When Ozzy Osbourne dies, hopefully several decades from now, his obituary will touch on a great many things. It’ll focus on the pivotal role he played in the creation of heavy metal as a member of Black Sabbath, the brilliant music he made with guitarist Randy Rhoads in the early Eighties, his battles with substance abuse, and how his MTV show The Osbournes helped launch a new era of reality television.
Inevitably, it will also mention a Jan. 20, 1982, incident at the Des Moines Veterans Memorial Auditorium where he bit the head off a live bat during a concert. The unfortunate episode, which occurred exactly 40 years ago today, lasted just a few seconds, but it generated news around the world and gave the religious right a powerful new talking point whenever they railed against heavy-metal music.
Osbourne had been on the road for well over a year when he arrived in Des Moines for the infamous show. During that time, he developed a ritual where he’d pummel the audience with raw meat and they’d chuck back whatever insane things they could sneak into the venues.
“I always liked old movies that used to have these custard-pie fights,” Osbourne explained in the documentary The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne. “It gave me this idea to throw, instead of pie, bits of meat and animal parts into the audience. I thought it was hilarious. [They’d throw back] sheep testicles, live snakes, dead rats, all kinds of things. Someone once threw a live frog onto onstage. It was the biggest frog I’d ever seen, and it landed on its back.”
That night in Des Moines, someone threw a live bat. “I thought it was a rubber bat,” Osbourne said. “I picked it up, put it in my mouth, crunched down, bit into it, being the clown that I am.”
As blood filled his mouth and people in the crowd looked on with horror, he realized he’d made a horrible mistake. “Bats are the biggest carriers of rabies in the world,” he said. “And I had to go to the hospital afterwards and they started giving me rabies shots. I had one one each rear and I had to have that every night.”
The Des Moines bat thrower has never come forward publicly, but whoever was responsible gave Osbourne just about more press attention than he’d ever received in his life (including the Letterman appearance above). “It got to the point where people expected me to do crazier and crazier things,” he said. “I’ll tell you what guys — it ain’t fun when you get them rabies shots.”
He followed it up by urinating on the Alamo a few weeks later when the tour went down to San Antonio, Texas. He was hauled off to jail for that one and banned from playing in the city for the next decade. And just weeks after that, Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash after a show at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum, putting all the craziness into horrible perspective.
The bat incident came up in nearly every interview Osbourne did throughout the Eighties, and he eventually grew very tired of explaining himself over and over. But he’s learned to embrace its weird role in rock history, selling plush beheadable bat toys and even rolling out 9,666 NFT bats this month. “CryptoBatz is a fucking mental project for NFT collectors and fans,” he said in a statement. “The design pays tribute to one of my most iconic onstage moments and is a chance to acquire a rare piece of art history. I love it!”
But 40 years ago tonight, he wasn’t loving anything about the bat incident. He was spitting out warm bat blood and bracing for an agonizing series of rabies shots.