It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)



Ozzy Osbourne

Posted on | October 6, 2008 | No Comments

The Prince of Darkness Would Like a Little Peace

OZZY OSBOURNE CAN NO LONGER DRINK, SMOKE OR DO DRUGS. HIS OLD FRIENDS ARE ALL GONE, AND HIS KIDS ARE DRIVING HIM CRAZY. BUT AT LEAST HE’S STILL ALIVE.

Upstairs in his bedroom, trying to sleep, Ozzy Osbourne has just about had it with all the goddamn noise floating in from outside his window. He tosses and turns, frets and stews, moans and groans, and finally shakes himself loose of his sheets. This is in Beverly Hills, inside an arid marble palace just off Sunset Boulevard, where Ozzy lives with his wife, Sharon, and their three teenage kids, Aimee, Kelly and Jack. And it’s those kids, splashing and laughing in the family swimming pool, who are denying Oz his sleep. Fingers trembling in the darkness, he tries to decide what to do. He’d like to lay some words on the kids. These would be words of instruction, admonition and correction, the feared words of a dad. Maybe he has those words somewhere, but he can’t find them right now. He starts to reach for the bedroom intercom.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the kitchen, Sharon Osbourne has finished clearing the dinner table. Besides being Ozzy’s wife, she is also his manager, and so she knows a few things about the former Black Sabbath frontman, highly successful hard-rock solo artist and current namesake of the big summertime hard-rock extravaganza known as Ozzfest. "He’s vulnerable," she says. "He’s really, really vulnerable. And he’s more vulnerable now, because he’s cold turkey on everything — drugs, drinking, caffeine, cigarettes. He’s raw. He’s fucking raw as they come. Sometimes he trembles so bad, he’s like a frightened Chihuahua. It’s like every nerve in his body is wanting something, something, something — ’Ozzy, please, give me something, something, please!’"

Just then the intercom crackles to life, and through it comes an agitated voice: "Kelly, Kelly, please! You sound like a lunatic. Quiet, please! OK?"

Sharon jumps up from the table. "Hold on, Ozzy. I’ve got it." She goes to the door leading to the pool. "Kelly?"

"Yeah?" says fifteen-year-old Kelly.

"Please. You’ve woken Daddy."

Jack, who is fourteen, and Aimee, who is sixteen, start laughing.

"Shut up, you two," snaps Sharon. "All of you, stop it. Be respectful!"

Sharon sits back down, smiling. She is a lovely, intelligent and rather fierce woman in her late forties. She’s been married to Ozzy for eighteen years, through many ups and many, many downs. "Yes, it’s been a challenge," she says. "Yes, indeed."

Then there’s noise again. The laughter of the kids, the shouting, the high-pitched squealing. It rises through the night sky and once more finds its way into the upstairs bedroom, this time forcing Ozzy to roll out of bed, off the lacy pink sheets. He wobbles to the window in his black underpants, long hair dangling. He is concerned now not only for his own sleep but also for that of his closest neighbor, the seriously religious crooner Pat Boone.

Glaring down at his brood, he opens his mouth and says, "If you all don’t shut up, I’ll — I’ll -"

He goes silent.

His kids looks up at him, chins resting on the lip of the pool.

"I’ll — I’ll–"

"Well, yes, what will you do?"

"Now listen to me, children," he says. And then they start snickering and giggling. For, indeed, what dadlike words can he say to them? What is he, Ozzy Osbourne, legendary drug-addled Prince of Darkness, the very founder of parent-freaking-out heavy-metal music, going to do to them if they don’t settle down? A bunch of thoughts crumple his brain. How can I give out the rules when I’m worse than them most of the time? When they’ve seen me coming home in police cars, in fucking ambulances, in strait-jackets and chains? When I have gone to parent-teacher conferences stoned on Vicodans or Percosets and nodded off in the middle, and Sharon has had to kick me under the table, and I wake up shouting, "Hey, what do you keep fucking hitting me for, man?" I try to be a figure of authority, but do they listen to me? Fuck, no!

Jack, Kelly and Aimee are still waiting for an answer.

Ozzy blinks a few times. Then in a very small voice, he says, "Well, try to be quiet, will you?" And then this rawest of men — raw like no one else probably in the history of raw — aims himself back toward his bed to find sleep amid the ruckus, if only he can.

