John Michael Osbourne on Dec 3, 1948 in Birmingham, England
As lead vocalist for heavy metal originators Black Sabbath - one of rock music's most influential bands of all time - Ozzy Osbourne achieved massive success and exposure. Still, no one could have dreamed his rather accidental solo career would be as consistent, long-lasting and legendary as it has proven to be over the last quarter-century. In essence, Osbourne has served as principal founder, key innovator and fervent defender of hard rock in general and the threatening, otherworldly side of heavy metal in particular. Plus, his template for hard rock showmanship continues to contribute to the genre's popularity.
Early Years of Ozzy Osbourne:
Like many growing up in the industrial town of Birmingham, Osbourne found himself locked into a distinctly blue collar existence within a large family. Still, despite an educational career probably marred by learning disabilities, the young showman found an early affinity for theater and music as a teen. A series of dead-end jobs followed his exit from school at 15, but Osbourne would eventually find salvation in the band he formed with former schoolmate Tony Iommi in 1968. Following a stint playing psychedelic blues, the group settled on the name Black Sabbath as they found their horror show, doom-and-gloom niche.
Black Sabbath's Low-Profile Frontman:
A bit shy and odd in appearance and demeanor, Osbourne made for a quirky if ultimately mesmerizing frontman for one of rock's truly unique, left-field outfits. Inspired, as the story goes, by bassist Geezer Butler's occult-fueled dream imagery, the band's self-titled debut created an ominous, blues-based sonic palette thick as a curtain and laced with menace. While much of this stemmed from Iommi's distinctively dark and somber style, Osbourne's anguished vocals and Butler's lyrics exploring murky notions of madness also helped build the group's stunning success as the psychedelic '60s came shuddering to a close.
Increasing Drug Use & Osbourne's Firing from the Band:
Black Sabbath remained remarkably consistent throughout the '70s in terms of record sales, airplay and as a live attraction. However, the entire quartet of Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and drummer Bill Ward could be described, modestly, as increasingly drug-addled throughout the decade. Cocaine and alcohol abuse contributed to a musical plateau if not downright decline as the band stumbled into the late '70s. The primary casualty turned out to be Osbourne, fired by Iommi in 1979 presumably because his drug use was more out of control than everyone else's. The move devastated Osbourne and threw him into a depression.
Ozzy Osbourne's Solo Rebirth Leads to Hard Rock Dominion:
Despite the major setback and with the help of future wife, Sharon, Osbourne quickly hatched a solo career that continued to exploit horror movie imagery, albeit with greater flamboyance and visual flair. Releasing three wildly popular albums of original music between 1980 and 1983, Osbourne magnified his Sabbath legend into something hardly imaginable. Even more impressive is the fact that he did so through great tragedy (the 1982 death of close collaborator and guitar virtuoso Randy Rhoads in a plane crash), substance abuse struggles and major band personnel turnover.
Osbourne Weathers Brief Decline:
By the mid-'80s Osbourne had become a well-marketed commodity as well as tireless performer. And although both his musical quantity and quality dipped for 1986's The Ultimate Sin, Osbourne's influence and legacy stubbornly grew as he bridged the gap between traditional heavy metal and the popular, polished hair metal craze bubbling up at the time. Pressing on, he emerged in 1988 with a well-received album, No Rest for the Wicked, that brought his decade favorably to a close. This success spilled over into the first half of the '90s before Osbourne began to wane slightly as a performer if not a pop culture presence.
Pop Culture Immortality Now Seems Likely:
By the middle of the "new" decade, Osbourne had briefly shuffled off into the sunset of retirement, a state he apparently could not abide. So while wife Sharon helped keep the tours ongoing and successful, the Ozzy Machine continued to find ways to diversify, first with the creation of a smash hit heavy metal tour series, Ozzfest, and culminating in a rather lengthy reign on reality television when the new millennium arrived. As a result, Osbourne remains one of rock's most recognizable stars, still a potent draw and influence more than 40 years after his initial dabblings with Iommi in a primitive heavy blues band.
Some Key '80s Osbourne Controversies:
- The Dove, 1981 - Osbourne, unsatisfied with the tepid response from record company executives during a meeting in Los Angeles on the eve of his solo career, suddenly shifts a stunt involving the indoor release of white doves into a horror show by grabbing a bird and biting its head off.
- Do Two Animal Decapitations in As Many Years Constitute a Pattern?, 1982 - During a concert in Des Moines, Iowa, of all places, Osbourne confirms just how much he's learned his lesson by picking up a bat thrown on stage and biting its head off as well. He claims to have believed the bat to be fake, but at least the genuine bat is not relieved of its head while still alive.
- Remember the Diapery Smell of the Alamo, 1982 - While drunk before noon, Ozzy wanders close enough to the famed San Antonio landmark the Alamo to urinate on it... and then he actually does so. Following a rather unavoidable arrest, Osbourne is banned from the Texas city for a decade.
- Mind the Context Please, 1985 - The parents of a young man who commits suicide in 1985 sue Osbourne, claiming that his 1980 track, "Suicide Solution," encouraged their son to end his life. Eventually, the courts suffer a rare bout of common sense and rule in Ozzy's favor, maybe because the song is actually a metaphorical condemnation and warning of the dangers of substance abuse.