Born in Birmingham, England, in 1948, Ozzy Osbourne rose to fame as the frontman of the seminal heavy metal band Black Sabbath. In the late 1970s he embarked on a solo career, drawing attention for his outrageous public acts. Osbourne later earned a new legion of fans by starring with his family in the unlikely hit reality show, The Osbournes.
Early Life: A Hard Road
John Michael Osbourne was born into a working-class family in Birmingham, England, on December 3, 1948. The fourth of six children, he acquired the nickname Ozzy while in elementary school, where he struggled in his studies due in part to his dyslexia. These and other challenges led Osbourne to leave school at age 15, at which point he worked at a series of menial jobs, including one stint in a slaughterhouse. However, it was not long after this time that Osbourne embarked on a more lucrative career as well, committing a series of petty crimes that culminated with a brief prison sentence for burglary.
Throughout this turbulent period in his life, however, Osbourne nurtured a deep love for music, and shortly after his release from prison he took his life in a new direction, serving as the lead vocalist for several bands, before embarking on a new project with his friend, bass player Terrence “Geezer” Butler. After placing an ad in the newspaper, in 1968 Osbourne and Butler joined guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward to form the blues-inspired rock band Earth. While Earth earned some local notoriety, it wasn’t until the group began experimenting with the hard-driving, amplified sound that would later characterize the heavy metal genre, that they caught the attention of record producers. Since the band’s moniker was already in use by another group, they adopted the name Black Sabbath, a reference to the classic Boris Karloff film.
Master of Reality
Released by Vertigo Records in 1970, Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album was largely panned by critics but sold well in England and abroad. With standout tracks including the title song, “The Wizard” and “Evil Woman,” Black Sabbath reached the Top Ten in the U.K and No. 23 on the American album charts. The group’s sophomore effort, Paranoid (1971), included the seminal metal anthems "War Pigs," "Iron Man," “Fairies Wear Boots” and "Paranoid" and took Black Sabbath to new heights, topping the charts in the U.K. and reaching No. 12 in the U.S. and winning the band an even more devoted following.
The band's use of religious symbolism and mythic themes lent a gothic cast to their public personae. It also earned them constant criticism from right-wing groups, negative publicity that simply fueled the band's popularity with its fan base, mostly young males. As was the case with their first two albums, their subsequent efforts Master of Reality (1971), Vol. 4 (1972) and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) all found chart success, eventually achieving platinum status in the United States, based on the strength of such metal classics as “Sweet Leaf,” “After Forever,” “Snowblind” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.”
However, with the release of 1975’s Sabotage, the band’s fortunes began to change, and despite the strength of songs such as “Symptom of the Universe” and “Am I Going Insane,” the album failed to achieve the same status as its predecessors. Punctuating this shift, they were also forced to cut their subsequent tour short when Osbourne was injured in a motorcycle accident.
More than this, however, the band’s steady intake of drugs and alcohol—mostly by Osbourne—was further adding to the strain, while they watched their music lose favor to the burgeoning punk rock movement. Following the relatively unsuccessful releases Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die (1978), Osbourne and his bandmates parted ways. Though Black Sabbath would carry on with various frontmen in the decades to come—including Ronnie James Dio, Dave Donato, Ian Gilliam, Glenn Hughes and Tony Martin—they would never reach the same heights that they did during the Ozzy era, when they wrote and recorded some of heavy metal’s, and indeed the era’s, most memorable songs.
Unlike some artists, who fade into obscurity after leaving the groups that made them famous, Osbourne's solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz (1980), was a resounding commercial success. Featuring the singles “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley,” the album reached the Top Ten in the U.K. and reached No. 21 in the U.S., where it would eventually go multiplatinum. His 1981 follow-up, Diary of a Madman (1981) did equally well. The ensuing tour, however, was laden with misfortune, including a plane crash that killed guitar player Randy Rhoads and two other members of their entourage.
