Taken from The Times (Nov 24, 2018)
Ozzy Osbourne interview: Black Sabbath, his battle with booze, life with Sharon - and why he loves M&S
Heroin. Alcohol. Cocaine. Quaaludes. Painkillers. Tranquillisers. Ozzy Osbourne has been addicted to them all. The one-time Prince of Darkness tells Ben Hoyle how he's survived a life of excess, and why he's going back on tour next year aged 70
by The Times
Ozzy Osbourne. Steve Schofield/Contour by Getty Images
On the gate in front of Ozzy Osbourne's mansion there is one of those signs that says, "Never mind the dog. Beware of the owner". It seems at first like sound advice. None of the numerous dogs on the premises stands much above ankle height, but burglars casing this stately Los Angeles neighbourhood really ought to know that the man living at this particular address has bitten the head off a live bat on stage, snorted a line of ants in a drunken contest with someone from Motley Crue and once, after guzzling too much vodka at his daughter's sixth birthday party, attempted to strangle his wife.
Osbourne's infamy is so well established there is probably no need for the sign. As the singer himself puts it, wearing his default expression of mystified wonder, it used to be the case that, "People would f***ing emigrate from me. I was f***ing crazy." The unfortunate incident with the bat, in particular, will follow him to his grave and then appear in the first sentence of most of his obituaries. It is as indispensable to his legend as the long list of substances he developed dependencies on (including alcohol, heroin, cocaine, acid, Quaaludes, glue, cough mixture, Rohypnol, Klonopin and Vicodin), his time as the hapless star of one of the most successful reality television programmes ever made and his staggeringly successful music career, with his original band Black Sabbath and as a solo artist, which recently led Rolling Stone magazine to declare that "for the past 50 years, Ozzy Osbourne has been heavy rock's MVP".
I know if I have one beer, you won't see me for a week. The end result? I'll wake up lying in a puddle
These days, the self-styled Prince of Darkness is a changed man, he insists, as he prepares to resume the third farewell tour of his remarkable life, weeks after the cavalcade was interrupted by a freak hand infection that could have killed him. He is six years into his latest crack at sobriety and two years past an affair that nearly wrecked his 36-year marriage to Sharon, who is also his manager and a huge public figure in her own right, thanks to judging stints on The X Factor and America's Got Talent. Osbourne knows he can't afford to let his demons loose again even once.
"I know that if I have one beer, you won't see me for a f***ing week", he says in his distinctive slurred Birmingham accent, looking deadly serious as he searches for a sufficiently emphatic explanation of what that would lead to. "The end result will be, I'll wake up lying in a puddle of my own urine with a note saying, 'You're a c***,' stabbed in my chest with a knitting needle." From his wife? "Yeah. And 'I used to love you, you f***ing moron.' "
This vision of Osbourne's demise is still an hour away as I am buzzed through the front gate, past the gnome with two fingers raised in a V-sign peace gesture, past the trees at the top of the garden rigged with fairy lights and baubles, past the disarmingly lifelike fibreglass St Bernard guarding the front entrance, past the large black Bentley and the black personalised British Telecom phone box by the side door and into the Osbournes' spectacular home.
It looked from the street like something you might spot on a Tuscan hillside. Inside, however, the decor is better described as medieval English monastery meets the Palace of Versailles.
There are dark beams in the ceiling, doorway arches, gothic wooden chairs, scented candles everywhere and a large bronze of Jesus on a table, but there is also an abundance of crystal, glass, mirrors, gold, brocade and luxuriant swagged fabric everywhere.
Elegant black and white photographs cover the walls in the main hallway and one corridor serves as a small shrine to the House of Windsor, with a large framed original Andy Warhol print of the Queen facing a triple-fronted wood dresser that's heaving with commemorative royal family porcelain.
