- 03 Dec 19
To celebrate The Prince of Darkness's 71st birthday, we're revisiting his classic 2002 interview with Hot Press.
Despite recently being voted one of the 50 most beautiful women in America by the readers of People magazine, Mrs Ozzy Osbourne is ticked off. It seems that some smart-arsed Dutch journalist has been asking her husband, the erstwhile frontman of Black Sabbath, if he’d care to comment on several hilarious quips a heavy metal band I’ve never heard of had unleashed at his expense a few days previously.
“Ozzy said that he’s 53 and he couldn’t give a fuck what anyone says about him,” she explains to a record company employee who’s loitering in the kitchen of the Osbournes’ exceedingly plush Buckinghamshire mansion. “Then I asked the journalist if he’d flown all the way over from Holland just to ask my husband stupid fucking questions like that.”
“Really? What did he say?” enquires the girl from Sony, who looks as intrigued as I am.
“He got all flustered and apologetic, rifled through his notes for a while and eventually asked if it was true that Ozzy had once bitten a bat’s head off,” Mrs Osbourne explains with a weary shake of her head. “Fucking hell! Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. I don’t know where they get some of these fucking journalists? Is that another one over there?”
Over “there” is an adjacent sofa, well within earshot. I wave sheepishly from its depths, unable to stand because all movement from the waist down is being restricted by a particularly heavy hound from the Osbourne menagerie that’s decided to grab 40 winks on my lap.
“You’re not going to ask him about bats, are you?” she enquires of me suspiciously. “It was years ago and he didn’t know it was real. End of fucking story.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it Mrs Osbourne,” I assure her, mentally crossing all bat-related queries off my prepared line of questioning.
“Good. In that case you can call me Sharon,” she replies. “And this young lady who’s just come in the door is my daughter Kelly, who’s about to tell me what she’s done to upset Courtney Love, aren’t you darling? Courtney’s been complaining about something you said on The Howard Stern Show.”
As sullen as any 17-year-old girl I’ve ever met, but with more shocking pink hair than most, young Ms Osbourne mumbles something about everything she says being taken out of context “all the fucking time” and sticks a cassette in the video. It’s the promo clip of her debut single, a souped-up cover of Madonna’s ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ that’s to be used on the soundtrack of The Osbournes, a television show in which she co-stars with her parents and 16-year-old brother Jack.
An MTV fly-on-the-wall documentary that’s responsible for transforming Ozzy and his loved ones into America’s favourite family, The Osbournes is the most successful show in the 21-year history of the station. The initial run peaked drew between six and eight million viewers per episode, and word has it that the family has been offered $20 million dollars to allow the cameras access to their Beverly Hills mansion for a further two series. It’s good work if you can get it, particularly when all that’s asked of you in return is that you pretend the cameras aren’t there.
The result is a staggering, often touching, occasionally disturbing, but generally hilarious peek at life chez Osbourne. Whether it’s the sight of Ozzy the rock star moaning about the promoter who installed a bubble machine at one of his gigs (“A fucking bubble machine?!?! I’m supposed to be the fucking Prince of Darkness, for fuck’s sake! What the fuck do I want with bubbles?”) or being roundly ignored while the dogs he constantly cleans up after hog all the attention, The Osbournes has captured the public imagination in a way no other reality TV show has managed before.
When I ask Ozzy if he’s surprised by the reaction to the show. His reply provides a fair indication of why it’s so popular.
“FUCKING SURPRISED!?!” he roars in a thick Birmingham brogue. “Surprised is the fucking understatement of the millennium! Surprised doesn’t even begin to fucking describe it. I’m absolutely fucking bowled over. I mean, before we did the TV show I was Ozzy Osbourne the legendary rock’n’roller, and now I’m this fucking demi-god! I’m on the front of all these fucking magazines: Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, the TV Guide… fuck me, it’s mad! They’re even interviewing my neighbours to see what it’s like living next door to the fucking Osbournes, and I heard the other day that my ex-wife has been visited by the National Enquirer and the Daily Mirror. It’s unbelievable. Absolutely fucking unbelievable.”
