Young retired in 2014 as a result of dementia and didn’t take part in AC/DC’s Rock or Bust world tour before dying in 2017. During the road trip, Johnson began to suffer hearing failure – though he didn’t even tell the band at the time – and later underwent surgery to treat the condition.
He awakened in a hospital bed in Sydney in October 2015, and was greeted by a “smiley-faced” nurse who “told me something that left me reeling: Malcolm was a resident of the care facility just over the wall outside my window,” Johnson says in his upcoming memoir The Lives of Brian. “That was where he was being treated for his early-onset dementia. I couldn’t believe it. Not only was Malcolm just 20 yards from me, but this nurse also did shifts over there – and one of his jobs was to take him out for his daily exercise.”
Johnson asked if he could see Young. “The smiley-faced man stopped smiling and dropped his eyes. ‘Sorry, mate, I can’t do that. It’s the family’s wishes.’ I told him I understood. In the next building was the man who I’d shared a stage with for 35 years, the man who’d hired me as the lead singer of AC/DC – the man who’d cared about me so much, he once visited my hometown to meet my parents. He’d even taken my dad for a pint at his club – I mean, who does that?”
Reflecting on the moment, Johnson said it was “a tough thing, to shed tears in front of a stranger.” He later discovered that Young’s wife O’Linda had put the rule in place, after being told that it wasn’t clear how much memory Young still retained. “O’Linda knew how proud Malcolm was – we all did,” Johnson writes, “and she feared that if I or anyone outside his immediate family went in to see him, he might be embarrassed about his condition.”
O’Linda Young “didn’t want to take that risk, especially given everything else that he was going through. She was just looking out for her husband, like she always did. [Malcolm’s sibling and bandmate] Angus [Young] visited him, as did his grandchildren, who I’m told made him very happy. But it broke my heart all the same.”
The Lives of Brian is set to arrive on Oct. 25.
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