This is not generally well-known about Ozzy Osbourne, but he is, in fact, a deeply modest and reserved fellow. Because of his past –because he has shot up a henhouse full of chickens, and killed a whole gang of cats, and snorted a line of ants like they were a line of cocaine, and bitten the head off a bat, and catapulted meat (stomachs and intestines, mostly) into his audience, and downed four bottles of Russian vodka at one sitting, and taken a crap in an elevator, and set a total stranger’s newspaper on fire in an airport — and because that’s only the half of it, lots of people assume that he must be some kind of terrible, towering asshole egomaniac. But all that nuttiness took place a long time ago, under the influence, and, according to the world’s foremost Ozzy authority, such is not really the case.

"From Kiss to Bon Jovi to the Backstreet Boys, who hasn’t done a milk ad?" says Sharon Osbourne. "But you will never see Ozzy doing one. He doesn’t play that game. You will never see Ozzy walking around with ten fucking bodyguards, and he would rather poke a stick in his eye than get out of a limo. He would find it embarrassing. When we were at the Grammys recently, he’s looking at me going, ’We don’t belong here. I want to go home.’ You see, he doesn’t fit in with what I call the Versace rockers in this business. He is not one of the beautiful people. He’s just Ozzy."

Nonetheless, as just Ozzy, he has been tremendously successful. Since leaving Black Sabbath in 1978 — or, rather, since being booted from the band for reasons of overindulgence — he has sold more than 67 million albums as a solo artist, which is no mean number, and has never had an album do worse than platinum. Moreover, the Ozzfest tour is now in its fifth year, having so far played to 1.7 million hard-rock-loving kids and taken in more than $60 million, making it one of the top-grossing summer tours in the business.

It has also helped deliver huge audiences to hard-rock bands like Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Soulfly, Static-X and System of a Down. "For a young band like Static-X to stand next to an icon like Ozzy, it doesn’t get any better," says Static-X manager Andy Gould, who also manages Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and other acts that have played Ozzfest.

As it happens, however, Ozzfest wasn’t Ozzy’s idea but Sharon’s — she simply thought it would be a fun thing for Ozzy to do — and it’s not Ozzy who decides which hot bands will play on the Ozzfest bill but Sharon and young Jack Osbourne, who, despite his age, is well known inside almost all the clubs on Sunset Strip. Actually, Ozzy doesn’t listen to much music these days (unless it’s by the Beatles or a former Beatle); nor does he even hobnob with the other bands on the tour, preferring to stay away from any temptations that might cause him to fall off the wagon. Even so, he does occasionally show up at Ozz Records on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where much of the Ozzfest planning takes place.

Today, he wanders in looking pretty relaxed, pretty chipper, in a black T-shirt and black drawstring trousers, with blue-tinted shades covering his eyes. He is fifty-one years old and looks far better than he did a decade or even two decades ago. He also smells fantastic, having doused himself with Czeck & Speake’s No. 88 cologne. He does not so much walk anywhere as shuffle forth, hunched, stooped, arms dangling almost simian-like, fingers in perpetual trembling motion. Nonetheless, he almost always looks like he is on the verge of grinning. His face is warm like that. It’s appealing. It’s inviting.

Taking a seat on a couch, he is silent. This is characteristic of Ozzy too. He is often silent. He seems to prefer it this way, or perhaps he has no choice. But then some topic or other will find a slightly willing part of his brain, and he will open his mouth to speak. Yet what typically come out first are not words but noises — crabbed, unintelligible creakings, half-utterances and mashed syllables, saliva-specked mutterings. These eventually subside, however, and he is then free to soliloquize on, say, the antidepressant Zoloft, of which he takes 200 milligrams every day.

"I’m one of those guys, I wake up in the morning and I got a problem," he says, pleasantly. "My problem is, I’m looking for something to kill or blow up. My nerves are shaking. My head is a running riot. I’m insane by midday. It’s just the way I am. I don’t think I was born — I was shot out: Blare! ’He’s here!’ So about a while ago, they started trying me on various pills. I’m quite happy with the Zoloft. I mean, I have attention-deficit disorder, as do my kids and everybody in my family. I’m like a natural-born speed freak. But the Zoloft mellows me out a bit. I still wake up with that feeling, but I’m able to sort of cope with it."

"Hey, Ozzy!"