He pauses for breath, allows himself a smirk and continues conspiratorially: “But do you know what the best thing about it is? I’ve got all these people who would have crossed the street to avoid me a year ago inviting me to their houses in Beverly Hills. It’s like: ‘Oh do please come to our party Ozzy, we’d love to have you as a guest’.”
In a valiant attempt to emphasise the sheer enormity of his incredulity at his new found status, Ozzy stands as he speaks, then jumps up and down, spits, stutters and waves his hands in the air by way of illustration. By the end, he’s kneeling at my feet in order to convey some idea of what it’s like to have someone like Barbara Streisand beg you to attend one of her soirees. By the time he slumps back in his chair grinning, I’ve known Ozzy Osbourne for all of three minutes and I’m in danger of coughing up a lung from laughing.
“You see, that’s exactly what I’m fucking talking about!” he chuckles. “You’re laughing. Everyone fucking laughs at me. Everyone thinks I’m fucking hilarious in the show, but the thing is that I’m not trying to be funny. I’m just being me! I’ve been saying forever that I don’t sleep hanging upside down from rafters in a Bavarian castle drinking cups of blood and nobody fucking believed me.”
“Now they’ve seen me at home they realise that I’m not Ozzy Osbourne the wild rocker, I’m just a husband and a dad looking for a bit of peace and quiet like any other husband or dad.”
Yes, peace and quiet like any other husband or dad. Remove the string of platinum albums, the drug abuse, the alcoholism, the bat, the bullet-riddled chickens, the decapitated doves, the time he enraged the entire state of Texas by pissing on The Alamo, the tattoos, the long dyed hair, the sell-out tours, the estimated personal fortune of $57 million, the lost friends, the permanent shakes, the semi-deafness, the peculiar stooped gait that makes him look as if he’s constantly pushing an invisible wheelbarrow, and the rumours of animal abuse and Satanism that have dogged him throughout his career out of the equation and you could well be talking to any middle-aged man. My bollocks.
Okay, so most of on-stage Ozzy’s antics down the years have been performed with sledge-hammer subtle nudges and winks, but whether he’s berating his daughter for getting a tiny tattoo (he has “Ozzy” tattooed across the fingers of one hand and a DIY smiley face on each knee, among many, many others) or admonishing his son’s friends for drinking, smoking and listening to loud music, it’s hard to reconcile TV Ozzy with the mascara-wearing monster of rock that singlehandedly wrote the handbook of rock’n’roll excess. Is the Homer Simpson impersonation a big con job, or has the real Ozzy Osbourne finally stood up?
“What you see in The Osbournes is fucking real,” he assures me. “Everything is real, except maybe that it’s not entirely real because Aimee, my eldest daughter (18 and a cracker! – BG), didn’t fancy it so she moved into the guest house while the cameras were there. A lot of people have asked me how I can give my children a bollocking for doing anything, when I’ve probably done something ten times worse in my day, but Sharon and I have always had a very liberal attitude with the children, so if I’m giving one of them a bollocking and they say that I’m being a hypocrite because I’ve smoked or drank or done drugs, I just say: ‘Yeah, maybe I am. But look at all the psychiatric pills I’m taking because of all the stuff I did’
“I’m taking fucking Prozac and anti-anxiety pills. I’m on fucking sleeping medication because I have demons in my head all night. The reason I’m on all that shit is because I was smoking pot, drinking booze, taking coke, doing speed, taking ups, downs… fucking every direction you want to go for so long. I’m fucking telling you, it’s killed my short term memory man… what the fuck was I talking about?”
Funny guy. Talk of pills reminds me of a story Sharon, who acts as his manager as well as his wife, had told in the kitchen while I was waiting to interview Ozzy. Because of their new found fame, Fox TV had invited the Osbournes to join them at a banquet hosted by George W Bush for the ladies and gentlemen of the press a week previously. Among the plethora of celebrities present was Glenn Close, sporting a plaster cast on a broken arm. In an attempt to make conversation with her, Ozzy had enquired if she was taking anything for the pain. She was, she said, fishing in her purse to show him the pills. Suitably impressed, he began rummaging through his own pockets for some cash with which to buy a couple from her. Sharon quickly did her wifely duty and led him away from a mortified screen legend to meet a soon-to-be mortified President of the United States. It seemed to capture their relationship in a nutshell.
