about it. But, anyway, between those two, Paul O'Neill — he was our manager, as well as producing the vocals on the first record — we decided to fire him. There was missing money and whatever. We decided to fire him. And Paul calls me and says… 'Cause the first BADLANDS tour, we cut it off pretty short, because Ray got pneumonia. And then, for some reason, the management said, 'Well, you need to do a second record,' even though we'd hardly really toured on that first one. Which I thought was weird. Anyway, when we decided to fire him, Paul said, 'Well, you can't fire me.' [I said], 'Why not?' And he said, 'Because I have information, and I'll tell Atlantic Records about it.' I go, 'What are you talking about?' And he said, 'Ray has AIDS.' And I said, 'Why do you say that?' And he said, 'Because when he went to the hospital, when he had pneumonia, the blood work showed that he had it. And if you fire me, I'm gonna tell Atlantic Records.' And I was, like, 'You motherfucker!' So, then I said, 'This is gonna be Ray's decision. I'm not gonna say yes or no.' But I did tell him, 'You motherfucker. That's fucking blackmail, and that's just bullshit. That's fucked up shit.' So I asked Ray, and Ray said, 'Well, it's not true, so fuck him. Fire him.' So we did fire him. And he did tell Atlantic Records that. And we got kind of screwed on the second record because of it. They wouldn't even give us tour-support money at all… But, yeah, Paul O'Neill fucked us on that.
"But, anyway, Ray never told me he had it," Jake repeated. "And I just brought it up that one time because we were gonna fire the manager. And he said he didn't have it, so I just took him at his first word."
Jake went on to recount an incident that happened during a BADLANDS tour in support of the band's second album that shed more light on Ray's illness.
"We were touring in a town car, so we got pulled over for speeding," Lee said. "And they went through our trunks, 'cause we were long-hairs, and they went through Ray's bag, and he had a bunch of medication that you apparently give to people that have AIDS. And they asked him what it was, and he said, 'Vitamins.' And they said, 'These aren't vitamins,' and kind of made a big scene about it. And he said, 'Well, it's…' whatever the medication is for AIDS. He said, 'It's for my uncle. My uncle has AIDS. I'm transporting them to him.' And they were, like, 'You're transporting these to your uncle?' Which… that sounds fishy too. But I kind of knew at that point [that he had AIDS]. And I wasn't gonna confront him about it. He had enough problems without me digging into his personal stuff. Anyway, I kind of knew at that point that he did… And like I said, if what he told me was true, and he only shot up one time, and he happened to be with his gay uncle, and that's how he got it, that's, like, what? One in a million? It's very sad."
BADLANDS lasted from 1988 to 1993 and released two albums, "Badlands" and "Voodoo Highway", before Gillen left the group and was replaced by John West.
The group had some success with its debut album, thanks to songs like "Dreams In The Dark" and "Winter's Call", which received airplay on MTV.