Sharon and the staff want Ozzy’s feelings about the design of the Ozzfest stage, which this year is a fanciful depiction of hell. He offers a few opinions, then decides that what really needs discussion is his onstage costume.

"I’m going to have you made a diamond-studded codpiece," says Sharon.

"Oh, fuck off!" sputters Ozzy. "I’m not going to wear a fucking codpiece and a sword and all that shit. I’m serious."

"No, no, Ozzy," says Sharon. "I’m winding you up. It’s a joke!" "I’m not wearing codpieces anymore, man," Ozzy continues, on a roll. "The last time was 1981, I think, and it nearly fucking killed me. It was red, and when I’d sweat, it’d tighten up on me."

They are both silent for a moment, drifting back to those early days of Ozzy’s career.

"And when he would take the red codpiece off," says Sharon, "his ball bag was red from the dye."

"And she would lick the dye off my balls — it was lovely, that part."

There is more silence. Then Ozzy snaps back to the present and says, "OK, answer my question. What am I wearing? And I’m not going to be fucking Kiss. Please don’t go over the top. Because I am fifty-one, and I don’t want to look like an old queen up there."

Then he ambles off to let Sharon take care of the details. She watches him go to one of the dogs. The Osbournes have five dogs — Minnie, Maggie, Lulu, Teddy and an unnamed new dog — all of them shrimpy little things about the size of a carton of cigarettes. Ozzy picks up Minnie, a Pomeranian. He smacks his lips at her, clucks at her, buries his nose in her fur. "Oh, you’re a fatty, you are," he says fondly. He bares his teeth at the wee beast and growls.

"Ozzy’s special, I think," says Sharon. "He remains somewhat of a mystery, He’s always been the underdog, never been tragically hip, and I think that’s one reason why he’s survived. And I like it that way. That’s part of his charm. He’s fucked up, he’s fucked up a lot, but he’s admitted that he’s fucked up. Musically, he’s never claimed to be Pavarotti or John Lennon. He does what he does, and, as it happens, a lot of people like it, even though the rock elite and the rock-press elite just see him as a goofball."

Sharon’s face clouds and turns red.

"Lord Sting," she says, fairly spitting the name. "We call him Lord Sting because he’s licking ass big time to try to get knighted. Such a fucking ass-licker. I mean, he’s hugely talented. But he’s such a prat. And he’s taken big-time digs at Ozzy in the press."

Ozzy comes up, with Minnie cradled in his tattooed arms. "What? What’s he said about me?" he asks.

"He said that he was so glad that the first Western artist to be seen in Vietnam was him, because what would have happened if they’d seen Ozzy Osbourne first? Well, fuck you, you prick –"

"Oh, I don’t know …" says Ozzy, diplomatically.

But Sharon isn’t about to stop now. "Just because he walks around with a fucking guy with a disc in his lip from the rain forest, he thinks his shit don’t stink. And then we went to this little cliquey cocktail party thrown by Elton John. There’s Sting and his wife looking at us like, ’Please don’t talk to us.’ I was looking at them like, ’Don’t fucking worry, I ain’t coming near you.’"

"I didn’t even notice," says Ozzy, blinking.

"Oh, you know me," says Sharon, the fierce protector. "I notice it all."

These days, most of Ozzy’s energies are spent fighting off the demons of addiction. He can never let up. He must be ever vigilant. Without fail, he sees a therapist once a day, twice if he can swing it, and attends AA meetings every afternoon. He also spends three hours a day in his home gym, working out. "It’s where he punishes himself, purges himself," says Bob Thomson, his factotum. "Binge, purge, binge, purge."

"I feel more alive at the age of fifty-one than I did when I was fucking twenty-one," Ozzy himself says. "I’m as peaceful as I’ve ever been."

Peaceful, maybe, but always in motion. When he sits, his knees jiggle. And he can’t sit for long, maybe three minutes at a stretch; then he has to stand and shuffle around — maybe take a leak, which he does every twenty minutes or so, or maybe make his way to the fridge and cut off a big hunk of Spanish dry-cured chorizo sausage, his favorite. Because he has only recently given up smoking — it’s been eleven days so far without his two packs of Marlboro Lights a day — cigarettes are uppermost on his mind. He wears a Nico-Derm patch on his arm, scratches at it constantly, and sometimes will leave a room and reappear with a phony plastic cigarette on which to suck. He seems fragile. "He’s not very confident," says Sharon. "He’s insecure within himself. One reason he doesn’t socialize with other bands, he’s lost with them and doesn’t know what to say." If he had drugs or drink, something to loosen him up, it’d be a different story, but he doesn’t have any of that stuff. Indeed, as it stands now, he won’t have a single vice with which to unwind and reward himself for an Ozzfest gig well done, and this worries Sharon. "If he comes offstage," she says, "and if he can’t smoke, can’t take a pill and can’t drink, he’s fucked."

