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20 Years Ago: Marilyn Manson Sues to Perform at Ozzfest

Ozzfest 2001
Scott Gries, Getty Images

The first proper Ozzfest kicked off in late May 1997, but it wouldn’t be until halfway through the 22 dates before the heavy metal touring festival hit its first – and most controversial – speedbump. Marilyn Manson was slated to join as one of the main stage headliners in East Rutherford, N.J. on June 15, 1997 at Giants Stadium, but the planning and zoning agency for the venue decided to cancel the date instead of having the shock rocker appear.

Rather than turning tail, Manson fought back by filing a lawsuit against the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA), which owned and operated the stadium, seeking, “a judgment declaring that the NJSEA has violated plaintiffs’ rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the New Jersey Constitution.”

According to court documents, talks began between producers of Ozzfest and the NJSEA about hosting the concert in the early part of 1997. At first, the latter was hesitant to hold the event, with Robert E. Mulcahy III, President and Chief Executive Officer of the NJSEA, citing “safety problems” along with not knowing at the time who else would be appearing with festival namesake Ozzy Osbourne. Executive Vice President and General Manager of Giants Stadium Robert Castronovo convinced Mulcahy to change his mind, though a caveat was put in place which said, “if possible, Pantera and Marilyn Manson should be eliminated from the bill.” The request was attributed to potential problems with the performances and the crowd reaction to them.

Ozzfest organizers agreed to most of the terms put forth by the NJSEA, most of which were standard, focusing on start and end times, how many tickets could be sold and the cost to rent the venue. They said later they didn’t consent to the removal of Manson, saying he was an integral part of the event, and Castronovo was said to have conceded as such. A signed contract wasn’t put in place at that point, only a binding agreement.

Come mid-April, Castronovo approved a regional print advertisement announcing tickets going on sale, with the notice clearly featuring Marilyn Manson and Pantera as two of the headliners. Four weeks later, having heard of “additional problems with the Manson band in other venues concerning protest groups and antics that are performed on stage,” Castonovo told producers of the fest the NJSEA wanted Manson taken off the bill. They refused, and the day before tickets were to go on sale, the NJSEA put out a news release stating that since promoters wouldn’t remove Manson, tickets would not be sold.

“Nobody has the right to tell me who I can perform with,” Osbourne said in a response to the move in a statement. “I will not be putting any limits on any of the Ozzfests. This is not an issue of taste. It is an issue of civil liberty and freedom.” He went on to compare the situation to outrage over Elvis Presley in the ‘50s, the Beatles in the ‘60s, A Clockwork Orange in the ‘70s and himself in the ‘80s.

Manson’s team filed a civil suit against the NJSEA, and a ruling was made by Judge Alfred Wolin on May 7, which read, in part, “It appears patently unreasonable that Giants Stadium would permit an entire concert of heavy metal bands, while excluding only one Marilyn Manson which has demonstrated no propensity for illegal activities on stage.” A preliminary injunction was awarded to Manson, one which also required promoters to post a $500,000 bond to cover any damages which could potentially occur.

“Free speech is alive and well in New Jersey,” Manson attorney Paul Cambria said in the wake of the ruling, according to E! Online.

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