With his wife, Sharon. Getty Images
It gets a bit more rock'n'roll in the basement. A red-carpeted staircase with red walls covered in gold and platinum discs, concert pictures and other memorabilia leads down to a screening room with a giant day bed that has an Ozzy marionette sitting on it and a fireplace signed by Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra and other celebrities (the 90-year-old house used to belong to a famous radio host, Frank Bresee). In a back room with shelves lined with skulls, a giant Taschen book of Annie Leibowitz portraits lies open on a lectern at a double-page image of the Osbourne family in a hotel bathroom at the height of their fame in the Emmy-winning reality television show The Osbournes, which notched up the highest ratings in MTV history. Ozzy is sitting naked on the loo, covered in tattoos, his befuddled despair at the circus around him plainly apparent.
I await him upstairs in a small office lined with books and more awards and a blue velvet sofa by a coffee table bearing a metal crucifix, an ornate mirror and an enormous old Bible with heavy gold clasps. Opposite the sofa is a fireplace with a mantelpiece laden with small devils, four volumes of Winston Churchill's history of the Duke of Marlborough and what I take to be a knitted skull and crossbones. Actually, says Osbourne's helpful British assistant, Tom, it's needlepoint. He's pretty sure it's stretched over an actual skull and crossbones.
First to appear is the alpha dog of the household. Rocky is a brown pomeranian so startlingly fluffy he looks like a cheerleader's pompom with ears and a snout. He bustles in panting and sneezing and soon begins vigorously humping a Persian rug.
Ozzy was the guy I created for the stage, but at the end of the day I was him 24/7
Osbourne, 69, wanders through shortly afterwards, wearing black trousers, a black long-sleeved T-shirt, black loafers with gold wasps on them and chunky gold jewellery, including a ring with a skull on it.
He looks trim and healthy and his surgically enhanced face is framed by shoulder-length dark brown hair that he keeps sweeping out of the way to reveal youthful pale skin, blue eyes and a small squiggly vein prominently visible just above his left cheek.
We sit down next to each other on the sofa and make slightly awkward small talk about Rocky, who burrows in between us and starts forcefully nuzzling me, while his master reclines against a long Union Jack cushion.
"I love him," says Osbourne. "I love dogs. I prefer dogs to people to be honest." As a child growing up poor in Aston, Birmingham, he always wanted a dog, but they could never afford one. Now he has "about seven or eight", mostly rescues, all of them tiny. But he has to take a portrait of his favourite on tour because Rocky hates flying. "He gets the shits," Osbourne giggles. "F***ing craps and freaks out."
From there, for some reason, he launches into a serious discussion about guns. There had been another mass shooting in America a few days earlier and the insomniac Osbourne, surfing the TV channels, was sickened to discover his reaction to a headline about it in the early hours.
With daughter Kelly and son Jack at the 2014 Grammy awards. Getty Images
"It goes, 'Breaking news: 12 people shot dead in a bar.' I remember thinking, 'Oh, I wonder what else is on.' It's so common now, every f***ing week, ten people get murdered."
In no time, Osbourne is getting worked up about gun apologists such as his son Jack, who has a huge safe full of bullets and guns at his own house, including "these f***ing things that you can get a 747 in full flight out the air with.
"They've got all these one-liners [the gun apologists]: 'Oh, more people died by hammer blows last year [than from guns].' I know, but to kill 50 people with a f***ing hammer, you've got to have like a gang of guys with hammers."
Osbourne has owned guns in the past, but no longer does because Sharon doesn't like them and because he's "scared" of the consequences of using them.
"My father, when he was alive, always used to say to me, 'If ever you pick up a weapon, you've got to already have used it in your head, because if the guy you're pulling a knife, gun, stick, bottle, whatever on sees doubt in your eye, he'll take it and use it on you.' So then I go, 'What if I shoot the guy? Can I live with myself?' It's all that goes through my head."
In his teens he turned to crime - 'I was useless. Mr Magoo on acid' - and spent six weeks in jail
By now, Rocky is shrieking in the background as Osbourne, eyes wide with disbelief, prepares to refine his hammer argument.
"Once you pull that trigger, you've lost control of the f***ing situation, because wherever that bullet goes, you're responsible. It can go through you, through the wall, hit somebody on the f***ing pavement. If I throw a hammer at you, or a big brick, it doesn't bounce off your head and kill somebody in the road."