One imagines him, then, alone in his dressing room, drenched in sweat, sitting on a couch, maybe in his black underpants, with his little pout of a belly, fingers fluttering, utterly without recourse — the great Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of Darkness, reduced to this. And yet by his pain and efforts is he not enlarged and made heroic, too? Is he not the greatest, far greater than some strutting-turd Versace-type rocker?

"I had my gall bladder out, and in the hospital I had a button to push for the pain medication," says Sharon. "I’m not in pain, but Ozzy comes in and goes, ’You haven’t used it. Use it! Use it! Use it!? The thing about Ozzy is that nothing is pretend. Ozzy just can’t pretend to be something he is not. He doesn’t open up to people. He has very few friends. And there he is trying so hard to stay straight. He tries so hard. But it is so hard for him. So hard."

It’s fun hanging around Ozzy, Sharon and their kids. The youngest two, Kelly and Jack, wear their hair bleached blond and are open and outgoing. Aimee, at sixteen, is more darkly complected and broods. Like all kids, they bicker and fight. One of Jack’s teachers calls the house to see why Jack isn’t at school and gets the message Aimee has sneaked onto the answering machine: "Jack cannot come to school right now because he is jerking off. Give him one or two seconds, and he will be with you." In tears, Jack retaliates by changing Aimee’s outgoing message so it says, "Aimee can’t come to the phone right now — she’s sucking dick — so if you leave your message, she will get right back to you." Yes, it’s a family like any other family, kind of, and sometimes Sharon will have to go to great lengths to make this clear to the kids, especially when they’ve done something naughty and present themselves to her as the helpless, wayward children of an addict. Sharon says to them, "That’s just crap!" They say, "Well, if I just came from a normal family, and my dad wasn’t an addict…" She says, "Bull-fucking-shit. There is no normal family. Whatever family you’re in is dysfunctional. If your father wasn’t an alcoholic, he’d be fucking the secretary, or he’d be sniffing some kid’s knickers, or — there’s always something with everybody. Everybody’s got something!"

Even so, of course, the Ozzy Osbourne family does seem to be slightly more unique than most. In fact, the sharpshooters at FilmColony Ltd. have recognized this and recently developed a TV show that would revolve around the clan. It would be half-documentary and half-sitcom.

One day, the five Osbournes arrive at the studio for a meeting with a foolish-looking young executive in loafers named Gary. Out in the waiting area, Ozzy does a little dance with Sharon and kisses her.

The three kids look at their parents in dismay.

"Oh, go rent a motel room, you two," says Jack.

"Oh, no, Dad, don’t do this," says Aimee, deeply mortified. "Oh, my God. Stop it, please. You look insane."

Inside Gary’s office, Kelly does most of the talking, criticizing the sample script for being "cheesy" and "obnoxious." When she takes offense at a line of dialogue, Gary quickly says, "OK, we’ll change that!" Kelly then worries whether the typical Osbourne-family language will be allowed on TV. Gary’s plan is to beep the expletives. "So if Ozzy’s talking," he says, "there might be, like, fifteen beeps in one speech. It’s kind of funny."

"Uh-huh," says Kelly.

"So, what’s Aimee’s part?" Ozzy asks. Aimee is the one member of the Osbourne family, who is refuging to have anything to do with the show: To her, it’s a waste of time and an embarrassment.

"She’s an unknown figure," says Jack.

"The girl in the closet?" says Ozzy. Aimee gives her father and brother cross glances.

"Aimee never speaks," says Ozzy.

"I suggest you don’t start banging on Aimee, because if you do, get ready for just a wonderful evening," says Kelly, who then changes the subject to the last scene of the sample script. "Now, I understand it’s Dad and Jack setting fire to a bag of dog shit outside Pat Boone’s door, but I don’t quite get it."

"It’s just an old joke," offers Gary.

"A bag with dog shit?" says Ozzy, puzzled, his knees beginning to jiggle.

