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Ozzy Osbourne

interview by Tom Lanham
first published in The Sunday Examiner, San Francisco


Ozzy Osbourne c Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Photo © Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications



A Sober Ozzy Leaves Bat-Biting Days Behind


Throughout his 20 years as one of heavy metal's wildest front men, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne always knew he had loyal fans. In addition to pushing his 14-album catalog to gold and platinum status, the faithful regularly would anoint their idol with, he now recalls in disgust, "joints, bags of coke and live animals; they'd throw just about anything on stage."

Osbourne—who now refers to himself as, until recently, "a crazy, drunken, drugged-out freak"—once took a bite out of a real bat, at the risk of contracting rabies, to please an audience.

At 40, the outrageous showman currently finds himself "crazier than ever," as he comes back with a new tour and million-selling album, No Rest For The Wicked. But this time there's a pronounced difference; the hard-partying father of three has sobered up, and is performing sans drugs and alcohol for the first time in his life. To his surprise, his following is respecting this change.

"I go on stage now and the kids throw those sobriety tokens that you can only get in a recovery program," an amazed Osbourne reported in a recent phone interview. After a much-publicized stay at the Betty Ford Center four months ago, he admitted he had been worried how fans would react. "But they're still there, even though I'm different now," he sighed. "Now that's what I call loyalty."

Ozzy Osbourne c Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

Ozzy Osbourne
photo © Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

And Osbourne is remaining loyal to the 12-step recovery plan. The singer attends the requisite daily meetings that reinforce his decision to get clean, and is accompanied on tour by his sponsor, a four-year program veteran. "Like they say," Osbourne said, "your misery will be cheerfully refunded any time you decide to drink again."

Then again, in this day and age where The Recovery Ranch ratings or reviews of other treatment centers are online for all to see, Osbourne is certainly not going to have a problem finding a great facility should he fall off the wagon again.

In neither Black Sabbath in the '70s nor in his demonic, gore-soaked solo act did he appear miserable, though. It all looked like fun when the heavily-tattooed rocker screamed about "going off the rails on a crazy train." But underneath, inside, lurked a horror story dating back to Osbourne's childhood.

Raised in the dreary factory town of Birmingham, England, where real men drank their cares away in pubs, Osbourne was faced with a dismal future. "I couldn't believe my destiny was to work and die in a factory, too," he said, recalling alcoholism setting in somewhere around his late teens. Forming Black Sabbath in 1968, he added, was his only way out.

"We came in at the end of the flower-power thing, but we had no dough, no hope of getting any, and we wrote about what we felt, so it wasn't all roses and happy-ever-after. We were militant and spoke with aggressive feelings, and drugs and alcohol became a part of that." Cocaine crept quickly into Osbourne's arena. Already sold on the rock lifestyle of "fast cars, nice houses and chicks," the ex-street kid dove headlong into the destructive white powder "because it was expensive and not many people could do it in those days. A successful rock star must sniff coke."

Little by little, Osbourne's name began popping up in the gossip columns. An arrest here, a drunken incident there.... He even decapitated a live dove at a record-company board meeting. Today, he recognizes the painful truth: "I woke up in a jail cell at least once a week for the past 10 years."

The final blow came last year. After several failed attempts to right himself, Osbourne sank into a lost weekend he still can't quite piece together. On his daughter's birthday, he came to "on some grungy drug dealer's floor—I don't know how I got there. So, naturally, I went out drinking, got on a plane for London and to this day, I have no idea what happened on that flight. "I was so frightened that someone could come up to me and say, 'That's the man who ran my child over,' or, 'That's the man who stabbed my husband,' I canceled my entire tour and checked myself in."

Zak Wylde/Ozzy Osbourne c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Zak Wylde
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

It took two tries at rehabilitation, but Osbourne finally accepted that addiction is a disease. And on the molten-metal No Rest for the Wicked, he's written a healthy disclaimer, "Demon Alcohol." While many a rock band spends extra effort propagating the party attitude, Osbourne's frank testimony stands in stark contrast: "I'll watch you lose control/ Consume your very soul/ I'll introduce myself today/ I'm the Demon Alcohol."

A risky song subject? "Hey," Osbourne staunchly defended, "if I can stop any poor sucker out there from going through even one second of the agony I've been through, I'll stand on top of the Empire State Building and shout it."

And Osbourne has a lot to shout about. The former heavyweight has slimmed down by 20 pounds, exercises regularly and is following a strict diet. His backup band also has been rejuvenated with two new members, former Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler and 21-year-old guitar prodigy Zakk Wylde. "All these good things are happening to me now that I'm not drinking," he said. "I haven't been arrested, and I haven't had any major problems either. I feel tremendous."

Calling from a car phone as his wife was driving, Osbourne noted the time: 3pm, and was happy that, unlike the old days, he didn't have a drink in his hand. On his way to a pizza parlor, the on stage madman looked at his children in the back seat and sanely concluded, "I've been fighting for my life for a long, long time and, you know, I think I've still got a little bit of it left."

Interview with Ozzy & Sharon next

  

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