Throughout the 1980s, Osbourne continued to cultivate the image of the troubled loner and angry rebel, with his antisocial theatrics contributing to his public notoriety. Among his antics, he showered his audiences with raw meat and bit the head off a live bat onstage. But not everyone found his persona and dark music so amusing, and he was frequently singled out by religious conservatives who hoped to demonstrate the negative impacts of rock music on society. During this period Osbourne was also sued (unsuccessfully) several times by families claiming that his music was responsible for their children’s suicides.
Despite these and other challenges—including a 1986 stint in rehab—Osbourne continued to find musical success, with the albums Bark at the Moon (1983), The Ultimate Sin (1986) and No Rest for the Wicked (1988) all going multiplatinum in the U.S. He ushered in the 1990s with his sixth solo offering, No More Tears (1991), which reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and featured the hit single of the same name.
Ozzy and the Osbournes
In 1992, Osbourne announced that the No More Tears tour would be his last. However, the popularity of the subsequently released double-live album, Live & Loud (1993), caused Osbourne to rethink his retirement, and the album’s version of "I Don't Want to Change the World" earned Osbourne his first Grammy Award. He returned to the studio for 1995’s Ozzmosis and the following year began to tour as part of a traveling metal festival, Ozzfest. However, Osbourne’s star was clearly on the wane, and he continued to struggle with the substance abuse problems that had plagued him his entire career.
In the new millennium, however, Osbourne would find his way back into the spotlight. In 2001 he released Down to Earth, which found chart success around the world, and the following year raised his celebrity status even further with his own bizarre brand of reality television. Premiering on MTV in early 2002, The Osbournes featured the domestic life of Osbourne and his clan and became an instant hit. The comic appeal of the aging headbanger completing such humdrum tasks as taking out the garbage charmed even those conservatives who had once vilified Osbourne. However, it did also take a more serious turn that summer, when Ozzy’s wife, Sharon, was diagnosed with colon cancer. The show lasted until 2005, earning a Primetime Emmy and becoming one of MTV’s all-time highest-rated shows.
In 2005, Osbourne reunited with Black Sabbath for a tour, and the following year the legendary heavy metal heroes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Metallica—one of countless groups for whom Black Sabbath was a primary influence—performed “Iron Man” in honor of the band.
Despite the years of abuse to his body, Osbourne has shown impressive staying power. After continuing to tour as part of Ozzfest for the next few years, he returned to the studio to record Black Rain (2007), which reached No. 3 spot on the U.S. charts. He followed with 2010’s Scream, which reached performed equally well, reaching No. 4 in the U.S. In 2012, Osbourne then reunited with his Sabbath bandmates to perform a series of concerts and to record a new studio album, 13, which was released in 2013. Topping the charts in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere, it was a testament to the high esteem in which Osbourne and Black Sabbath are still held around the world.
Going Through Changes
Ozzy Osbourne married his manager, Sharon, in 1982. They had three children together, Jack, Kelly and Aimee. Jack and Kelly appeared with their parents on The Osbournes, but Aimee demurred. Osbourne also has had three children from a previous marriage to Thelma Riley and now has several grandchildren as well.
However, in May 2016, Sharon and Ozzy announced their plans to divorce after 33 years of marriage. According to US Weekly, the split came after Sharon learned of Ozzy's alleged affair with a celebrity hair stylist. However, two months later the couple that had endured so many ups and downs together decided to try to make their relationship work. In July, Ozzy, appearing on Good Morning America with their son, Jack, said the marriage was not over. “It’s just a bump in the road,” he said. "It's back on track again.”
On July 25, Sharon announced their reconciliation on her show The Talk. "It's been very hard . . . He's very embarrassed and ashamed about his conduct," she said. "I forgive, [but] it's going to take a long time to trust. But you know, we've been together for thirty-six years, thirty-four of marriage, and it's more than half of my life and I just can't think of my life without him . . . even though he is a dog!”
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