"Yes," says Gary.

Ozzy has stayed still for about as long as he’s able. He suddenly struggles to his feet and announces that it’s time for him to go to his AA meeting.

"But it’s only 3:30," says Kelly.

"I want some food before I go."

"I have pizza in the car," says Sharon.

"I don’t like pizza."

"You love pizza."

"I fuckin’ hate pizza."

"You love pizza, you liar."

"I don’t want pizza."

Gary crosses his legs and tries to look amused at the goings-on.

"Yum, pizza," says Jack.

"Fuck you," says Ozzy.

Sharon laughs. "Ha, ha, ha, ha."

"Stop lying," says Jack. "Isn’t AA all about being honest?" "Ha, ha, ha, ha."

"OK, end of AA jokes," says Kelly.

"What?" says Ozzy. "What?"

"I don’t find them remotely funny," says Kelly.

Ozzy shouts, "I’m not talking about AA!"

"He is!" says Kelly, pointing at her brother. "I’m talking to Jack!"

Everyone in the room quiets down a little, taking a break from what could, with just a little more time, escalate into one of those catastrophes. Ozzy excuses himself to go use the toilet. While he’s gone, Gary, Sharon and the kids talk about the proposed name for the show, Ozzy and Harried, a play on the Ozzie and Harriet perfect-family sitcom from the 1950s. An opinionated bunch, the kids think the title is "stupid, stupid, stupid"; moreover, among themselves, they secretly believe that Gary is "full of shit" and "seems like a shyster."

"What’s the working title?" asks Ozzy, returning.

"Osbourne, a Poor Little White Boy," says Sharon, joking around.

"Ozzy and Married," says Gary.

"Ozzy and Herod," says Ozzy. "Who’s Herod?"

"Harried," says Gary. "Like, you know, harried!"

"Well, it’s too much like Ozzy and Harriet, isn’t it?" says Ozzy.

"Ha, ha, ha, ha."

"We’re trying to spoof that," says Gary, clearly playing out of his depth.

"Osbourne, Poor Little White Boy — I kind of like that," Ozzy says, getting up again.

"I’ve got to get out of here," he announces. "Dad, calm down," says Kelly.

"You’ve got time, Dad," says Jack.

"We leaving, then?" says Ozzy, lurching toward the door, already just about half-gone.

Later on, Ozzy is back in his house, in his TV room, which is his favorite room. On the floor, leaning against a wall, are several of his wildly colorful doodle-style drawings, with titles like Life After Birth, Death That Lives Within Your Heads and Dream Shuttle of Doom. The dogs are knocking about underfoot, much to Ozzy’s delight. He meanders out of the room and returns with some sausage. He’s on the Atkins all-fat diet and has slimmed down from 194 pounds to 168 pounds. He’s working on bettering himself in all ways possible, but parts of him have already been damaged beyond repair. There’s his shaking fingers, self-animated and not entirely under his control — no doctor yet has been able to figure that out. His hearing is one-third shot; in its place is a whistling noise that he sometimes thinks will drive him crazy — but which also might explain why he seems so spaced-out a lot of the time.

Flopping onto the couch beneath a massive painting of Sodom and Gomorrah, he says, "Every time I sit in this room, I want a cigarette. This is where I used to smoke. Actually, every time I eat, I want a cigarette. Every time I wake up in the morning, I want one. Every time I go to sleep, I want one. And they say it’s not addictive. Fuck."

He rips a hunk of sausage loose with his teeth and chews.

"Say, if you want to smoke, that doesn’t bother me," he goes on. "I’ll just get the contact smell. I’m fine with it. Absolutely fine. I might even join you," he says. "Ha, ha."

Occasionally, Sharon sits with Jack and tells stories about the early days of Ozzy and Black Sabbath. At the time, her father — a rather unsavory figure in London, according to Sharon — was a big-shot manager. When Black Sabbath first hit the scene, word went around among managers that "this band were all idiots and just prime for the taking." Her dad sent an associate to pick the guys up and bring them in for an interview, but the colleague swiped the band to manage himself. And to pillage: When it was all over, the guys in Black Sabbath — Ozzy, Bill Ward, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler — had gotten almost nothing for their efforts.

Jack shakes his head in dismay.

