Ozzy Osbourne - Biography
By David Downs
Considered by many to be the godfather of heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne got his start in 1970 as the lead singer of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath. Their self-titled debut album, Black Sabbath (1970 Vertigo/Warner Bros), went platinum and ten Sabbath records followed. Osbourne was kicked out of Sabbath in 1979 and went solo, releasing his first solo record Blizzard Of Ozz (Jet) in 1980. The record quickly went quadruple platinum and seven records followed during the metal golden years of the ‘80s, each selling over two million copies. Osbourne’s style of music is predominantly guitar-driven hard rock, punctuated by his thin, reedy vocals that provide occasional bouts of reflection and melody. What he lacks in vocal beef, he makes up for with theatricality, rivaling Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, and Marilyn Manson. Denounced as a psychopath and Satanist, Osbourne is obsessed with bringing the darker side of life to pop culture’s discourse and is famous for biting the head off of a live dove and a possibly dead bat, as well as urinating on a highly revered Texas landmark while dressed in women’s clothing. Osbourne has been through busloads of famous guitarists, drummers, and bassists. A consistent Mainstream Rock Chart-topper, Osbourne has sold over fifty million records worldwide over almost four decades and won two Grammys. Osbourne still tours and records, but claims that he will retire in the near future.
John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne was born on December 3, 1948 to a large, working class family in Birmingham, England. He left school at age 15 to earn money for his household, but was pulled toward crime and was eventually jailed for a few weeks over a burglary. He grew up liking The Beatles and Rolling Stones, and later gravitated toward heavier material like The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” early The Who, and Led Zeppelin. After his stint in jail, he performed in a few small bands where he started writing music and dabbling in cocaine and heroin. He formed a band called Earth (later to become Black Sabbath) with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. Sabbath released their self-titled debut album on Friday, February 13, 1970 and found a cult following on both sides of the Pond. Osbourne and his band became seriously addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and indulged in rock star clichés like trashing cars and hotel rooms. Paranoid (Vertigo/Warner Bros.) and Master of Reality (Vertigo/Warner Bros) were but two of the band’s notable albums throughout the ‘70s.
In 1977, Osbourne quit Black Sabbath, but rejoined the following year. In 1979, he was kicked out of the band after the release of Never Say Die (1978 Vertigo/Warner Bros). Depression and hard-core drug abuse followed. Osbourne soon met his new manager and future wife Sharon Arden, who helped him get clean. Sharon encouraged Osbourne’s solo career, and he teamed with guitarist Randy Rhoads for his 1980 solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz (Jet), along with bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake. The album went platinum thanks to Rhoads’ driving guitar work, Osbourne’s characteristic nasal whine, and the dark sorrowfulness on tracks like “Revelation (Mother Earth).” Overall, Osbourne’s lyrics continued to focus on the occult on tracks like “Mr. Crowley” and drugs on tracks like “Crazy Train.” Blizzard of Ozz became a Pop Albums Chart number 21. Kerslake and Daisley were replaced with Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo before the 1981 follow-up, Diary of a Madman (Jet).
Diary of a Madman climbed even higher on the Pop Charts, and eventually sold more than five million copies. Another drug ode, “Flying High Again,” hit number 16 in the US However, the subsequent tour was filled with misfortune, bad publicity, and protests. Animal cruelty charges began to surround Osbourne in 1982 after a bat was thrown on-stage by a fan and Osbourne bit its head off, supposedly thinking it was a fake. The show was canceled and Osbourne was taken to the hospital for a rabies vaccination. Also that year, guitarist Rhoads was killed in plane accident, sparking a massive depression in Osbourne.
1982’s Speak of the Devil (Jet) features live recordings of classic Sabbath material, recorded with guitarist Brad Gillis. Osbourne left Jet Records and showed up drunk at Epic Records where he freed one dove and bit the head off another. The label signed him. Bark at the Moon (1983 – Epic), featured guitarist Jake E. Lee and was released in 1983 to good reviews. The record charted at number 19 on The Billboard 200, making Osbourne pop music’s resident occult leader. The band toured with glam metal rockers Mötley Crüe and played the US Festival in 1983 in front of 250,000 fans. Osbourne also performed at Live Aid in 1985 to benefit world hunger.
The Ultimate Sin (1986 Epic) hit an astonishing number six on the Billboard 200 in 1986 while Osbourne dealt with a new round of accusations. He was accused of advocating and encouraging suicide with subliminal messages in his song “Suicide Solution” from his solo debut Blizzard of Ozz. The drama didn’t slow down sales one bit, and his live album, Tribute (1987 Epic), also hit number six on the billboard 200 after its release in 1987 (even though it was recorded back in 1981). 1989’s No Rest for the Wicked (Epic) saw Lee replaced by Zakk Wylde. Also that year, Osbourne performed at the Moscow Music Peace Festival – the first major rock concert in the Soviet Republic by western artists.
Throughout the ‘90s, Osbourne released five records and each went multi-platinum. The 1990 EP Just Say Ozzy (Epic) preceded touring before millions of fans around the world. No More Tears (1991 Epic) hit the number seven spot on The Billboard 200 the following year, thanks to legendary tracks “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” “No More Tears,” and “Road to Nowhere.” Osbourne said the subsequent tour would be his last and followed it up with the live double album Live & Loud (1993 Epic). Osbourne won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 1994 for “I Don’t Want to Change the World.” Osbourne couldn’t stay away though and 1995’s Ozzmosis (Epic) received mixed reviews but charted high, hitting number four on The Billboard 200 and selling three million copies within a year. In 1996, he and his wife/manager Sharon launched Ozzfest, a national tour featuring hard rock and new artists to which 1.4 million fans flocked. The second tour in 1997 included Pantera, Marilyn Manson, and a Black Sabbath reunion sans Bill Ward. Osbourne and the original lineup of Black Sabbath recorded the live album Reunion (1998 Sony) and then Ozzy won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2000 as part of Black Sabbath for “Iron Man.”
Sabbath toured into 1999, headlining Ozzfest. They reunited again to tour in 2001 and were greeted by over one million fans attending 32 sold-out dates. Also in 2001, Osbourne’s new solo album Down to Earth (Sony) topped the charts with help from the single “Gets Me Through.” In 2002, Ozzy got a star on the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame and his new reality TV show The Osbournes debuted on MTV, becoming the highest rated series in the channel’s history. Osbourne dined with President Bush at the Washington Correspondents Association Dinner in May of 2002 and played “Paranoid” for Queen Elizabeth’s 50th Jubilee celebration at Buckingham Palace that year as well. In December of 2003, Osbourne broke his neck, collar bone, and several ribs while driving an all-terrain vehicle on his estate. He had stopped breathing and was resuscitated by his bodyguard. Fortunately, he proved resilient and has made a full recovery.
Osbourne launched another TV show in 2004 called Battle for Ozzfest, and in 2005 he and Black Sabbath were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Another solo album, Under Cover (2005 Sony), followed and the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Osbourne in March of 2006. In 2007, Black Rain (Epic), featuring the track “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” became number three on the Billboard 200. in 2010 he released Scream.
Ozzy is now over sixty and his retirement is imminent, but never assured. Even if he stops recording and touring, he’s become more than a musician; he’s a rock and roll brand, centered around his well-known personality as much as his music. He took limited vocal gifts, combined them with a dark sensibility and a flair for theatrics, and created a mythic character. This myth fueled a marketing dynasty that cannot be stopped, no matter how many critics lament the stagnation of his now-iconic style.