“That whole night was kind of like being in a bubble, you know,” Ozzy recalls. “I had to pinch myself just to realise I was there, to be honest. They had this big dinner and there was a celebrity sitting at each table. Harrison Ford was there, Raquel Welsh was there, Drew Carey was the compere… there was a lot of celebrities. But because of the success of The Osbournes, we were the hottest ticket in town. When we got there, I thought I’d just walk in, go through the metal detector, get searched and go to my table, but it was like fucking pandemonium, man.”
“All the press were there shouting: ‘Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy! Speak into this microphone! Look at that camera! Over here Ozzy!’. Then the secret service men start going mad so we were ushered in through this scrum and I’m just thinking: ‘What the fuckin’ hell is going on?’ It really did my fucking head in. So then I was about to be introduced to the President, and all I could think was: ‘Fuck, fuck, what the fuck do I say to him?’.
So, what the fuck did you say to him?
“Well, usually when I’m stumped for words I try to come with a humourous line to break the ice, y’know. So, I said: ‘I’m very honoured to meet you Mr President, have you ever thought about dying your hair red like me?’”
“And it went down like a fucking lead balloon,” he reveals, looking genuinely crushed. “He just fucking looked at me and said ‘I don’t think so Ozzy’. But then he made a speech and he said ‘I’d like to thank everyone for being here tonight, especially Mr Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon’. And as soon as he said it, everyone in the fucking place went absolutely wild. It was weird. It was just very weird. People are very strange sometimes.”
Perhaps. A few minutes viewing of The Osbournes quickly reveals that while Ozzy enjoys his celebrity status, he has little time for its trappings or those who milk them. Might this explain his discomfort?
“I’ll tell you something,” he says, leaning in closer for an effect he quickly nullifies by shouting louder. “I had to get in a limousine that night because that’s what was provided for us, but usually if a limousine comes to my house I won’t get in. I feel like a fucking dick, so they have to send a truck or a van for me. It’s so obvious that somebody thinks they’re fucking special if they arrive somewhere in a car that’s four blocks long. I’d rather get a cab, I really would.”
Even though you’ve sold 60 million albums and become a small screen legend?
“Fucking definitely. Lately I’ve noticed that in Great Britain you have all these boy bands and these girl bands and these boy-and-fucking-girl bands that are manufactured, and I think there’s going to be a lot of very fucked up kids in this country in a few years time. Sure, it’s great for them when they’re going up and they’re getting chauffeured around in limousines, but they’re probably so fucking caught up in the whole lifestyle that they don’t realise that they’re the one’s paying for everything: the fancy fucking cars and the clothes and the big dinners.
“I just hope that the parents of these kids are aware of what might happen when their children’s’ pop careers are over. It’s great to see your kid on the television, but you’ve got to educate them and prepare them for life when television doesn’t want them anymore. If you go up that fast you’re going to come down just as fast. That’s my experience anyway.”
And to think this man was once the scourge of a nation. One presumes he’s followed this wise counsel as far as his own kids are concerned.
“Well, the whole TV show was kind of Jack and Sharon’s doing. I just came home from a tour one day and all these fucking cameras were in my house. Kelly recording the Madonna single was nothing to do with me, either. None of it was my decision. I’m not worried about Kelly because she’s got the greatest attitude. She’s been saying, well, if it’s a hit it’s a hit, and if it’s not it’s not. She’s not going to lose any sleep worrying about it, and if she’s not stressing out over it, that means I don’t have to worry about how it might affect her if it goes tits-up. I had a similar attitude about the TV show – if people like it, then great, but if they don’t it doesn’t matter.”