Then Sharon recalls the events surrounding the tragic death of Randy Rhoads, the pint-size wizard of a guitarist who helped Ozzy launch his solo career. It happened eighteen years ago in a field in Florida. Sharon and Ozzy were asleep in the back of the tour bus. The bus driver, who was also a pilot, had turned up a small plane to fly, and Randy was in the plane with him, just tooling around. But then the driver saw his wife, who’d recently filed for divorce, step down from the bus, and he decided to buzz her.

"And the plane hit the bus, cracked the bus and went through into a house, and it was just a fucking nightmare. The house caught on fire."

"Wasn’t there a deaf guy in the house?"

"Yes, there was, Jack, and your dad ran in there and got him out. It was just horrible… A week later, I had Ozzy auditioning new guitarists."

"Why?"

"Because your dad was in such a bad state of shock, I knew that unless we did something, Ozzy would be over. It was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to him. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t do a fucking thing,"

"He needed to get right back into it, right?"

"Yes," says Sharon.

And so these are the tales that are told at the Osbourne house, and the tales that Jack will tell his kids, and his kids their kids, and so on into the future. And there are so many tales. And they’ve had such an impact.

"I find it so annoying, people asking me if my dad eats bats," Aimee says one evening. "All the time, they ask that. At school, almost every day, some retard would come up to me and go, ’So, do you guys eat bats?’ And I’m like, ’Yeah, all the time. You should come over, we’re having a bat barbecue this weekend.’ And they believe me! I had a few friends come around once, and they think it’s really weird, because he doesn’t talk, and he sits in his TV room, and they look at him and they say, ’Why doesn’t he talk? Why isn’t he crazy?’ And I’m like, ’Sorry to disappoint you.’" She turns to go. "Anyway, that’s why I don’t really have people over to the house anymore." She also doesn’t go to school anymore; she just couldn’t relate to the other kids. This doesn’t bother Sharon, but Ozzy thinks she will live to regret it.

Growing up in the working-class rubble fields of Birmingham, England, Ozzy himself dropped out at the age of fifteen The son of a toolmaker dad and a car-horn-tester mom, he was severely dyslexic and over-the-top hyperactive, and all of his teachers told him he was stupid, a dunce, a moron who would never make anything of his life. So he left to become a small-time and fairly inept thief, landed in jail once or twice, and spent most of his time getting stoned and drunk. In fact, he first got high when he was about five — he and his pal Patrick would toddle up to some idling car and suck down the fumes. "Fucking great, man," he’d think, and then they would wobble off to find a ball of tar or creosote and sniff that, too.

Getting fucked up is what Ozzy was about. A huge Beatles fart, he fancied himself a singer and managed to talk his poor old dad into buying him a mike and a PA system, which eventually led to the formation of Black Sabbath. But even during his Sabbath years — from 1969 to 1978, when he and the boys played sludge-thick, extreme-downer songs about war and paranoia and death and hate, and pretty much founded the heavy-metal genre — all Ozzy really cared about was his next buzz. "People would run up to me, ’Do you realize the profound effect you’ve had on rock & roll?’ And I’d go, ’What the fuck?’ The only thing that concerned me was how fast we could get to the put." And Ozzy loved it. "We got fucking smashed every day. And then when we came here to Beverly Hills, we had drugs, we had chicks, we had orgies. I thought I’d died and gone to fucking Rome."

After the band fired him, Ozzy spent the next six months in a hotel room, getting drunk and getting stoned, deep into fulfilling his schoolteacher’s expectations of him. By happenstance, his manager at the time was Sharon’s dad. One day in 1979, he sent her over to collect a debt from the fucked-up fuck-up, and, seeing the state he was in, she decided to come to his rescue.

"When I met Sharon, I was on a real rocket to a fucking hole in the ground," he says. "I was married to my first wife and had children, and I’d totally fucked it up. I’d beaten her — fucking everything. I was a drunken pig that didn’t have the time for anybody or anybody else’s feelings. But you know what Sharon did for me? She said, ’I found this place where they teach you to drink properly. It’s called the Betty Ford Center, in Palm Springs.’ I go, ’Yeah, maybe.’ I imagined myself in a Thirties bow tie and smoking jacket, sitting at the bar, taking a sip of a martini. I go, ’Yeah, I’ll go.’ So I walk in there and go, ’Where’s the bar?’ And they go, ’Oh, you’re definitely in the right place!’"

