Ozzy Osbourne wildman days. Ozzy is the original and archetypal Wildman of heavy metal, right? Well probably, but Classic Metal Hawk has often wondered how much of Ozzy’s reputation is justified, and how much is just media hype. After all, for a guy like him, there will never be a shortage of people telling stories to the press, all with a massive incentive to hype-up their tales to the max.
And there are so many Ozzy stories out there – the debauchery and drug / alcohol binges; the accusation of attempted murder of his wife; the animal cruelty; the satanism. You name it. The Hawk has decided to play detective on this, and produce a definitive rundown. Ozzy’s Wildman days – are they fact or fiction?
Let’s start with the booze and drugs, because on that count, the stories are very much true. In fact if anything, now that Ozzy is well into his 70s, stories you hear these days maybe even downplay some of the antics he’d get up to. Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s bandmate and guitarist for many years was once asked how Ozzy could keep up the chemical pace for so long. He gave a quote, in an admiring tone, that Ozzy has…
‘a very special kind of fortitude that’s bigger than King Kong and Godzilla combined… seriously, he’s hard as nails, man!’‘Zakk Wylde
And that must be true because most people would definitely have struggled to match Ozzy for sheer pace, volume and variety of consumption. There was once a TEDMED talk looking Ozzy’s DNA – did he have some unique genetic advantage to support his consumption. Check it out if you have half an hour.
Black Sabbath Days
So where to start? Where else but at the beginning, and Ozzy’s days with Black Sabbath, where early success with those first classic albums, ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Master of Reality’, ‘Volume 4’, and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ meant the band had no issue at all getting their hands on whatever drugs they wanted, with all members partaking enthusiastically. (Mind you though, those 5 albums were all released within a time period of about 3 and a half years – which considering they also had a heavy touring schedule shows that the bingeing didn’t hurt productivity too badly. Oh to be young again.)
Anyway, having always been a big boozer, Ozzy reckons he first tried Cocaine in 1971 after a Black Sabbath show in Denver. Verdict:
It’s like having your first f***. The world went a bit fuzzy after that.‘Ozzy Osbourne
Then there was the acid – every day for 2 years at one point whilst still in Sabbath.
If anything though, the 70s still represented only the first course in Ozzy’s long-term appetite for the hard stuff. In fact, by the late 70s, he was still congratulating himself for his professionalism, as with the following in an interview with Sounds magazine in 1978.
‘I never take dope or anything before I go on stage. I’ll smoke a joint or whatever afterwards.‘Ozzy Osbourne
Probably that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, coming, as it did, only the year before Ozzy was kicked out of Black Sabbath for drugs. He reckoned he was no worse than the rest of the band – 1978’s Album ‘Never Say Die’ was by all accounts a particularly drugged up recording experience for everyone (and Tony Iommi was having a particular time of it on the ‘Never Say Die’ tour.) But Ozzy always seemed to get the worst rap. After a show on the tour, he challenged Dave Lee Roth, lead singer for support band Van Halen to a cocaine-snorting duel – ‘Let’s see who can snort the most coke without dying.’ History doesn’t record who won, at least not anywhere The Hawk has seen, but Ozzy went missing in action for a few hours before turning up at the band hotel looking distinctly the worse for wear.
Rightly or wrongly, incidents like that cemented Ozzy’s reputation as Black Sabbath’s drug consumption king – they fired him, and he was out of the band, awarded £96,000 in severance pay. That was a decent amount of money in 1979 – equivalent of over £400,000 or a shade over half a million dollars in today’s money.
Ozzy did what any booze-and-drugs addled rock star would do with a cool half million in his pocket and time on his hands – he embarked on a 3-month intoxication marathon. (Ozzy had assumed he was finished in the music business – it’s not like he quit with a glittering solo career already in prospect after all. But Black Sabbath’s then manager Don Arden signed him as a solo artist to see where it might go. Ozzy’s career was resurrected, as was his coke-level earnings potential. Not long after that, Don Arden’s daughter, Sharon took over the managerial duties for Ozzy and his band from her father – though not by mutual agreement; Don Arden was livid, and the family feud between them that it kicked off would never be healed.)
Anyway, leaving Black Sabbath did nothing to quell Ozzy’s appetite for chemical stimulation – if anything if was enhanced, as we shall see.
