Who Is Ozzy Osbourne?
Ozzy Osbourne rose to fame in the 1970s as the frontman of the seminal heavy metal band Black Sabbath, delivering such iconic songs as "War Pigs," "Iron Man" and "Paranoid." He embarked on a successful solo career in 1979, earning attention for his outrageous public acts and drawing the ire of conservative groups. Osbourne later garnered a new legion of fans by starring with his family in the unlikely hit reality show The Osbournes.
Early Life and Career
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 with his dyslexia. These and other challenges prompted Osbourne to leave school at age 15, at which point he worked a series of menial jobs, including a stint in a slaughterhouse. He soon moved on to more illicit activities by committing a series of petty crimes, culminating with a brief prison sentence for burglary.
Throughout this turbulent period in his life, however, Osbourne nurtured a deep love for music, and after his release from prison, he began exploring his potential as a vocalist. In 1968 he teamed up with bass player Terence “Geezer” Butler, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward to form the rock band Polka Tulk Blues, which they soon renamed 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.
Black Sabbath Stardom
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 like the title song, “The Wizard” and “Evil Woman,” Black Sabbath reached the Top 10 in the United Kingdom 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 United States.
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 on the strength of such metal classics as “Sweet Leaf,” “After Forever,” “Snowblind” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.”
Substance Abuse and Leaving Sabbath
With the release of 1975’s Sabotage, the band’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. 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.
The band’s steady intake of drugs and alcohol — mostly by Osbourne — also added to the strain, along with the loss of fans to the burgeoning punk rock movement. Following the releases of 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 — the group would never reach the same heights achieved during the Osbourne era, when they wrote and recorded some of heavy metal’s most memorable songs.
Solo Success: 'Blizzard of Ozz' and More
Unlike some artists, who fade into obscurity after leaving the groups that made them famous, Osbourne in 1980 delivered a solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz, that was a resounding commercial success. Featuring the singles “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley,” the album reached the Top 10 in the United Kingdom and No. 21 in the United States, where it would eventually notch multi-platinum status. His 1981 follow-up, Diary of a Madman, performed 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. Not everyone found his persona and dark music so appealing, and he was frequently singled out by religious conservatives who hoped to demonstrate the negative impacts of rock music on society.
Despite these and other challenges — including a 1986 stint in rehab — Osbourne continued to achieve commercial success, with the albums Bark at the Moon (1983), The Ultimate Sin (1986) and No Rest for the Wicked (1988) all going multi-platinum in the U.S. He ushered in the 1990s with his sixth solo offering, No More Tears (1991), which reached the Top 10 in the U.S. and featured the hit single of the same name.
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 he began to tour as part of a traveling metal festival, Ozzfest.
By the end of the decade, Osbourne's star was on the wane, and he continued to struggle with the substance abuse problems that had plagued him throughout his career. However, he found his way back into the spotlight in 2001 with the release of his eighth studio album, Down to Earth, which reached No. 4 in the United States and No. 19 in the United Kingdom.
Osbourne soon boosted his celebrity status even further with his own brand of reality television. Debuting in early 2002, The Osbournes centered on 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.
Hall of Famer
In 2005, Osbourne reunited with Black Sabbath for a tour, and the following year the heavy metal legends were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Metallica — one of the 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 displayed impressive staying power by continuing to tour as part of Ozzfest. He returned to the studio to record Black Rain (2007), which topped out at No. 3 on the U.S. charts and followed with the equally well-received Scream (2010). In 2012 Osbourne reunited with his Sabbath bandmates to perform a series of concerts and record a new studio album, 13, which earned its release the following year.
In 2015 the band announced plans for one final tour, fittingly dubbed The End. The following year they also released an album of that name, comprised of unreleased tracks from 13 and several live performances. The tour wrapped up in the band members' hometown of Birmingham in February 2017.
One year later, Osbourne announced the dates for the North American leg of No More Tours 2, the final tour of his career. Although he noted that he wanted to spend more time with his family, the legendary headbanger insisted that he wasn't retiring as a musician, and would continue playing smaller gigs and remaining involved with Ozzfest.
Family Life and 'World Detour'
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.
In May 2016, Sharon and Osbourne announced their plans to divorce after more than three decades together. According to Us Weekly, the split came after Sharon learned of Osbourne's alleged affair with a celebrity hairstylist. However, two months later the couple that had endured so many ups and downs together decided to try to make the relationship work. In July, Osbourne, 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.”
Around that time, father and son also returned to the familiar realm of reality TV with Ozzy & Jack's World Detour. Airing on the HISTORY Channel, World Detour captured the two globetrotters visiting both iconic landmarks and off-the-beaten-path attractions. The popularity of the show led to a follow-up season, which debuted on A&E on November 8, 2017 and later, the third season in June 2018.
Parkinson's Diagnosis and 'Ordinary Man'
In a January 2020 interview with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, Osbourne revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The following month, he canceled the North American leg of his No More Tours 2 tour, citing the need to travel to Europe for treatment and recovery.
A few days later, however, the artist showed he was still raging against the dying of the light with the release of his 12th solo studio album, Ordinary Man, featuring collaborations with Elton John, Post Malone and Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.
A&E Biography Special: Airing Summer 2020
A&E Network’s genre-defining, Emmy Award-winning Biography is set to air the two-hour documentary special exploring the many lives and decade-spanning career of rock legend Osbourne. Featuring exclusive interviews with Osbourne as he reflects on the many phases of his journey, The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne will have its world premiere at SXSW in March and is set to air this summer on A&E.
For more than five decades, Osbourne has personified rock and roll rebellion. The documentary will trace his life from his childhood in poverty and time in prison to fronting metal band Black Sabbath and successful solo career, to one of rock’s elder statesman and a loveable 21st-century television dad. During his journey, Osbourne has continually reinvented himself and his career to propel himself toward greater success. As the Grammy-winning artist turns 70, he reflects on the intimate details of his successes, failures, and his unique ability for survival and perseverance. The documentary also features interviews with Sharon, Kelly and Jack Osbourne as well as friends and fellow musicians including Rick Rubin, Ice-T, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Jonathan Davis, Post Malone and more.
"Once again, it's been an absolute pleasure working with the team at A&E,” said Executive Producer Jack Osbourne. “This film will take viewers on an incredibly honest and emotional journey into my father's life that I feel will connect to people in so many ways. I not only speak for myself but also the entire Osbourne family when I say how thrilled and honored we are to have this documentary accepted into SXSW."
Watch a sneak peek:
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