He stayed there for six weeks, checked out and within three hours was potted again. His first wife divorced him. He started going out with Sharon, and because she was a drinker as well, they made a fine couple and got married in 1982. Sharon soon stopped drinking, however, while Ozzy kept on going. Then came the kids, and as everyone got older, Ozzy began to think about changing.

Kelly and Jack would sit him down and say, "We know. You can’t feel us. We know you’re taking drugs and getting stoned and…"

To himself, Ozzy was thinking, This is not right. I should be giving my bids advice, they’re fucking giving me advice, and I’m their dad, and…

"Please don’t come to school today," they would beg when it was time for a parent-teacher conference. "You’re stoned."

"I’m not stoned!"

"Yes, you are," Sharon would say. "I’ve been with you long enough. I don’t really want to walk around with you. I’ll see you later."

Then guilt and shame would overcome Ozzy, and he would say, "I better check myself into another hospital."

"You better, Dad," his kids would say.

This conversation, or one like it, still takes place every so often at the Osbournes. It happened over New Year’s. It may happen again.

"If I don’t do what’s suggested to me, then I’ll fall off," Ozzy says. "Then I get pointed in the direction of a room, and I’m locked in there for thirteen weeks. I mean, it’s hard. Even now, I could come home this afternoon fucking sloshed or fucking under arrest. The thing is, I feel that most of my life has been worthless and useless, and I’m only now at the age where I’m beginning to understand why I feel that way. As a child, if someone tells you you’re fucking worthless, you become fucking worthless. And that’s what happened to me."

Spend any time around Ozzy and you can’t help but like him. He’s often droll and amusing, and when he says something droll and amusing, he pauses afterward, his mouth agape, looking very much like the late comic George Burns, his eyes flashing emerald green, waiting to see if you’re with him. Plus, he’s known to be a good neighbor.

"An ideal neighbor," says Pat Boone, who happens to have recorded Ozzy’s great song "Crazy Train" on his easy-listening Metal Moods album. "There’s never been any problems whatsoever, although occasionally there’s loud music coming from the pool house, very loud sometimes." Pat recalls that the First time he met Ozzy, on the street in front of their homes, Ozzy was shuffling along "with that weird gait of his," and Pat went right up to him and, in his peppiest Pat Boone voice, said, "Hi, neighbor!" Ozzy lifted his eyes and said they must get together someday for tea, but so far it hasn’t happened. This dismays Pat. He really would like to get to know all the Osbournes, especially since their respective housekeepers are such good friends and have reported to Pat that Mr. Ozzy is "a model parent and very health-conscious." As much as he is looking forward to this tea, however, Pat, who is a devout Christian, does seem a little bit worried about how he is going to handle Ozzy’s frequent use of the f word, or "the fricative," as Pat likes to call it. One can only say that if Pat just tunes out that word, he will have a pleasant time indeed, because Ozzy can be infinitely agreeable, and he is more than happy to tell you anything you want to know.

His favorite food is meat, any meat except red meat, and he doesn’t floss. Hates vacuum cleaners ("They make the most nauseating fucking racket in the world, like a dying wildebeest being dragged up and down the corridor") and telephones ("Fucking die, you bastards!"). He colors his hair. Sometimes, when he’s out walking one of the tiny dogs, despite all the rough-looking tattoos on his skin and the crosses hanging off his neck, the gay guys in the park will toss smoochy-smoochy sounds at him. The last time he cried was two days ago, in therapy. He used to think about suicide "on a daily basis… but I ain’t got the guts to do it, to be honest with you." He still can’t read very well. On television, he watches only the History Channel, the Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel and A&E, along with the occasional M*A*S*H rerun. He loves his naps: "I love a good old kip — an afternoon nap — it’s the best thing in the world. Whether you call it escaping reality or what, it’s fucking great. At least you wake up with your head still on your shoulders, and you haven’t fucked somebody else’s wife." Before going onstage, he gets very nervous, which leads him to take about "5,000 dumps." He can’t remember what he got for his last birthday or last Christmas.

Talking to ,Sharon on the phone, he will say, "I’ve got nothing to do now, will you come home and cuddle me?" And she will say, "That’s what I love to hear, my darling. I love you, and I miss you. I will come home and give you a nice big kiss and hugging. I miss you. I’m coming home soon…." He often thinks about all his fallen comrades.