The Happy Couple
Sharon started dating Ozzy not long after that – his first marriage to Thelma Riley had been on the rocks for some time, in large part due to his endless drink and drug abuse. But that wasn’t a barrier to Sharon Arden, who liked a good drink herself, and wasn’t the type of character to take a backward step in their many rows. The drunken back and forth between the couple became famous and was a source of some amusement to the rest of the band and crew – Ozzy was even known to exit stage during a guitar solo to carry on some argument or other with Sharon, before returning to sing the rest of the song.
Sharon (by now Sharon Osbourne, they were married in 1982) decided to quit drinking to avoid the inevitable path they were both on to oblivion – a drunken couple bickering at each other to the grave. But Ozzy himself had no intention of quitting, and she would tolerate, even facilitate Ozzy continuing abuses. The stories started to take on legendary status.
For instance, after a gig in Japan, Sharon was woken by a young Japanese girl climbing into their bed. Ozzy had invited her, having forgotten that his wife had joined him on the tour, and would therefore be in residence in the bedroom. Oh, how they all laughed.
Goose-Stepping to Fame
Or what about the time in the offices of some German record company execs when a drunk Ozzy decided to break the ice. He stripped on the table and made a Nazi goose-stepping march up and down it, before kissing the boss on the lips and pissing in his wine glass.
On a tour in 1984 with fellow Classic Heavy Metal bad boys Motely Crue, the two bands would compete to see who could plumb the worst depths of debauchery. That’s worth a blog (if not a book) by itself, but suffice to say that Ozzy trumped Motley Crue decisively when he snorted a line of ants in a Florida hotel. (He was obviously still churning out music – that tour was in support of ‘Bark at the Moon‘. )
Moving Swiftly On…
On another occasion, after a binge in Texas, he drunkenly fired his entire band, assaulted two of them, and later pissed against a war memorial commemorating the Battle of the Alamo. That last incident got him arrested, and earned a 10-year ban from the City of San Antonio. On the plus side, he’d forgotten about firing the band when he sobered up, and so they continued, though the constant incidents certainly wore them down. Even on days when there was no headline making drunk-Ozzy behaviour, there were still the frequent mood swings, cancelled shows, and embarrassingly poor performances. Everyone started to wonder whether the whole thing was unsustainable.
It all came to a head in the late 80s. (Buckle up kids, now we’re into the attempted murder part of the story.) Ozzy had performed at, ironically enough, the Moscow Peace Festival – the same one that led to The Scorpions coming up with ‘Wind of Change‘.
But Ozzy wasn’t feeling that kind of love when he got home. Armed with 4 bottles of finest Russian vodka he’d received as a gift from the promoters, he necked huge quantities, told his wife that she’d ‘have to go,’ then tried to strangle her.
Sharon Osborne called the police who showed up and arrested Ozzy (again), but in hindsight, she seems to have been remarkably sanguine about the whole experience. After Ozzy checked himself into rehab for 3 months, she decided not to press any charges, later telling an interviewer that ‘these things happen.‘ The pair certainly are devoted to each other – Ozzy credits Sharon with keeping him alive (though the luck of his iron constitution also played a role). For her part, Sharon told the same interviewer that Ozzy is…
‘…a legend. I admire him and I love him.’Sharon Osbourne
So that’s nice, but it still earns Ozzy a check in the attempted murder box, alongside the Wildman alcohol and drug abuse. Ozzy has managed to go sober for periods of time in his career, especially later in life, although it never really appeared to suit him. On a famous tour with Metallica in the 80s, no strangers to the bottle themselves, Ozzy was often to be found hanging out with his support act and away from the disapproving eyes of Sharon. There was a famous Facebook confession in 2013 that Ozzy had returned to drink and drugs for a time, though he cleaned himself up again.
What about some other Wildman Ozzy stories? Let’s move on to animal cruelty – and here, Classic Metal Hawk can confirm that it’s TRUE Ozzy bit the head of a live dove, in yet another example of good intentions hitting the buffers thanks to intoxication.
Ozzy was due to attend a meeting with his record company bosses in LA in 1981, and he’d got hold of some caged doves. Apparently, he’d had the quaint idea to take them along to the meeting and release them as a sign of peace and love. Some hope. By the time he arrived, Ozzy was so drunk that he flipped again – he grabbed one of the helpless birds from its cage, bit its head off, spat it out, and let the horrified witnesses observe the blood running down his chin.
