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The shambling figure known to millions of young viewers by his catchphrase “Sharon”, hardly looks like a man they call the Godfather of Heavy Metal. At 62, Ozzy Osbourne by rights shouldn’t be alive but he’s still going strong, entertaining people on the box as well as on the stage. In a career spanning over 40 years, Ozzy has seen and done it all and in the process, become one of the most respected men in heavy rock, selling over 100 million records along the way.
Anyone who has heard Ozzy speak, know that he’s a Brummie boy, and proud of his roots. Born in Birmingham in December 1948, John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne grew up in a two-bedroom home with his parents and five siblings. Suffering from dyslexia and other learning disabilities, Ozzy found school-life tough and left as soon as he could at 15. Over the next few years he worked on construction sites, as a plumber and even in an abattoir. He also got involved in petty theft, for which he spent six weeks in prison for stealing from a clothes shop.
Ozzy then turned his hand to music. In 1967, he formed a short-lived band “Rare Breed” with Geezer Butler. The duo later went on to form “Polka Talk Blues”, later known as “Earth” with guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. In 1969, they changed the name of the band for the final time, after discovering a group with the same name also touring the English clubs. Black Sabbath was born in late 1969 and the group quickly adopted a heavier rock and blues feel to their music.
The group released their debut self-titled album “Black Sabbath” in 1970, followed rapidly by “Paranoid”. Both records sold well but it was their third album, “Master of Reality”, that stormed the charts, both in the UK and the USA, even though it had poor reviews from the music critics. The band quickly released their fourth and fifth albums, “Black Sabbath Volume 4” in 1972 and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” the following year. The latter was well received by the critics with Rolling Stone calling it “an extraordinarily gripping affair” and “nothing less than a complete success”.
The band released a further three albums in the 1970s: “Sabotage” which was the band’s fifth consecutive platinum selling release in the US; “Technical Ecstasy” which met with mixed reviews and finally “Never Say Die”, in 1978. In the same year, Ozzy took a hiatus from the band to pursue solo ventures although he returned to record “Never Say Die” and do the promotional tour, doing his final show with the group in December 1978.
In 1979, the group sacked Ozzy, claiming his drug and alcohol problems made him unreliable and the cause of conflict within the group. Ozzy returned to the music scene in 1980, forming the group The Blizzard of Ozz. By now, his girlfriend, Sharon Arden, was managing Ozzy. The daughter of a record promoter, Sharon knew the industry better than most and it is her influence over the next decades of Ozzy career, both personally and professionally, that turned him into a solo success.
“Blizzard of Ozz” was released in 1980 and went multi-platinum, despite no hit singles being released from the album. “Diary of a Madman” was released the following year and came to be Ozzy’s favourite album. This time the single releases did much better generating such classics as the title track, “Flying High Again” and “Over the Mountain”. Whilst touring to promote the album, tragedy struck when a plane crash killed guitarist Randy Rhoads, the band’s tour bus driver, Andrew Aycock and also hairdresser, Rachel Youngblood. Although Ozzy completed the tour with replacement musicians, he took the loss badly and found it tough moving on.
The next album of new material was the 1983 release “Bark at the Moon”, which to date has sold over three million copies in the USA. The previous album, “Speak of the Devil”, had been a cover of Black Sabbath songs. Ozzy had not wanted to release the album but was under contract to do so and refuses to consider it in his list of recordings.
Ozzy’s 1986 release, “The Ultimate Sin” became his highest charting studio album and featured such songs as “Killer of Giants” and “Secret Loser”. Over the next few years, Ozzy produced fewer and fewer albums, concentrating instead on touring. But what he did release, found acclaim and high sales throughout the world. In 1994, Ozzy was awarded one of the highest accolades in the music industry, winning a Grammy for the track “I Don’t Want to Change the World” which featured on his live album, “Live and Loud”.
In 1996, Ozzfest hit the music scene. Created and managed by Sharon Osbourne, the festival was a celebration of heavy metal music, featuring established talents such as Ozzy but also showcasing new bands. It was an instant hit and became an annual event and over the years saw bands such as Linkin Park, Slipknot, Metallica and Iron Maiden grace the stage. In 1997, Black Sabbath reformed for the event, much to the delight of heavy metal fans. Ozzfest has been a huge commercial success over the years generating over $100 million and seen by over five million fans.
Fans had to wait until late 2001 for a new album from Ozzy. “Down to Earth” was his eighth studio album and climbed to number four in the US Billboard album charts. Two singles were released from the album – “Gets Me Through” and “Dreamer” - both of which reached the top ten in the US singles chart.
Ozzy was by now a father of 6: Three from his first marriage in the 1960s to Thelma Riley (including an adopted son), and three from his marriage to Sharon, two of whom (Kelly and Jack) would become household names following the success of the reality show, The Osbournes. But Ozzy nearly lost it all when in 2003, he suffered a serious accident whilst out quad biking around his English estate. He suffered a broken collarbone, eight broken ribs and a broken neck vertebra. There was some good news for the recuperating Ozzy, though. He achieved his first number one single in the UK charts with the ballad, “Changes” which featured his daughter Kelly.
Ozzy, a born survivor bounced back from near tragedy and went back into the studio to record “Black Rain” which was released in May 2007 and followed up three years later by “Scream”. The album was initially called “Soul Sucka” but was renamed “Scream” after fans objected to the original title. One of the songs from the album, “Let Me Hear You Scream”, featured on the popular US drama CSI:NY and spent eight weeks on the Billboard Rock Songs chart.
One can’t write about Ozzy Osbourne without mentioning the infamous bat incident, which has gone down in rock folklore. At a concert in Iowa in 1982, a fan threw a bat onto the stage. Thinking it was a rubber toy, Ozzy put the creature into his mouth. He later told Rolling Stone that he decapitated it in a moment of panic. “Its wings started flapping and I ripped it out of my mouth but its head came off!". Whilst it remains the thing Ozzy is best known for, it had a painful consequence for the singer who had to have a series of rabies jabs following the incident.
Ozzy Osbourne has lived life to the full. He has lived through and survived the full rock ‘n’ roll experience from drugs and alcohol addition, through to personal tragedy, and back again. He has become one of the nation’s treasures because of his humility, honesty and the calibre of rock and roll he produces.