"The list is endless, the number of guys that either committed suicide, OD’d, shot themselves, fucking drowned, fell off the fucking this or that, or got it in a car wreck, or just never woke up, you know, choked on their own vomit, froze to death, set themselves on fire. Sam Kinison, Stevie Marriott of Humble Pie. For every Ozzy Osbourne, there’s fucking ten dead bodies. Ben Scott, John Bonham, fucking Cozy Powell. Randy Rhoads."

He thinks about Randy every day and knows that had he been awake, he would have been on the plane and been killed.

The next morning, Sharon returns from a meeting at Jack’s school. It’s a school for kids with dyslexia. Today she’s learned that Jack has skipped school twenty-seven times this year. He’s been hanging out at the dubs on Sunset Strip and been just too pooped for school the next day. So he’s in trouble. And now Sharon is in trouble, with Ozzy, for having volunteered his services to the school, a couple of benefit concerts.

"The school is in desperate need of money," says Sharon.

"Oh, they can fuck off," says Ozzy, grumpily. "What about all the other fucking parents? What about all the actors with kids there?"

"We have to give back, Ozzy. That’s what life is about."

"What do you mean, we? I’m the one who has to do the shows!" He pauses, then shouts, "I don’t give a fuck! I’m the Prince of Darkness, not fucking Neil Young!"

Sharon gives him a look.

"Oh, I’ll do it. Course I will. You know I will."

"I know that," Sharon says, softly, with love.

Eighteen years into it, they still make a good couple. Ozzy does his thing, making the music, playing the music, and staying off drugs and booze; Sharon does hers, managing Ozzy’s career, managing Ozzy, making the business decisions, counting the money, looking after Ozzfest, looking after Ozzy. She also, on occasion, manages other bands, most recently the Smashing Pumpkins, an association that ended just a few months ago. When she told Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan that she didn’t like one of his videos, he started giving her the cold shoulder and she quit. "I don’t need games in my life," she told the press. "I don’t need stupid little boys making faces at me."

Sharon is one ferocious, formidable woman and nobody’s pushover, which is one reason she was able to help Ozzy when they first got together. "She was the first to tell me I wasn’t the king and that the world doesn’t fucking revolve around me," says Ozzy. "It took a few black eyes, a few fucking vases to the back of the head. But eventually she brought the stick home and taught me."

"Right now, our marriage will go through a lull and then pick up again," says Sharon.

"It certainly fucking went through a lull when I tried to strangle you," says Ozzy.

Sharon laughs and rolls her eyes. That happened in August 1989. Ozzy had downed a ton of Russian vodka and said to Sharon, "We’ve decided that you have to go," and then he jumped on her, hands wrapped around her neck. Sharon managed to break free and call the police, who arrested Ozzy on charges of attempted murder and hauled him off to jail. He woke up the next day not remembering a thing Sharon could forgive him because she too had blacked out while drinking and knew what it was like. And even though Ozzy’s drug counselors told her to get out of the marriage, she loved Ozzy and she stayed. "Oh, but we’ve had loads of physical fights," she says. "He’d beat me, I’d beat the shit out of him back. Do you remember France, Ozzy?"

"How could I forget? I’ve got the scars. She smashed a fucking pot over my head."

Ozzy grabs one of the tiny dogs and leans his face into it. He howls. "Bark at the moon," he says to the dog, and howls again.

"Isn’t he the cutest thing?" Sharon says.

One afternoon, in the TV room, Ozzy lights a cigarette. "One isn’t going to fucking hurt me," he says, taking seven drags and stubbing it out. He’s watching a show about abusive baby sitters caught on video. He seems to be experiencing the abuse fairly directly and leaps to his feet shouting, "No, nooo, no, no, noooo!"

A half-hour later, Sharon comes in.

"I’m going to have a cigarette, Sharon."

"No you are not."

"I am."

She looks in the ashtray, then leans over to sniff his mouth. "You’ve had one already, you asshole! Fucking fucking bastard bastard."

"Ah-ha, ha!"

They are both laughing. As Ozzy lights up and smoke curls away from his shaking fingers toward the ceiling, Sharon gives him her oh-you-naughty-boy look. The whole thing seems to be part of some old, familiar ritual, the backsliding, the anger, the laughing, the acceptance. Whether he’s smoking cigarettes today or drinking booze tomorrow, someday he will beat them. That must be what they’re thinking: that someday, someday soon, Ozzy will beat them all.

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