I agree with you, I say. He presses on, triumphantly. "There's only one purpose for a f***ing gun and it ain't to put nails in a f***ing wall. You pull that trigger, and no matter where that bullet goes, it's your f***ing gun."
Briefly, he slides down the sofa, pretending to be a passer-by struck by a stray bullet and gasping with his dying breath, "Don't forget to tell Sheila to put the cat out." Then he's on to Las Vegas, where last year, for reasons that may never be unravelled, a high-stakes gambler opened fire on a crowd attending a country music festival, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more.
Do you worry about something like that happening when you're on stage?
MTV's The Osbournes, 2002. Getty Images
"It happened to a friend of mine. Dimebag his name was ["Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, co-founder of the heavy metal band Pantera]. He's on the stage. This guy gets a gun. The band had broken up and he was an avid fan. Shot him dead on stage [in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004]. I mean, he came to my 50th birthday party."
Osbourne looks distraught, then disgusted. "And you know what? He shot him on the anniversary of John Lennon's death. I was a big Lennon-Beatles fan. I still am. I mean, all he [Lennon] ever did was give people hope and happiness and laughs."
To go back a bit, does he worry about being shot on stage?
"I've had warnings," he says. "I've had threats. I've had guns pulled on me. In Texas in the Eighties I was threatened a few times." That presumably had something to do with a notorious incident in 1982 when Osbourne drunkenly urinated on a wall in San Antonio that turned out to be a memorial dedicated to the lives of soldiers killed in the 1836 Texas Revolution.
"I pissed on the Alamo," he says. It's like urinating "on the Vatican for a Catholic. Them Texans love their f***ing Alamo."
Does he remember that incident? "No." Not at all? "No, I was f***ked out of my face on some shit or other. It was early in the morning. I had been drinking booze all night and doing other things to keep me awake."
He was also wearing Sharon's green evening dress because she had confiscated his clothes in an effort to stop him going out for another round of drinks.
These days, Osbourne's outings are rather more sedate.
"I don't drink any more. I don't smoke dope. I don't smoke cigarettes," he says, sounding almost mournful. He does exercise. So he was in peak condition when he set out on the current No More Tours 2 tour, named after 1992's original solo No More Tours tour, which he thought would be his last following a bogus diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, and not to be confused with Black Sabbath's recently completed 81-date send-off called The End. Then in October, Osbourne's thumb swelled up. "Sharon went, 'Get in the car. We're going to the hospital.' " Doctors diagnosed three separate staph infections on his hand that could have turned deadly if left untreated. He had surgery and missed four gigs of the tour's North American leg (it reaches Britain in February).
How is the thumb now? "It's a bit numb."
Does he need it to perform? "Well, I'd like to keep it."
The Seventies were OK. The Eighties were crazy. I can't remember the Nineties
We both burst out laughing and I glance up, noticing for the first time the chandelier above us that is made out of interlinked bronze creatures. Wait. Are they ... bats?
"Yes," says Osbourne, and then adds with a shrug, "My wife finds all this shit somewhere."
It turns out that Sharon bought the Warhol and the royal wedding porcelain, too. Even the "Beware of the owner" sign is hers. Perhaps, in any case, she's the owner to beware of.
"This house, everything is my wife," says Osbourne. "I don't moan about it. She's the f***ing best."
The previous night, the whole extended family had been at a Chinese restaurant, Mr Chow in Beverly Hills, to celebrate Jack's 33rd birthday. "We were there at, what, 6pm? We go early before the paps can get us."
Do they always get him in the end? "Always. Beverly Hills now is like f***ing Blackpool Pier. It used to be exclusive. Now, you can't go there. It's tourist central."
He's lived in that world for 50 years, though.
"Yes, but it's getting worse. When you're out in the news for whatever you've done, right or wrong, and you're hot that week, your life's insane. You can't go anywhere."
