For Ozzy Osbourne, there is reality television — and there is real life. The former is what you see each week on The Osbournes. Ozzy, the 53-year-old millionaire doofus shuffling through his Beverly Hills mansion in his tattoos and magenta-streaked, shoulder-length hair; wrestling with the simple mechanics of turning on a TV; dodging carpet bombs left by the family dogs; firing the word fuck every ten seconds with his spitfire wife and manager, Sharon, 50, and their children Kelly, 17, and Jack, 16. A ratings bonanza for MTV, The Osbournes has made Ozzy TV’s top dad and stars of everyone in his family.
But real life is what happened to Osbourne on his way to prime time. “I am the real, true working-class hero,” he says proudly, and he has the life to prove it. Since 1970, the British singer — a high school dropout and teenage jailbird who grew up in extreme poverty — has been the undisputed king of heavy metal, first with Black Sabbath, then as a multiplatinum solo artist and nonstop touring machine. Founded in 1996, Ozzfest, his annual summer extravaganza, is the highest-grossing package tour in rock. (The current U.S. run ends on September 8th in Dallas.)
Osbourne has never had trouble making headlines: for biting the head off a bat onstage in 1982, then getting arrested a few weeks later for pissing on the Alamo in a drunken stupor while wearing a woman’s gown. But now he is everywhere. This year, Osbourne has received a star on Hollywood Boulevard; been a guest of honor at the White House Correspondents Dinner; and played Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” for Queen Elizabeth II at the Queen’s Jubilee concert in London. He has two new albums (Live at Budokan and the TV-show soundtrack, The Osbournes) and a second Osbournes season on tap.
“If you have a fucking dream, don’t stop believing in it,” Osbourne declares at the start of five hours of conversation over two days in his New York hotel. “That’s what it’s about: fantasies and dreams.” Fantasies were all he had as a boy. The fourth of six children, John Michael Osbourne was born on December 3rd, 1948 in the Aston section of Birmingham, England. His father worked nights as a toolmaker. Suffering from dyslexia, Osbourne quit school at 15 and got stuck in a series of menial jobs before co-founding Sabbath in 1968 with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward.
In his most extensive interview ever, Osbourne reveals the reality behind his success: his childhood; the mad Sabbath days; the drugs and drinking; the 1982 death of his guitarist Randy Rhoads in a tragic airplane joy ride; and his love for Sharon, the woman who saved his life and career.
What were you thinking as you sang “Paranoid” at the Queen’s Jubilee concert? You must have scared the woman half to death.
Prince William said to me later, “It would have been great if you had done ‘Black Sabbath.’ ” If I had done “Black Sabbath,” the fucking royal box would have turned to stone, and the Archbishop of Canterbury would have had to douse them in holy water.
At first, I thought the reason they picked me for the show was that I’m the in-house joke. But everyone — the royal family, all the princes — was headbanging, giving it plenty. And the atmosphere backstage was great. I was there with Sir Paul McCartney, Bryan Adams, Joe Cocker, all in the dressing tent. It was like sitting in a bar with every celebrity in the world.
You have to understand — I come from Aston in Birmingham, a very poor industrial neighborhood. I remember sitting on my doorstep when the Beatles first happened, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if Paul McCartney married my sister?” And there I am, 36 years later, singing “Hey Jude” with him at the end of that show. I absolutely worshiped the Beatles. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols once said to me, “I hated the Beatles.” To me, that’s like saying you hate air.
Did you try hard not to say fuck when you met the queen?
That word was temporarily on hold in my head. My wife said to Camilla Parker Bowles [Prince Charles’ girlfriend], “I think you’re fucking great.” My eyeballs nearly flew out of my head. I said, “Sharon, watch your language.” And Camilla Parker Bowles says [affects posh accent], “Oh, it’s quite all right. We curse quite a lot around here.”
When I went up to the queen, I tried to keep my hand in my pocket. I was afraid she would faint when she saw the tattoo [O-Z-Z-Y on the fingers of his left hand]. She said, “I understand you’re quite the wild one.” I just went, “Heh, heh, heh” [embarrassed laugh]. One thing I noticed — she’s got the greatest skin for a woman of her age.
You also met President Bush this year at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Again, I felt like the in-house joke. I was really nervous. But it was like Beatlemania. The press were going nuts. Everything that has happened to me in the last six months has been incredible. Two years ago, I’m thinking, “I’m 52. I’ll peter off doing Ozzfest once a year and bow out gracefully.” All of a sudden, someone throws a success grenade in the room.
Five years ago, the press and the royals wouldn’t have given you the time of day. Does the hypocrisy bother you?
It’s not hypocrisy. I’m the flavor of the month. I know I’m this year’s version of Roseanne Barr. I know the bubble will burst, and I’m going to be yesterday’s news. But I’m not letting any of this get in the way of my music. I can still rock like a son of a bitch.