“Never mind the dog,” reads the sign on the outside gate of an imposing Central LA mansion, “beware of the owner.” Anywhere else, and this message would be dismissed as an attempt by the inhabitants to suggest an innate streak of anarchy when in reality they are just lifeless canine lovers with a desperate predilection for decrying they are anything but. However, we are all too aware that the intercom we’ve just buzzed belongs to Ozzy Osbourne - the original hellraiser, the Prince of Darkness - and, as the gate is unlocked to allow us entry, we have no idea what lies in wait for us on the other side.
Guided through an immaculately conceived home, its every detail and extravagance a testament to its rock star owner, we’re led through the inner sanctum of this ridiculously cool and ornately gothic lair and strain a peek at every enchanting room.
A stately dark wood office has shelves brimming with equally as many awards as books. A magnificent chandelier hangs over a bright, pristine lounge made homely with family portraits filling every tabletop. A blood-red basement cinema room is accessible via the grand staircase that is adorned with gold disks, replete with a remarkable stained glass portrait of Christ.
And then, there is Ozzy. A vision in black, with a weighty, diamond-encrusted crucifix dangling from his neck, he greets us with wide open arms - like a tarantula bearing down to engulf its prey - in the middle of his parquet-floored main hall. His beaming smile belies the trauma that 2019 has heaped upon him, and beckons us into the lounge to expound upon his tribulations.
“It’s driving me up the fucking wall,” he says of the protracted recovery period he’s endured since the beginning of this year, following a perilous fall at home in January.
“I got up in the night to go for a pee, and it was black,” Ozzy explains. “I tripped. I didn’t know where I’d fallen. I’d landed really, really badly on my face, you know? I cracked my neck.”
The impact had dislodged metal rods that had been embedded in his back after a horrendous quad bike accident in 2003, and required two months in hospital while undergoing intense surgery that saw 15 screws attached to his spine. “Not a very nice operation,” he sighs. “I’ve got about a six-inch scar going down the back of my neck between my shoulder blades. They had to unrelease all the pressure on my spinal column. I was lucky I didn’t fucking paralyse myself.”
To make matters worse, the fall had been prefaced by a difficult few months that had already destabilised the singer and his plans. He’d had surgery for a potentially lethal bacterial infection in his fingers last October, then developed pneumonia after a nasty bout of flu - all of which meant that he had to reluctantly postpone the entire European leg of the latest tour he’d begun.
“The bummer is: I was singing great, the shows were going great,” he says. “I was pissed off because it’s such a fucking stupid thing knocked me out. I’m really pissed off.”
Ironically, the appropriately titled ‘No More Tours 2’ trek was designed to be the introduction of a slowing down as far as Ozzy’s global travelling commitments was concerned. Now though, it looks as though the name is more prophetic than first intended: next year’s rescheduled dates will be the last time Ozzy ever tours the UK. “The bottom line is I’m not Superman,” he admits. “It’s genuinely fucked me up.”
More than anything, he says, it’s been the rehabilitation itself that has been the most testing to his patience. “I was lying down and I couldn’t move for weeks,” he laments. “I just got up, lay on the couch, and did what they told me to do. And then one day, I said to [his wife] Sharon: ‘You know what? Fuck this. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to start doing some music of some sort.’ Because when you’re lying down and you can’t move, my head starts telling me I’m never gonna do it again and all that shit. So I got up and I opened my mind, and I wrote some songs and recorded a few songs, and I learned that a lot of people are very supportive for me.”
Those who expressed their concerns for Ozzy included former Black Sabbath colleague Tony Iommi (“he’s been really great”), and Post Malone, who reached out to Ozzy with the invitation to feature on his new song, ‘Take What You Want’. That collaboration introduced Ozzy to Malone’s producer, Andrew Watt, who proved to be the motivation Ozzy needed to get off his couch and return to work.
“I’d just go, work with [Andrew] at the studio in his house, and it was three weeks from start to finish,” he says of the sessions, which also welcomed a cameo from Slash at one point. Together they amassed nine tracks, though whether the world will ever hear them is yet to be determined; for Ozzy, it was their creation that was the most important thing for him. “I don’t know if they’re good enough to put out,” he offers. “I had to keep my foot in the fucking pond, because it was the best recovery I did.”
Clearly Ozzy’s commitment to a life in music has little diminished over the years since ‘She Loves You’ first ignited his passion as a 15-year-old in 1963.
“I’m a kid in Aston, Birmingham,” he says, casting his mind back, “I’m incredibly dyslexic, I don’t know what the fuck I want to do, I’m walking down the road looking for an identity, I’ve got a blue transistor radio on my shoulder, and suddenly this fucking song hit me like a bolt out of the sky. I went, ‘Yes! I want to be a Beatle!’”