He leans in. "When I was doing that The Osbournes television thing, I'd get major anxiety attacks sometimes because the f***ing house had cameramen and cameras in the mirrors 24/7. I said to them at one point, 'Listen, if you want this thing to get going, you got to get me a safe room where I can go and scratch my balls and pick my nose. Pick a room.' " Then he found out that even the designated safe room had a camera and a microphone in. "I thought I was having a f***ing heart attack. I go to the hospital and the doc goes, 'No, you're just a bit wound up. Just take this pill.' I come out, there's f***ing 500 cameras there. And a guy jumps out in front of my car and goes, 'I got him. I got him.' Like you're a f***ing hunted animal."
Osbourne takes a breath to reflect. Rocky has long ago wandered off. "I understand why we all take dope and drink booze," he says. "Fame is like a drug. You can't live with it. But you can't live without it."
As a child, John "Ozzy" Osbourne was "the class clown. I was always the guy who goofed around. Because I'm extremely dyslexic and when I was at school they didn't understand what dyslexia was or attention deficit disorder. It was a dunce's cap in the corner. I just made people laugh and did crazy things. If you can make people like you, you're halfway there."
He has spoken in the past about being repeatedly sexually assaulted as an 11-year-old by two bullies who used to wait for him after school. He was afraid to tell his parents and "it completely f***ed me up" because "dirty little secrets fester", he said in 2003. He credited Sharon and therapy with helping him come to terms with that part of his past.
Performing in 1978. Rex Shutterstock
After leaving school at 15, Osbourne worked in an abattoir and in a car factory, but, "I couldn't hold a job down. I didn't want to hold a job down," he says. He turned to robbery. Was he good at crime? "No. I was f***ing useless. I was Mr f***ing Magoo on acid."
When he was caught, his father refused to pay his fine to teach him a lesson, so Osbourne was sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham for six weeks. The lesson "lasted me a lifetime. It f***ing scared the shit out of me." What was prison like? "There's some people you get on with. There's some people that want to kill everybody they see. There's fights every five minutes. I don't ever want to do it again."
The Beatles changed his life. He heard She Loves You on the radio one day walking down Witton Road in Aston and thought, "That's what I want to do."
An old schoolmate, Tony Iommi, was a guitar player with a jazz and blues band that Osbourne joined in 1968, and eventually turned into Black Sabbath. The name came after one band member - "I don't know which one of us; it wasn't me" - noted the queues for a scary film at the cinema across from the community centre where they rehearsed.
"He said, 'Isn't it strange that people pay money to go to a horror movie? Why don't we start writing horror music?'
"One of our earliest songs was the song Black Sabbath and people would f***ing freak out when we played that. We didn't realise that people actually did that shit. We started getting invites to f***ing black masses."
Did they go? "F*** off! Highgate Cemetery? At midnight? Is this for f***ing real?"
The entire top half of Osbourne's face is furrowed in pained confusion at the idea of "actual black magic f***ing devil worshippers" walking around "dressed like idiots".
The four members of Black Sabbath gave such people a wide birth as their fame grew. Whatever the satanic imagery they embraced on stage, they weren't really into all that horror of it.
"I'll tell you a true story," says Osbourne. "In Philadelphia, one of the managers goes, 'You've got to go and see this movie. It's called The Exorcist. You'll shit your pants.' " The band went to see it together at 11 o'clock at night and were so terrified, they went straight into a screening of the Paul Newman and Robert Redford con-trick movie The Sting afterwards to calm down. "We all spent the night in the same room because we were scared to be on our own."
In 1979, the rest of Black Sabbath fired Osbourne because his drinking and drug-taking had got out of hand, even for a heavy metal band. At around the same time his father died and his first wife, the mother of his first three children, threw him out.
He had not been a good husband. "I was always on the road," he says. "I was young and successful and I was like a married bachelor."
