“Mental wounds still screaming,
Driving me insane,
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train…”
From the moment Elvis started swinging his hips on television, rock and roll’s cast of colorful characters have never disappointed when it comes to controversy, whether it be sexual scandals, jaw-dropping tales of substance abuse or even just the occasional television set sent cascading from the rooftop of a hotel. And yet, few have managed to achieve the notoriety of Ozzy Osbourne, a hard rocking singer whose tales of excess and bizarre behavior are the stuff legends are made of. But controversy is only part of the story. Ozzy is also one of the undeniable forefathers of heavy metal, and as a result, has enjoyed a wildly successful career that spans over four decades.
Born John Michael Osbourne in 1948, Ozzy first achieved stardom as the singer of Black Sabbath, one of the first heavy metal bands to emerge in the late 60’s. Throughout the next decade, Black Sabbath would release such iconic albums as Paranoid and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, each propelled by Osbourne’s powerful vocals. In 1979, Ozzy ended his tenure with the group and embarked upon a solo career.
The following year, he released Blizzard of Oz, a hard rocking album featuring the talents of young, up-and-coming guitar whiz, Randy Rhodes, and producing such hits as “Crazy Train” and “I Don’t Know,” which swiftly propelled the album into platinum status. The subsequent tour that followed thrilled young headbangers around the globe, thanks to Ozzy’s never-ending stage antics, which included launching raw meat and animal guts into an adoring crowd.
A year later, he followed up with Diary of a Madman, featuring the thunderous “Over the Mountain” and hard-driving “Flying High Again.” The album eventually went double-platinum and made Ozzy one of the most successful rock acts of the early 80s. During the subsequent tour that followed, two notable events would occur, however, that would serve as sobering reminders to the dangers of a life on the road.
First, a notorious incident occurred during a live performance that would fuel urban legends for years to come, thanks to a helpful fan that decided to throw a bat on stage (think Dracula, not baseball.) Assuming it was of the rubber variety, and never one to shy away from theatrics, Osbourne decided to bite the head off, only to find that it was real. This soon resulted in a series of painful rabies shots, not to mention unparalleled infamy. Ozzy lived to see another day, but such good fortune would not befall his most celebrated bandmate in March of ’92, when a tragic plane accident took the life of young prodigy Randy Rhodes. Legions of young guitar fans were justifiably heartbroken, as was the band.
But, as they say, the show must go on, and by 1982, the band released their third offering, a live recording called Speak of the Devil, featuring replacement guitarist Brad Gillis and a collection of old Black Sabbath standards. Nothing else was released from the band until 1985, a particularly prolific period for Ozzy. Besides reuniting with his former Sabbath bandmates at the Live Aid charity event, he also released an ambitious double album, The Ultimate Sin, which achieved double platinum status, thanks in part to the hit, “Shot in the Dark.”
The following year, he would release Tribute, a memorial to his befallen bandmate Rhodes. He would also find his name in the headlines yet again, when he was named in a defendant in a series of lawsuits as the result of teenager that had ended his life, supposedly the victim of subliminal lyrics while listening to an Osbourne song called “Suicide Solution.” Ozzy was found not guilty, as the song’s subject matter was actually about his struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse. Ozzy finished up the 80s with the release of No Rest for the Wicked in 1989, another double-platinum offering, as well as the release of a highly successful single, “Close My Eyes Forever,” featuring a duet between Ozzy and Lita Ford.
Into the 90s, a sober Ozzy managed to continue his string of successes with the release of 1991s blockbuster, No More Tears, which managed to go four-times platinum and is considered perhaps his finest collection of material. He followed up with Live and Loud in 1993, another live offering, and embarked upon a “Retirement Tour.” Although fatigued by the rigors of touring and recording, the title of the tour proved to be premature, as evidenced by the release of a new album, Ozzmosis, and the resulting “Retirement Sucks” tour. The next year, he released a greatest hits collection of material called The Ozzman Cometh.
Another venture of Ozzy’s that proved quite successful in the 90s was a touring festival of up-and-coming rock acts called Ozzfest. A heavy metal version of Lollapalooza, it was an annual event until 2008, and helped numerous acts such as System of the Down, Korn and Velvet Revolver find mass exposure with millions of new fans. Besides taking on the role of tour promoter, Ozzy also allowed television viewers all over the world into his living room in 2002, on the MTV reality series, The Osbournes, featuring the dysfunctional domestic antics of his family, including wife Sharon and teenage offspring – son Jack and daughter Kelly. The highly successful show ran for four seasons before ending in 2005. Another short-lived series debuted in 2004 called Battle for Ozzfest, which featured numerous bands all battling for a slot to appear in the upcoming Ozzfest festival.
Ozzy officially retired from headlining the Ozzfest in 2006, but fans have learned over the years to never take the word “retirement” all too seriously when it comes to Osbourne. He released another album in 2007 called Black Rain, which sold over 150,000 copies in its first week, his most successful debut ever. Sure, he has mellowed with age over the years and controversy no longer surrounds the heavy metal patriarch, but to say the final chapter has been written on this rock and roll icon would quite possibly prove premature.
If you grew up listening to Ozzy sing with Black Sabbath in the 70s, or playing air guitar to his numerous hits in the 80s, or simply watching him as a homebody on The OSbournes, we welcome all of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section. Meanwhile, a tip of the hat the old geezer, one of the hardest working and most influential singers in rock and roll.