Five years later, he was the lead singer of what would become Black Sabbath, gigging the same blues rock circuit as acts like Jethro Tull and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. “It was just the lifestyle that attracted me,” Ozzy smiles. “We’d play gigs, get in the van, go to Europe, go to Hamburg and the Star Club where The Beatles used to play…. It was a way of not getting a desk job. If my dad hadn’t went and got me a PA, I wouldn’t be sitting here now. The PA I had wasn’t very good, but it did well to get people interested in me joining a band, because nobody had a PA bar me.”
Black Sabbath were the early architects of heavy metal; their demonic presence spearheaded a movement preoccupied by the occult and existing on the fringes of society. The band - Ozzy, Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, and bassist Geezer Butler - felt a bond as social outcasts, which translated not only into the dense, uncompromising sound of songs such as ‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’, and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, but also in their own refusal to conform. “We didn’t want to sell out,” he says, pointing out that their acts of defiance - such as refusing to appear on Top Of The Pops - were acted out on a musical landscape that has since been rendered unrecognisable.
“It was a different business,” he proclaims. “Now, it’s completely different - you’ve got to be on a fucking game show now if you think you’re going to get anywhere. You’ve got to have Simon fucking Cowell as your fucking mentor… He’s alright, Simon. I read an article by Dave Grohl who said that the day of garage bands is over, which is kinda true. You’ve gotta watch TV now to see who you like, which is pathetic. It’s all Sunday Night At The London Palladium now. It was an interesting thing to draw you in when we were kids: get in the van, the camaraderie and all that, having a laugh, getting fucked up, getting chicks…”
Ozzy is not blameless when considering the reality TV phenomenon. This is, of course, the patriarch from The Osbournes, MTV’s hugely successful fly-on-the-wall docu series that aired from 2002-2005 and effectively revived Ozzy’s notoriety after a celebrated post-Sabbath solo career that was often eclipsed by his depravities both on and off stage (”I’ve got away with murder in my life,” he says), and behaviour that was exacerbated by a debilitating chemical dependency. The programme also made stars of Sharon, his wife since 1982, and their children, Jack and Kelly. So, has his perception of selling out changed over the years?
“I don’t know,” he answers. “I don’t know what selling out means anymore because it’s not as segregated as it used to be. Now, you watch MTV and it’s more rap. I don’t want to rap… I mean, the thing I do now, I can afford to do whatever I like now. But it’s a really weird situation because funnily enough now country and western music in America is the biggest thing, even though there’s no radio - everybody’s got a satellite. I do what I like. If it feels okay, I do it.”
How about a country album, then? Certainly the sight of Ozzy in full western wear and a Stetson (all black, naturally) is an appealing thought.
“Me?” he responds incredulously. “A fucking country album? I would be burned in Hell!”
Being busy again is drive enough for Ozzy, who in his bleakest moments feared that prospect was impossible. “When you’re lying on your back and you’re used to being quite active, all kinds of fucking things come through your mind, and it’s not always nice thoughts, you know? You don’t go, ‘Oh wow, this is gonna last another three months, then I’m gonna make a record…’ That’s what you’d like, but you are feeling so miserable you think, ‘This is never going to happen. I’m never going to get out of this fucking bed.’ Then you get pissed off.”
What got him through those darkest days, Clash asks?
“Drugs!” he laughs. “No, I mean it was just fucking miserable those first few months. I had a 24-hour nurse in my house, fucking doctors coming in all the time, giving samples of blood, piss and everything else… There’s not a lot you can do.”
Time and perseverance has paid off, and Ozzy is relieved that he’s physically on course to be fit enough for the tour resuming in the UK on February 2020 so that he can bid a fond farewell to his British fans in style. “I want to be 100% ready to go,” he urges. “I can’t afford to go out there and go, ‘I’m done. I need to get more rest.’ I can’t do that, because people - well, I would anyway - would go, ‘Fucking hell, he’s never gonna come out again.’”
Withstanding challenges and overcoming obstacles is a character trait that has, astonishingly, made Ozzy Osbourne a survivor. Despite the odds, he has outlived many friends that were lost along the way, but Ozzy’s journey continues more through a devotion to his craft than a sense of duty to those who have fallen. “I just do what I do,” he shrugs. “I don’t want to become no fucking martyr for the cause. The thing about me, I’m still alive - barely, but I’m still here. To me, I don’t know why I’m still here. I ain’t got a fucking clue. I’m glad I am, but every week somebody else dies, you know?”
We share his gratitude. His is a life well spent in the service of rock and roll. A biopic is reportedly in the pipeline (“Do you know what?” Ozzy grins, “I’d like Denzel Washington to play me!”), but one doubts there’s a classification high enough for what that movie would contain. Is there something he is most proud of in his career, we ask, before the stampede of a dozen Pomeranians curtails our conversation?
Ozzy’s kohl-rimmed eyes twinkle with mischief.
“Not dying!” he cackles. “I mean, it was just the best fucking party of my life.”
Ozzy Osbourne tours the UK in 2020 for the last time ever! Tickets available at LiveNation.co.uk
Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Elliott Morgan
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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