In 1982, he married Sharon Arden, the daughter of Black Sabbath's manager, Don. "Sharon was born into the business. You can't get anything past her because she just goes, like, 'F*** you. I know what you're up to.' "
When he was younger, did she tolerate groupies? "No, never. I wasn't a big groupie guy anyway." At his most out of control, any girl he looked at would turn away in disgust. "She'd go, 'You're dreaming. What possible fun am I going to get out of you?' " In those days, there might well have been "puke hanging out of my mouth. I wasn't the Romeo type."
As his manager, it was Sharon who helped steer Osbourne to solo success after Black Sabbath. It was Sharon who, when she couldn't book him on to the Lollapalooza touring festival in the Nineties, created Ozzfest as a heavy rock alternative, which has become a lucrative business venture for the family and is still going strong 22 years later. And it was Sharon who was the driving force behind The Osbournes.
'Retire? Retire to what?' Osbourne muses. 'It's not a job. It's a giggle, you know?'
At first, her husband struggled with her success when she became a public figure with a distinct career from his, but now he says, "I can't say, 'Be mine and only mine.' It's the best thing that's happened to her. She loves doing it. She's good at it. I'm not the boss. People have said to me, 'She's going to be bigger than you,' and I go, 'Please.' I think it's f***ing great."
No turmoil has yet proved too much for the couple to face together. They have raised three children (Aimee, 35, Kelly, 34, and Jack, 33) and survived not only the pressure of working together, but also the attempted murder incident (Sharon declined to press charges), Osbourne's infidelity, her colon cancer, his battles with addiction, a quad bike accident that left him in a coma for eight days and a break-in at their Buckinghamshire estate, from which the intruder escaped with jewellery worth about Â£2.5 million after Osbourne, who had him by the neck, dropped him from a first-floor window.
Would he like to be married to him now?
"Well, erm, yeah," Osbourne says, after a pause. "I've certainly found out that love, in this town, is the most overused word in the world. When people come up to me and go [he slips into a slimy Hollywood agent voice, flashes his perfect teeth and places his hand on my knee], 'Ozzy, I love you,' I want to go, 'No, you f***ing don't. How can you possibly love me when you've only just f***ing met me, you f***ing lying bag of shit? F*** off!' "
His forehead and brow are tightly furrowed again. When he talks about the guilt and shame and fear of abandonment by Sharon that he experienced over the affair, his left foot is bouncing up and down in agitation.
Do you ever get over that?
"Repeating a f***ed-up thing again is stupid, 'cause you know what the end result's going to be. But it's temptation, you know? I mean, I'm nearly f***ing 70. Who wants to go with me? I'm not gonna blaze into the sunset on a f***ing horse with a young bint. And I wouldn't want to anyway. The f***ing horse would go, 'What the f*** are you doing, mate?' "
So what is the best thing about being married to Ozzy Osbourne? His eyes widen and his voice softens. "I'm a good guy," he says. "I'm a very generous guy. Life is a journey. What you're getting now is basically what I am. Well, when I was pissed, you wouldn't have been sitting there that long, I guarantee it. I mean, you'd have gone, 'This f***ing guy's insane.' 'Cause I'm a Dr Jekyll. My wife said to me one day when I was drinking, 'You should have seen yourself at the kids' birthday party yesterday. Do you want to see yourself?' I go, 'What do you mean?' 'I videoed it.' She put the video on and when I saw myself I was like, 'Whoa!' "
What were you doing? "Chasing the kids around. Scaring them." How old were they? A naughty grin bursts across his face. "Five!"
Recent years have given Osbourne an opportunity to put his career in perspective. The final Sabbath tour was lucrative but, for him, a bit mechanical. He long ago reconciled with the band, but it always belonged to Iommi, not him.
"Do I like working with him? Not really. Do I like him as a person? Yeah, I love him as a person. But if people was to say to me, 'Was there a leader of Black Sabbath?' I'd have to say it was Tony Iommi because without his guitar riffs we'd be still sitting in f***ing rehearsal with our thumbs up our arses going, 'What do we do now?' "
With Sabbath, "I'm a singer with a band." He felt like "a hired gun" at times. "I've moved on," he says. "I'll tell you what it was like. It's like when you're younger and you met a girl, Susie, and you break up and you don't see her for 30 years. Then she's in town and you go, 'Oh, I'll give Susie a call,' because your memory only remembers the good parts and you can narrow it then to a week and you go, 'I remember that week and it was lovely.' But then you go back and you go, 'I forgot the f***ing four and three-quarter years I was f***ing miserable.'"