Maybe he got the taste for it, because less than a year later, at a show in Des Moines, he was at it again, this time with a bat instead of a dove. This time, though, it was an ad-libbed performance, with no prior planning. A teenage fan, Mark Neil, had brought the bat to the show – according to some reports, Neil’s younger brother had brought the bat home, intending to keep it as a pet. That didn’t work out (for obvious reasons), and so Neal’s friends convinced him to take the bat to Ozzy’s show, and toss it onto the stage – with Ozzy’s wild reputation already burgeoning, maybe something would happen.
Ozzy didn’t disappoint – he grabbed the bat, and took a bite out of it, before being rushed to hospital for anti-rabies shots. In the aftermath, the hospital had to set up dedicated phone lines to field calls from journalists from all over the world – and the Des Moines auditorium introduced new rules in its performers’ contracts banning ‘concert performers from using, presenting or in any way making live animals a part of a program … without the consent of management.’
The publicity was to die for, of not quite the long-term reputation. Some say Ozzy thought the bat was a toy when he chomped it. Neal has stated that the bat was already dead when he took it to the show, but then that was contradicted by Ozzy himself in the sleeve notes in the 2002 re-release of ‘Diary of a Madman’. There, he said the bat was not only real, but still alive – and that it bit him, which is why the rabies shots were required. Who knows – but despite Ozzy’s subsequent irritation that journalists would not let the subject drop for years afterwards, it became part of his legend. (Also a source of cash, when he later released an Ozzy branded soft toy bat, complete with detachable head.)
So yes, Ozzy was a notorious abuser of drugs and alcohol; he did try to strangle his wife; and he did bite the heads off at least 2 flying creatures. (The Hawk nearly said 2 birds – he of all people should know better). It seems then, that the Wildman persona is well deserved for the most part.
What DIDN’T Happen
There have been a few exaggerations over the years, it should be said. A preacher picketing a show informed fans that Ozzy was a practising cannibal. This appears to be FALSE – it’s ‘the one thing he hasn’t done’, according to Sharon.
Reports of Ozzy being a Satanist who dabbled enthusiastically in the occult also seem to be wide of the mark. These charges have been levelled at various heavy metal bands over the years – Black Sabbath were a particular target after all their occult-themed songs. Plus you had the Ozzy number ‘Mr. Crowley’, subject matter of which was Aleister Crowley, the famous English magician and occultist. But Ozzy never took the subject particularly seriously – he’s even claimed to be a Church of England member, though perhaps not the most regular church attender.
Classic Metal Hawk can also find no evidence that Ozzy has ever thrown a TV out of a hotel window, which is a little disappointing – maybe it would have been a little too stereotypical for him.
And of course, the Wildman pace has inevitably slackened over the years, due to the passage of time, and various health problems – he turned out to be only human after all. He overturned a quad bike in 2003, breaking collarbone, ribs, and a neck vertebra – major surgery followed. He was once diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which turned out to be a false alarm, though the symptoms were real enough. Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed for real in 2019, along with a major bout of flu the same year which threatened to turn to pneumonia.
Many people, not least in Ozzy’s entourage thought it a miracle that he was able to perform at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in 2022 alongside his old Sabbath colleague Tony Iommi – but the chance to do that show in Birmingham, where it all started for both Ozzy and Black Sabbath turned out to be a siren-call he was determined to follow at all costs.
One of a Kind
In the end, most of the stories you hear about Ozzy have their roots in addiction, and he’s had plenty of personal issues along the way to help feed that. There was sexual abuse at the hands of school bullies; multiple claimed teenage suicide attempts; a short spell in prison after robbing a clothes shop. As an adult, he was deeply affected by his ejection from Black Sabbath, and later by the sudden death in an air crash of his solo band mate Randy Rhoads. Addiction is complex – too complex for a fan like Classic Metal Hawk to try to decompose here.
Suffice to say that Ozzy got unlucky in being afflicted by addictions his entire life. But on the other side also lucky – a combination of his physical tolerance for chemicals, and the desperate attempts of people close to him, most obviously his wife, almost certainly have prolonged his life. Ozzy has won so many awards through his career, that he won’t care about this minor addition. But Classic Metal Hawk, having reviewed the evidence, hereby crowns Ozzy as undisputed King of the Classic Heavy Metal Wildmen, and hopes he finds some peace in retirement. His like will almost certainly never be seen again.
Do Ozzy’s antics make him more or less of a star in your eyes? Is this type of thing an essential part of the Heavy Metal attitude? What other Ozzy stories have you heard that The Hawk didn’t include?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.