Ozzy Osbourne: To Hell and Back
Tony Iommi recalls one particularly heinous incident from around this period. “We were all in an elevator in this really plush hotel, and Ozzy decides to take a crap. As he’s doing it, the elevator is going down to the reception floor. The door opens suddenly—and there’s Ozzy with his pants around his knees. And all these people in fur coats are just staring at him with their mouths open.”
Clearly, Ozzy and Sabbath were riding high, living the wild rock and roll life they had always dreamed of. Unbeknownst to them, all was not right with their financial affairs. Despite selling millions of records, the members of Sabbath realized they were broke, in 1974, thanks to years of mismanagement. Down, but far from out, the band took to managing itself for a while and eventually hired a well-heeled English manager named Don Arden. His introduction to the fold had only a marginal effect on the band’s career, but it did mark a turning point in Ozzy’s personal and professional life. Arden’s 18-year-old daughter, Sharon, worked in his management company as a receptionist, and it was she who would eventually spearhead Ozzy’s solo career and be the rock in his otherwise unstable life.
“He frightened the life out of me,” Sharon says of her first meeting with Ozzy. “He had on a pajama top, no shoes, and was wearing a faucet on a string around his neck. That was his idea of jewelry. But we kept meeting found him to be very sweet and very funny. He was like a little puppy—very vulnerable.”
Ironically, it wasn’t long after Sabbath began working with Don Arden— and Ozzy began falling for his daughter— that the relationship between the band and its frontman began to unravel. As evidenced by the musically disjointed and poor-selling album Technical Ecstasy (1976), Sabbath were losing their focus as a band, a circumstance that more than likely was the product of a lethal combination of the group’s recent mass success, managerial distractions and excessive drug use. As Ozzy grew more distant and disinterested in making music with Sabbath, the band’s frustrations neared the boiling point. “We had totally lost our way by that point,” says Iommi. “And we were all into drugs, not just Ozzy. It was taking longer and longer to make records.”
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Ozzy received a crushing blow in 1977 when his father died, sending the singer into a severe state of depression. Unsure of whether he wanted to continue with his career, Ozzy actually quit Black Sabbath for a brief period while the band was writing material for its next album, Never Say Die! He returned two days before recording began but refused to sing any of the material written in his absence. “We ended up having to write in the day so we could record in the evening, and we never had time to review the tracks and make changes,” says Iommi. “As a result, the album sounds very confused.”
Though Ozzy had returned to complete the album and subsequent tour, it was clear to Tony and the rest of Sabbath that the time had come to replace Ozzy. “We knew we had to bring in somebody else,” says Iommi. “Geezer and Bill would say to me, ‘Either Ozzy goes, or we go.’ At that point, Bill was becoming the businessman of the band, with his briefcase and his haircut, and he fucking goes and tells Ozzy, ‘Tony wants to get rid of you.’” He laughs. “Ozzy always thought that I fired him on my own, when it was really the other two who wanted him out. But I wasn’t too pleased with Ozzy, either.”
Ozzy had battled depression on and off for most of his life, but being fired from Sabbath brought him to his all-time lowest point. “I wasn’t just depressed,” remembers Ozzy, “I was suicidal. I stayed in a hotel room in Hollywood for six months and never opened the drapes. I lived like a slob.”
With his body ravaged by excessive drug and alcohol intake, his psyche near the breaking point and his personal wealth all but gone, Ozzy—who was now pretty much alone in the world—desperately needed a savior. He got it one day during the summer of 1979, when Sharon Arden came to his hotel to collect the $500 a mutual friend had given Ozzy to hold. Of course, Ozzy had long since blown the money on booze and drugs, and Sharon was furious. Yet somehow her anger was overshadowed by her fondness for Ozzy and her conviction that he could still revive his sagging career. “I would lecture him like a school teacher about the way he was living,” says Sharon. “I told him he had to pull himself together, and he did.”
“She saved my life,” says Ozzy.
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With Sharon’s prodding, Ozzy geared himself up for the next phase of his career: that of a solo artist. For Sharon, still working for her father, Ozzy’s solo venture was the opportunity she had been looking for to strike out on her own as a rock manager. “I never had any doubts about Ozzy going out on his own,” says Sharon. “He just has this natural gift to entertain.”
Rejuvenated, Ozzy began holding auditions in the fall of 1979 in Los Angeles. After hiring former Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake and former Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley, all that remained for Ozzy to find was a guitarist.
Randy Rhoads was a 23-year-old local guitarist who had recorded two albums with L.A. rock outfit Quiet Riot (released only in Japan) and had come to the audition on the recommendation of Dana Strum, a friend of Sharon and Ozzy’s who later became the bassist for the group Slaughter.
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