"His 1984 arrest in Memphis on a public intoxification charge. Eyevine
In contrast, touring as Ozzy Osbourne again, with his own band, has been "great fun". He thinks his most recent performances are some of the best he has ever delivered because, whereas he used to be hungover on stage and desperately clinging on for the fan favourite Paranoid, usually the last song, so he could have a drink, "Now I'm in control and it's so much better. I get more pleasure out of doing the gigs now."
So why is he stopping touring? He isn't, he says. He's just decided to do shorter tours of four to six weeks at a time so he can speak to his grandchildren in person rather than over the phone.
"Retire? Retire to what?" Osbourne muses. "It's not a job. It's a f***ing giggle, you know? I work for a couple of hours a day, travel around on a plane. I have a laugh with the band."
He has covered a lot of ground to get here and really, it is miraculous that he is still alive.
"I should have been f***ing dead before I was 40," he says.
Looking back, "The Seventies were OK. The Eighties were f***ing crazy, but good. I can't remember the Nineties. Then in 2000, we had the TV celebrity thing. That was something else, that was. We went through mega-stardom for about three years. I didn't know whether I could handle it too long. I mean, you cannot sustain that."
The hell-raising was "fun, but selfish fun". Eventually, it became "not fun. When you drink because you have to, it's a different vibe. It's the entertainment game. I think everybody would love to be the wild one for a weekend. I mean, I guess I just took it too far. What happened was Ozzy was the guy I created for the stage, but at the end of the day I was him 24/7."
When Alice Cooper steps off stage, he is clean-living Vincent Furnier, who plays golf obsessively, I say. "You won't see me on a f***ing golf course," mutters Osbourne.
What is his daily life like when he's not touring then? "I try to do as little as possible," he says. "I watch TV and now you've got a thousand million channels, all of which are shit." He listens to a lot of classic rock (Pink Floyd is on heavy rotation at the moment), but no heavy rock or metal. He struggles with anything involving computers, from sat-nav devices to texting, which he does laboriously. And he marvels at how much Britain has changed every time he goes back, particularly the neighbourhood he grew up in.
"All the street is Muslim. All the pubs are closed down - they don't drink. We go to the school [with a girl they met via a television show] and there's all these Muslim women with their f***ing hoods on. The kids come out, they go, 'Oh, Mum.' How the f*** do they know?"
Does that bother him? "No," he answers resoundingly, like it's a self-evidently ridiculous question. "I mean, it's just all the changes. It's different."
Perhaps most of all, he loves to roam around supermarkets, especially Marks & Spencer. "Oh, yeah," says the Prince of Darkness. "Their f***ing chocolate eclairs are the finest. And the trifle. You'll often see me in the f***ing food shop. It's my favourite thing to do." People are stunned to bump into him with his four trolleys. "They say, 'Ozzy gets food!' I go, 'Yeah. How do you think I'm alive?' "
He likes a range of supermarkets. "I go to Waitrose, M&S, I'll go to Bristol Farms [in Los Angeles]. I love food shopping, perhaps because we never did any when I was a kid." He can cook "a bit", he says - "better than my wife" - but is particularly "renowned" for his chips.
Tom appears in the doorway to usher his employer away. But before he goes, Osbourne has one more thing he wants to say. "People have said to me, 'Do you have any regrets?' Of course. We all have regrets, but you learn from it and would I change anything? I wouldn't. Whatever road you take, you've got to take the good, the bad and the ugly. I mean, if you had said to me when I was 15, this is gonna be you when you're 70, I would have thought you were f***ing mad, but my life, if it ends right now, I've had the f***ing best life. I'm the luckiest guy on the f***ing face of the earth."