Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
The incredible saga of Ozzy Osbourne, the English lad who rose from dirt to become a thief, a rocker, a lover and a sinner—and the foremost heavy metal artist of all time.
Ozzy Osbourne was up shit’s creek. The onetime lead singer of metal superstars Black Sabbath had been fired by that band in 1978, and now, just one year later, the man who gave the world such classics as “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” couldn’t get even a nibble from the record companies. Ozzy looked washed up. But all that was about to change.
Rejected by nearly every label, Osbourne finally found a supporter in CBS Records executive Tony Martell, who immediately signed him to a contract. Unfortunately, among CBS execs, Martell was pretty much alone in his enthusiasm for Ozzy. Sensing the company’s disinterest, Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s manager and future wife, arranged for a lunch meeting at the label’s New York City offices in May 1981 as a way to introduce the staff to Ozzy and get them behind the project. Sharon had Ozzy bring two white doves to the meeting, which he planned to release as a gesture of goodwill. As the birds flopped around the room, Ozzy introduced himself to the 25 or so CBS executives gathered for the meeting. For a brief moment, Ozzy—a little buzzed from some cognac he’d downed earlier in the day—quit making the rounds and sat on the leg of a girl who worked in the publicity department. As the chords of “Crazy Train” roared in the background, one of the birds landed on the singer’s knee. He picked it up and, without hesitation, put it into his mouth and bit off its head. The CBS suits, horrified at the site of the headless dove’s carcass convulsing on a polished conference table, summarily dismissed Ozzy and Sharon. “We were asked to leave the building,” remembers Sharon, who was herself shocked by the actions of her future husband.
Word of the incident spread quickly. Ozzy Osbourne, depraved rock and roll lunatic, was back in business.
These days, Ozzy Osbourne has it all: a rock-solid marriage, three happy children, mansions on two continents, a clean bill of health and the abiding love and admiration of millions. But his almost bourgeois contentment is only a recent phenomenon. He has spent much of his tumultuous 30-year-career contending with depression, various personal tragedies and a fierce drug and alcohol addiction. He’s been to hell and back, the burn marks clearly visible in his occasionally blank stare, marked stutter and limp.
John Michael Osbourne was born in Birmingham, England, on December 3, 1948, the fourth of John and Lillian Osbourne’s six children. His parents were factory workers, which meant that money, food and clothes, were, particularly for a family of eight, quite scarce. “I had one pair of shoes, one pair of socks—never wore underclothes—one pair of trousers and one jacket,” says Ozzy. “That was it.” Adds Sharon: “All six children slept in the same bed, and they had no bathroom inside the home. He came from nothing.” Lacking the most basic amenities, Ozzy would regularly lose himself in the pounding beat and passion of rock and roll, which helped him imagine a more exciting life beyond his blue-collar hometown. “I loved music as a child, the magic behind rock and roll,” says Osbourne. “My sisters would bring home Chuck Berry records, and I would sing and dance around the house. At night I would lie awake and fantasize about doing something really great.”