Well, if you’re a peddler of demonic musical filth by trade, it hardly matters if your fly-on-the-wall documentary isn’t a hit…
“Oh, I know that,” he assures me. “I mean, just because we’ve done The Osbournes, it doesn’t mean I’ve gone away from who I am. I’m not going to be auditioning to be the next James Bond or anything. Fuck no.”
I enquire if Ozzy has any regrets about allowing the show to demystify him and show him to be no more evil and twisted than your average middle-aged joe?
“No, I’m thrilled that people like it,” he counters. “There’s a love that I have for show business… y’know. It’s not that I want to be a rock star or I want to be a television star, it’s just that I love being a public figure who can make someone’s day by posing for a picture with them or signing an autograph. If I can make them happy, then I’m going to be happy as well. And I’m not just trying to be cool, because most of the time I’m scared fucking shitless. Every single time I go on stage I’m thinking: ‘Oh man, I‘m not going to pull this off. I’m too old, I can’t do it any more. I shouldn’t be here because I’m 53 and I’ve got the shakes.’
Even after all this time?
“Yes, even after all this time,” he sighs. “It’s fuckin’ mad, isn’t it? I mean, when I do TV interviews I have to sit on my hands most of the time. When I first go on a talk show I’m always a bit shaky, y’know. It’s true to say that for the best part of my life I’ve run on fear.”
So why don’t you stop for a rest?
“I don’t know. I’ve always said that as long as the audience wants me and as long as I can physically do it, I’ll carry on.” (Ozzy was evidently unable to “physically do it” when he failed to appear at Ozzfest at Punchestown racecourse last month, citing a throat infection – Ed.)
Even if it’s no fun?
“Well, it’s funny you should say that. You know, I have a sort of a love-hate relationship with the whole business. When I’m at home I want to be on the road and when I’m on the road I want to be at home. I’m never in the right place. I’m a fucking weird fucker. I mean, it’s not the money that keeps me going, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Well, you’re hardly short of a few bob…
“Nah, I’ve got a few quid stashed away for a rainy day,” he smiles. “None of what I do has ever been about the money. It’s a passion, y’know. I mean, obviously the money is nice, because it means that I haven’t had to do what my father had to do, which is walk to work in all kinds of weather to a job that he didn’t particularly like for a pay cheque that never really amounted to much. That’s the one thing I’m really grateful for, and that all comes from the fact that I’ve had an incredibly loyal following throughout my career.
“All those guys and chicks are doing mundane jobs and then they spend their wages on an Ozzy Osbourne ticket or and Ozzy Osbourne t-shirt - I really appreciate that and it’s always in the back of my mind that I have responsibilities to those people and that I must do better and I must try harder for them. I push myself very hard and I’d say that throughout my whole career there’s only about 15 or 20 shows that I’ve come off stage and felt good about.”
“Well, I suppose I’ve felt really great about that many. I’ve been happy with plenty more but unhappy with an awful lot too,” he confesses. “I suppose it’s like if you work in a bar or a restaurant, you have to be nice to your customers no matter how fuckin’ shite your day’s been. If you’ve just got a big bollocking off your wife, you can’t just march up to some punter in your restaurant, who’s probably been saving up to bring his girlfriend or his wife out for a nice meal and say: ‘Well, what the fuck do you want?’
“In the same way, I can’t go on stage and say: ‘Right, I’m pissed off tonight so I’m going to do one song and then I’m fucking off home!’. When I go out there I’ve got to be a performer, and I’ve learnt from an early age how to switch it on and off. I think that’s the intrigue of seeing me in my house in this TV show, because people are looking at it and going: ‘Well fuck me, Ozzy is actually a normal guy’.”
But haven’t you got a reputation to protect, albeit a very bad one?
“No. Because people are looking at The Osbournes thinking I’m crazier than they ever thought I was, but in a completely different way,” he explains. “That’s why I don’t really understand the popularity of the show, because it’s just me, being me, being filmed. So, when people tell me that something is hilarious, I don’t understand it, because I’m not trying to be funny. It’s just me and my family being what we are.
Suddenly, his face lights up like a Christmas tree.
