Former JUDAS PRIEST guitarist K.K. Downing has wished his replacement, Richie Faulkner, a "speedy recovery" after Faulkner suffered an acute cardiac aortic dissection during the band's performance at the Louder Than Life festival.
After being rushed to the UofL Health - Jewish Hospital on September 26, Faulkner underwent an approximately 10-hour surgery — an aortic valve and ascending aorta replacement with hemiarch replacement — by the hospital's cardiothoracic surgery team, led by Dr. Pahwa, and also including Drs. Brian Ganzel and Mark Slaughter.
Asked in a new interview with The Blog Of Rock if he "sent any prayers" to Richie in the days after his surgery, Downing said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Yeah, absolutely. All I could do is I've been saying to people that it's very sad. Everybody wishes Richie well and a speedy recovery. I think the guys had over 20 shows [left to play on the U.S. tour], so I hope for the guys, when Richie recovers, they can get back out there. Because, obviously, I feel for the fans and, of course, SABATON, who was playing as well. It's a terrible thing, but we can only wish Richie well. But I know he's young and he's strong, and I'm sure that everything's gonna be fine."
Faulkner had "an aortic aneurysm and complete aortic dissection" while performing the closing song of PRIEST's set on the final day of Louder Than Life in Louisville. Faulkner later said in a statement: "As I watch footage from the Louder Than Life Festival in Kentucky, I can see in my face the confusion and anguish I was feeling whilst playing 'Painkiller' as my aorta ruptured and started to spill blood into my chest cavity."
Aortic aneurysms are "balloon-like bulges in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Dissections happen when the "force of blood pumping can split the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to leak in between them."
After Louder Than Life, JUDAS PRIEST postponed the remainder of the U.S. dates on its rescheduled 50th anniversary tour, dubbed "50 Heavy Metal Years". The trek kicked off on September 8 in Reading, Pennsylvania and was slated to run through October before concluding on November 5 in Hamilton, Ontario.
In 2019, Faulkner dismissed the criticism he received for supposedly trying to look too much like Downing.
"Obviously, you get the [haters] — the 'clone' comments," Richie told the "Let There Be Talk" podcast. "I've got long blond hair, playing a flying V [guitar]… [Michael] Schenker, Zakk [Wylde], K.K., Randy Rhoads — all those guys. To say I was a Ken clone was fairly narrow-minded. There's tons of guys who have flying Vs and long hair.
"The thing is if I had dyed my hair black to be different, I would have been shot down," he continued. "You've gotta be real; you've gotta be who you are. And I grew up on Ken, I grew up on Glenn [Tipton, JUDAS PRIEST guitarist] and the guys that I mentioned. So you've just gotta be who you are. And I grew up with those guys, and I'm not ashamed. I wear it on my sleeve — they're all my influences, and I'm not afraid of that… There's no point in trying to hide it. But it's gotta be natural as well. And I think somehow it worked out organically. I didn't try to copy him. And as it goes on, you always try to do your own thing and make your own statement."
Three years ago, Downing said that he felt like he was "being cloned" when he first found out he was being replaced by Faulkner. The 69-year-old, who announced his retirement from PRIEST in April 2011 after nearly 42 years in the job, admitted to the "Appetite For Distortion" podcast that he was taken aback when he first saw his replacement.
"Richie, as far as I know, is a nice guy and obviously an excellent player," Downing said. "I was a bit disappointed when, basically… I think the idea was to replace me [with a lookalike], so I did feel as though I was kind of being cloned. But I'm not sure that was exactly fair to Richie. I mean, I could be off the mark here, but I think Richie had the right to bring himself to the stage with his own… portray his own image and ability to play the instrument the way that he does. But it is what it is."
He continued: "When Glenn retired from touring [in early 2018], the same didn't happen — obviously, [Tipton's replacement] Andy [Sneap] doesn't look anything like Glenn; he doesn't wear the same clothes, the red pants, guitars or anything like that. So I don't really know what's going on. But it is what it is."
In a 2011 interview with the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, PRIEST singer Rob Halford stated about Faulkner's physical resemblance to a younger Downing: "People are saying, 'It's a clone. You've got some of K.K.'s DNA.' It's just the way it turned out. We made, like, a secret search. When we knew K.K. was not gonna be making the tour, we did a lot of secret, kind of, searching for another player. And Richie just happened to be the guy. And he just happens to look a little bit of the K.K. image, you know?! I think it would be silly to say, 'We looked for a guitar player that looks like Ken.' What we want is a very good metal guitar player, and that's what Richie Faulkner is."