It's been five years since Ozzy Osbourne put an end to the bad old days. Back then, Osbourne used to scare even fellow musicians who would otherwise revel in drunken rock & roll debauchery. As drummer Tommy Lee reveals in the new documentary God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, screening tomorrow and Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival, the metal icon once invited him to his hotel room while Osbourne was on tour with Mötley Crüe – where he promptly undid his pants and defecated on the floor.
"He starts smearing shit all over the walls," Lee recalls in the film. "He's painting with it! And I thought, 'This is some next level shit. I'm not ready for this!' I'm cool with just taking a shit in the toilet."
Osbourne's old antics might be funny if they hadn't often rendered him unconscious afterwards and unable to recall what he had done. He couldn't remember making music videos, and he couldn't remember his own children's birthdays (watch a clip from the movie below). Asked in the documentary what year his eldest daughter Jessica (from his first marriage) was born, he has to guess. "I think it was 1971? '72? I really don't know. I'll find out for you." Even more disturbing, he couldn't remember trying to strangle his wife Sharon in 1989 after drinking four bottles of vodka.
"When you're on the bottle, you don't realize you're as bad as you are," Osbourne told Rolling Stone. "We've all done something that makes us say, 'Did I do that?' I have all these old photographs of me in the Eighties, Nineties, and I can't remember taking them. I sometimes wonder, 'Is that really me? What the fuck was I smoking at the time?'"
In some of these photographs and video footage, Osbourne's face is so flaccid and expressionless that his Black Sabbath mates used to hold his smile in place for photo shoots. Eventually, they got tired of their wasted singer, and fired him.
For Osbourne, every personal loss – from Black Sabbath to the breakup of his first marriage and the 1982 death of guitarist Randy Rhoads – would be another excuse to seek oblivion. Over the years, he said, he went into rehab more than 10 times, and he estimates that there were 40 to 50 other attempts to sober up that only lasted a few days, months at most. Nothing stuck – not even when he was on the MTV reality show The Osbournes, much of which was shot when he was either drunk or stoned.
"I'm not proud of all that," he said. "But it's been part of my journey."
"The Osbournes was done at a strange time in our family," his son Jack, who produced the documentary, told Rolling Stone. "My dad isn't the same person he is today as he was back then."
Osbourne was eventually able to clean up – possibly for good – once his son got sober, too. "I don't drink. I don't do drugs. I don't smoke," he said of his current state. At long last, he's even been able to get his driver's license. "It's a kind of freedom," he said. "I couldn't drive before because I was fucked up. And I'm tired of being that crazy fucked-up person. It wasn't fun being fucked up all the time."
The original members of Black Sabbath – guitarist Tommy Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward – all appear in the doc, and they seem to be on good terms with their old leader. Could that mean that a long-rumored reunion is now a real possibility?
"I'm willing," Osbourne said. "But there are three other guys as well." And one of them – Butler – publicly ruled out a reunion in February. "It goes backwards and forwards. One day this, one day that. I'm up for it. But we'll see. If it's meant to happen, it'll happen."
Osbourne did admit that the prospect of the reunion is a little daunting. "The pressure of doing a new Black Sabbath album is enormous, and for it to be as good as what we did back then," he said. "It's been 30 years since we actually sat down and tried to write together, and we've all changed so much. I know I have."