“Actually, you won’t have seen this, but when we’d done our series, Gene Simmons from Kiss tried to copy it and it was an absolute fucking disaster,” he reports gleefully. “I mean, he was there on TV going on about these 400,000 chicks that he’s fucked and people just don’t want to hear that kind of shit. I mean, I could say that I’ve fucked 950,000 chicks but it’s not true, and people don’t want to hear about it even if it is. The Osbournes is real, but Gene Simmons was trying too hard to be real so he came across as a total phony.
“I’m not a playboy and to be honest, he’s just looks like a sad bastard. He’s a guy of my age boasting about how many chicks he’s fucked. He’s so sad that he’s even got a Polaroid book of all these dogs that he’s banged. For fuck’s sake man, get on with it, there’s more to life than screwing chicks! I mean, maybe he does live like that, but if he does, then he’s a fucking dick. I think the reason why The Osbournes is successful is because people appreciate that it’s real. The viewers aren’t blind and the viewers aren’t stupid. They know whether or not you’re acting up to the camera so you have to just forget that it’s there.”
So, it’s no problem that the world and his wife get to laugh at Ozzy’s everyday vicissitudes: the on-going daily struggle with the TV remote control, the miserable failure to answer a cordless telephone (it continues ringing long after he’s put it to his ear and said ‘Hello?’ a few times) and the heartfelt declarations of affection for his family: “I love you more than life itself, but you’re all fucking mad!”?
“Some days it’s alright and some days it’s not, y’know,” he confesses. “Some days I’d just go: ‘Will you get that fucking camera out of my fucking face!’ But what I’m trying to do now is persuade MTV to film some of it over here in England. I mean, we’re being advertised as America’s favourite family at the moment and I’m not even fucking American. I’m British! I’m from fucking Birmingham!”
An assistant (Ozzy’s, not mine) sticks his head around the door to signal that my surreal but enlightening one-on-one is drawing to a close. I ask my friendly interviewee how he’s managed to come so far down a road strewn with tragic casualties, many of whom were his friends.
“I don’t know,” he replies. “It’s a fucking mystery to me, it really is. Sharon had a lot to do with it, that’s for sure. And I think God obviously chooses to keep me here for right now. I do believe in God and a higher power, you know. I think there has to be because I certainly did a good job of trying to kill myself doing all sorts of crazy shit.”
So, is he abstinence itself these days?
“Oh God no,” he laughs. “I still take a drink. I’ve tried the sober way but it just drives me crazy. I need a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day or whatever.
“You know, things change and people change. This year I’ve met the President of the United States, I’m going to meet the Queen, I’ve got a star on the Walk Of Fame right next to Marilyn Monroe…
“I love surprises and this year The Osbournes has flown off the scale and become the biggest thing ever to hit TV. I’m just lapping it up like a newborn puppy. I love it. One thing I can say to your readers is never let go of your dreams. Never, ever let go of your fucking dreams. When I was a kid my big dreams were that my dad would win the pools and that we could get a car or a colour TV. But now, everything I have far exceeded anything I wanted as a kid, so I’m living proof that it’s very important never to let go of your dreams and never give up on them.”
So, with his dreams fulfiled, are we to conclude that Ozzy’s happy with his lot?
“I’m never happy because I never think I’m good enough,” he explains dolefully. “I suppose I’m as happy as one can be. Sharon sums me up best when she says: ‘I don’t fucking get you. It’s a beautiful sunny day but you will never be happy until you find a little black cloud’.
“I’m always inclined to find something bad in everything. Whether I’ve met the President, or the Queen, or the TV show is a big hit, or I’ve just filled a stadium or sold five million albums… I’m always waiting for something to go wrong.
“Sharon says to me that I should stop worrying and enjoy the moment, but I just can’t because I’m always afraid. I’ll say prayers or do any superstitious thing I can think of to stop that fear.”
And on that bombshell, the alleged Satanist, animal abuser and self-styled anti-Christ who made his fortune terrorising American family values with angst-ridden dirges like ‘Suicide Solution’ and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ rises to his feet, thanks me for my time and shuffles out of the room.