Onetime lead singer with Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne traded on his former band's legacy of loud hard rock and mystical/occult trappings, and his own propensity for grossly outrageous acts, to become one of heavy metal's best-loved and most successful frontmen.
"I'm not a musician," Osbourne once claimed. "I'm a ham." In 1981, at an L.A. meeting of Columbia Records Executives, Ozzy bit the head off a live dove; a few months later he bit the head off a bat tossed to him by a fan at a Des Moines concert. (Osborne claims to have thought it was a rubber toy.) The latter incident resulted in the singer receiving a series of rabies shots.
Osbourne has said there was "a lot of insanity" in his family; that he'd made several suicide attempts, as early as age 14, "just to see what it would feel like"; that at one point he and Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward took acid every day for two years; and that his last months with Black Sabbath in 1978 were "very unhappy. I got very drunk and very stoned every single day."
Osbourne's first two solo LPs went double platinum, and in 1981 "You Can't Kill Rock 'n' Roll" garnered heavy FM-AOR airplay. Then, on March 19, 1982, near Orlando, Florida, Ozzy's tour plane, which was buzzing his tour bus, crashed. Osbourne and most of his band were in the bus and unhurt, but his guitarist, Randy Rhoads; hairdresser Rachel Youngblood; and pilot/bus driver Andrew Aycock were all in the plane, and all were killed. Rhoads was replaced within a few weeks by Brad (Night Ranger) Gillis, and the show went on. Later that year, Osbourne married his manager, Sharon Arden. He also recorded a live album, Speak of the Devil, at the Ritz in New York. Each of his succeeding albums, except for the 1990 Just Say Ozzy, went at least platinum (Bark at the Moon and No More Tears went double platinum). Tribute (#6, 1987) included live recordings featuring Randy Rhoads from 1981.
For Osbourne, 1986 was particularly eventful: In April he was fined several thousand dollars by the New Jersey Meadowlands after his fans trashed the arena during a concert; that summer he made his movie debut as an antirock minister in the horror film Trick of Treat; and toward the end of the year, he disappeared for three weeks – eventually turning up at California's Betty Ford Clinic, where he'd checked in to battle his alcoholism.
A favorite whipping boy of the religious right, Osbourne was the target of an antirock sermon delivered in early 1990 by New York City's John Cardinal O'Connor. Between 1985 and 1990, Osbourne was sued by three different sets of parents (two from Georgia, one from California), all claiming his song "Suicide Solution," from Blizzard of Ozz, had induced their sons to commit suicide. (Lamenting the death of AC/DC's Bon Scott, the song is clearly antialcohol and antisuicide.) Osbourne prevailed in every suit.
In 1991 Osbourne announced his No More Tours Tour to support No More Tears – an alleged farewell jaunt, during which he broke a foot while jumping around onstage in Chicago and later caused a near-riot in Irvine, California, when he invited his audience onstage. (That show, billed as a benefit to fund replacement of Randy Rhoads' graffiti-covered tombstone, broke even once Osbourne paid damages to the venue.) In October 1992 the tour brought Osbourne to San Antonio, Texas – the first time he'd played there since February 1982, when he'd been banned from the city for urinating on the Alamo. (Osbourne has also been banned, for various reasons and lengths of time, from Boston, Baton Rouge, Corpus Christi, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia.) Osbourne's two tour-ending shows in Costa Mesa, California, were opened by Black Sabbath – with Judas Priest's Rob Halford replacing Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio, who refused to open for his predecessor. Osbourne did a four-song miniset with Sabbath at the final show. The tour produced the Live & Loud album, which earned Osbourne his first Grammy nomination, for Best Metal Performance for the track "I Don't Wanna Change The World."
Only weeks after the tour ended, Osbourne's publicists said he might indeed tour again, but not as a solo act. Alleged financial bickered scuttled subsequent negotiations for a 1993 Ozzy-Sabbath reunion tour. In spring 1994 he recorded a version of Sabbath's "Iron Man" – originally recorded when he was still in the band – with Irish band Therapy? for the Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black. His next album was Ozzmosis, which sold 3 million copies and hit #4 in 1995. With the subsequent tour a major success, Osbourne in 1996 launched Ozzfest, a heavy rock-themed package tour that grew into one of the top summer concert attractions of the late '90s and helped boost the careers of acts such as Marilyn Manson and Pantera. An album, The OzzFest, Vol. 1: Live documented the tour's inaugural dates. By 1997, the even prompted a Black Sabbath reunion. A double CD, Reunion, was released the next year, and the group headlined a 1999 tour to promote it.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).