How Ozzy Osbourne Survived the ’80s
As the dawn of the '80s drew near, Ozzy Osbourne was hardly in a good place financially, mentally or otherwise, having fallen into a dark well of drugs and alcohol following his spring 1979 dismissal from Black Sabbath.
“I just wanted to shut everything out, make everything go away,” Osbourne said in his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy. “My royalties from Black Sabbath were nonexistent, I didn't have a savings account, and I had no new income coming in.”
Despite having signed to Jet Records, things weren’t moving along until label head Don Arden sent his daughter Sharon (whom Osbourne would later marry) to handle the difficult task of managing Osbourne and helping the singer put together a backing band through a laborious audition process.
“I don’t know what I ever did to deserve Randy Rhoads,” Osbourne said of the guitarist who helped ignite his solo career. “I almost cried he was so good. I couldn’t understand why he even wanted to get involved with a bloated alcoholic wreck like me.”
Released in September 1980, Blizzard of Ozz launched a solo career that would come to overshadow Osbourne’s former outfit by light years. Led by Rhoads' innovative and classically tinged fretwork, and featuring the songs “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley,” the album dispelled any worries that the singer was a weak link in Sabbath, quite the opposite, really.
Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train'
Things would soon take a turn for the worst as the '80s became a series of bizarre, tragic and self-sabotaging events that would endear Osbourne to his fans while turning off much of the rest of the world. First up would be an appearance at an early-1981 sales convention fort Jet’s U.S. distributor, CBS Records, where Osbourne bit the head off a live dove in front of repulsed label executives.
Keeping things going in a positive manner – musically, at least – a second LP, Diary of a Madman, was released before the year was out as Osbourne continued touring the world and building his fan base. It was during the jaunt in support of the record that he would achieve two of his most notorious moments of infamy and suffer one soul crushing loss, all in a three-month span.
Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's 'Flying High Again'
On Jan. 20, 1982, at a concert in Des Moines, a member of the audience threw a bat onstage – debate still rages as to whether it was alive or not – and Osbourne, thinking it was a rubber toy, promptly picked it up and bit the head off. (Noticing a pattern here?) It led to him being rushed to a local hospital for a series of painful rabies shots. Then, almost a month later, on Feb. 19, he was arrested for public intoxication and urination in San Antonio, when he relieved himself near the Alamo. The story quickly became “Ozzy urinated on the Alamo,” which wasn’t entirely correct.
Then disaster struck on March 19, 1982, when Rhoads was killed in an airplane accident, leaving Osbourne devastated. While on the way to play a festival in Orlando, the bus driver took Rhoads and the band's seamstress and cook up in a single engine plane. During an apparent practical joke, he buzzed the tour bus a few times, clipping it on the last one, causing the aircraft to spiral out of control and taking the lives of everyone on board.
"It took me a very long time to get over his death," Osbourne told The Guardian in 2011. "I'm on a low dose of anti-depressants, even now. Randy gave me a purpose, he gave me hope. I was fed up fighting people. I just had the greatest respect for him."
It’s no surprise his next album, 1983’s Bark at the Moon, wasn’t as inspired, but the video for the title track benefited from rising popularity of MTV, allowing Osbourne to embrace the theatrics that were a staple of his live shows, dressed up as a werewolf.
Watch Ozzy Osbourne's Video for 'Bark at the Moon'
MTV crushed careers of many artists, who didn’t look anything like their music sounded, but Osbourne walked away unscathed. He loved to ham it up for the camera, creating a series of landmark – albeit campy – clips.
The title track video to The Ultimate Sin saw Osbourne play the part of a Texas oil tycoon, based on the J.R. Ewing character from the prime-time soap opera Dallas. For “Miracle Man,” from No Rest for the Wicked, he parodied televangelist and media sparring partner Jimmy Swaggart.
Most videos were an extension of Osbourne’s live shows, performance clips that were better when they were bigger, flashier and more over the top than anyone else was. Typically '80s, in other words. The tours for Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin were especially outrageous, with Mötley Crüe supporting on the former and Metallica the latter. Both bands were notorious party machines, and their times with Osbourne left many tales of debauchery in their wake.
Perhaps by extension of his metal pedigree with Sabbath, and because of his arena-filling popularity in the '80s, Osbourne was a coveted opening tour slot for many up-and-coming bands during the era. In addition to the Crüe and Metallica, he was also supported by Anthrax, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, White Lion, Ratt and Vixen – basically a who’s-who of the decade's best hard-rock acts.
Happy to play Sabbath songs at his solo shows, Osbourne certainly didn’t need his former band, but as part of Live Aid in 1985, he took part in a reunion with them for three songs at the Philadelphia portion of the charity concert. Joining the reunited Who and Led Zeppelin for the two-continent event, the sinking Sabbath didn’t seem like a priority for organizers, who slotted them in at 10AM between Billy Ocean and Run-D.M.C.
Watch Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath Perform at Live Aid
According to Osbourne in I Am Ozzy, he was anxious because he hadn’t talked to guitarist Tony Iommi in years, but also felt a bit of revenge steeped in bitterness. “Deep down, a part of me wanted to say to them, ‘You fired me, and now I don’t need you, so f--- you,’” he wrote.
Osbourne went back to his solo career immediately after Live Aid, but faced one major obstacle: In 1985 he had been sued by the family of a teenager who had killed himself. They blamed his death on a supposed subliminal message found in the Blizzard of Ozz song “Suicide Solution” (the record was found on a turntable in the deceased’s bedroom when he died).
“If Ozzy were to lose this type of a case, anyone who misconstrued the lyrics of a song could go out and sue the artist and recover huge sums of money just because they had a bizarre misinterpretation or bizarre emotional reaction to music,” pointed out David M. Bass, counsel for Osbourne in a similar case two years later, said in the documentary Don't Blame Me.
Both cases were eventually thrown out.
As the '80s were drawing to a close, Osbourne had a series of career highlights, including the release of Tribute, a live album that was taken from a series of concerts performed with Rhoads throughout 1980-81. While he was celebrating his former guitarist, Osbourne was also looking for a new one after firing Jake E. Lee.
The job went to a 20-year-old Rhoads disciple named Zakk Wylde, who was introduced not on a new record or even on a concert stage. Instead, his debut was at a one-off gig at Wormwood Scrubs Prison in London, where Osbourne had been requested to perform.
“My last good memory of the '80s, before everything went dark, was being sent to Wormwood Scrubs,” Osbourne recalled. “Not because I’d broken the law again – amazingly – but because I was asked to play a gig there.”
Watch Ozzy Osbourne's Video for 'Miracle Man'
It may have all “went dark” after that for Ozzy, but he was still getting things done musically, like making the first of many solo albums with Wylde, 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked. The singles “Miracle Man” and “Crazy Babies” received much airplay on MTV’s new weekly program dedicated to metal, Headbangers Ball, a show that raised his profile even higher. Along with that was a duet with former Runaways guitarist Lita Ford, who had carved out a hit solo career over the past couple years. “Close My Eyes Forever” was released as a single in 1989 and took Osbourne to the top of the pop charts.
He had reunited with his old bassist in Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, for the No Rest for the Wicked tour and headlined the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival as the summer ended. Things were looking pretty good going into the next decade – until he got blackout-drunk and tried to strangle wife. Osbourne was charged with attempted murder, but Sharon Osbourne decided to drop the charges, but Ozzy was ordered by the court to attend rehab, one of the many times he embraced sobriety.
It was a great way to start the '90s
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