"I'm Lucky To Be Alive": Ozzy Osbourne's Wild And Crazy Ride
After picking up 2008's Living Legend Award at the Classic Rock Roll Of Honour, Ozzy sat down to talk President Bush, Black Sabbath, The Osbournes and playing Buckingham Palace
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #127.
How was this evening for you?
It’s been really good. I flew in from Los Angeles yesterday and I’m going back tomorrow. So it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
I’ve been sitting with Sharon at our table and people dropped by to say hello. I don’t drink anymore, so at least I’ll fucking remember what happened in the morning. I started to worry a bit when it ran late because I thought everybody would be fucking mindless [by the actual ceremony].
Who have you enjoyed catching up with?
Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood. And Jack Bruce, of course. I was with Slash in California last week and he didn’t say he was gonna be here. That was odd.
On a night like this, do you think about your late guitarist Randy Rhoads?
Yeah. Oh yeah. Seeing him up there on the screen… [his words trail off…]
Some would say that had you not met Randy when you did, we might not even be having this conversation?
Yeah. That’s true. It’s very sad.
What went through your mind up at the podium?
I thought I had everything planned but when I got there I couldn’t think of a fucking thing to say. I was incredibly nervous. I don’t really get off on things like this, to be perfectly honest.
Even so, it must be pleasing for you to be hailed as a Living Legend?
It’s fucking great. Watching the collage of photographs on the screen… when I think of where I came from. My whole life was up there. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years. I had no idea I was going to last as long as I have. And hopefully there’s more left in me. The fact that I’m alive is a fucking miracle. Anything that comes out now is extra because, by all accounts, I should’ve been dead 30 years ago, the lifestyle I’ve led. But I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do dope. I’m quite fucking boring these days.
Do you really think you’re boring, or just in comparison to how you used to be?
When I first discovered alcohol and drugs and all the wild life rock and roll will give you, it was great fun, but then it became very old very quick for me. One thing I’ve always maintained, I’ve always tried to be sober before I go on stage. There’s been occasions when I haven’t been. Not very many. I used to wait until after the show to get fucked up. I always had respect for the audience… saying that, sometimes I’d be hung over from the night before and been fucking crap.
One time, when asked about your success, you said: “I’m confused by it all. Am I really so special? I don’t understand.”
That’s kind of right. I don’t think I truly deserve it because I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people along the way. It wasn’t my idea. I was just a simple guy from Aston, Birmingham.
What is it like to be Ozzy Osbourne?
I’m always looking for the rainbow I can’t find. Instead of just being me, I’ve got one of these alcoholic brains that thinks of the dark side of life. I can’t go: “I’m going to be 60 in December, I’ve made a lot of people happy.” I always think of the few people I haven’t made happy. Like Sharon will say to me: “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” We’d go to a function or something and there’d be some guy in the corner that I don’t know and he’s got a look on his face, and I think: “He hates me.” I’ll spend the evening trying to get the guy to like me. And Sharon will go to me: “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” And I’ll go: “That guy, he doesn’t like me.” And she’ll go: “But the rest of them love you.” But that’s the way I am. It’s like when I go and do a show. If I’m on stage and I can see one guy standing there looking bored, I’ll do the show for him.
I’ll tell you a funny story, actually. It’s a true, true story. It’s typical of Ozzy Osbourne. I’m like the fool on the hill sometimes. I go on stage. I’m doing a show. The fucking place is packed. There’s thousands of them in there. There’s a bunch of people on stage left, about six or eight of them in a block. They’re just standing there [crosses arms and adopts bored pose]. I thought, fuck me, I’ve got to turn them on. I’m doing the show, facing them, fucking screaming, and there’s sweat pumping out of my veins. My neck is swollen. In the end I lose it and turn to my assistant, Tony. I say: “Get these kids out of here. I’m going to die otherwise. Give them their money back.”
So he goes: “They’re deaf.” I go: “What? Oh my god.” So then I’m trying to do instant fucking sign language. [Ozzy starts doing mock sign language and speaking very deliberately] I… am… sorry! There’s like 90,000 people and there’s eight fucking deaf people and I’m thinking they don’t like the show [laughs]. That’s typical Ozzy.
Do you sense a level of expectation when people meet you?
I’ve always been a clown. I like to make people happy. I like to make people have fun in life. When we did the TV thing, my son said to me: “Dad, would you prefer people to laugh at you or with you?” I said: “You know what, Jack, as long as they’re laughing, I don’t give a fuck if they’re laughing at me or with me, as long as they’re laughing.”
How do you respond to those who feel you’ve sold out?
Sold out to what? Sold out and being typecast are very close. I didn’t go to any college or school or university to become Ozzy. I just was. A lot of my craziness, a lot of my image, was down to alcohol and drugs. I could have carried on with the alcohol and drugs, but I have a responsibility to my family. I didn’t want to die prematurely. So, what have I got to do, drink myself into oblivion?
I don’t know what to say to that. On one hand I know what you’re saying and on another hand, I’m confused. What do people want me to do? Do they want me to die doing what I do? I don’t do drugs anymore. I don’t do alcohol or smoke dope anymore. I don’t know what to say to you, really. If they think I’ve sold out, then what more can I say that will make them think that I’ve not sold out. That’s always bothered me. I don’t go: “Oh, I can’t do this TV shit. I can’t do these adverts”… it’s fucking work. It’s what I do. I get what they’re saying. Believe me, it crosses my mind a lot. Can I do that and not expect to get any flak from my following? I constantly say that to Sharon and it is a good point.
Is there anything you wouldn’t do in fear of a backlash?
I question it all the fucking time. I don’t really care too much for TV, but there again if it comes along, what do I do, say no? There was a time when it was unfashionable to play Top Of The Pops because people would think you’ve sold out. When Black Sabbath did Top Of The Pops, we just did it because it was Top Of The Pops. But then we got flak because people like Ten Years After and other bands at the time refused to do it.
Do you feel any responsibility towards Sabbath fans?
Every now and then I’ll pick up a magazine and read what’s been written about me. I read this one thing saying, Tony [Iommi] should get over this Ozzy thing. He’s not going to do a Sabbath album. But let me tell you the reason I haven’t done a Sabbath album. I was a different guy then. The name Black Sabbath is a very special name, for me anyway, because we weren’t like some band put together by some mogul, like the fucking Spice Girls or something. We were four guys from Aston, Birmingham. I was at school with Tony, we got a band going and it was a big success from record one. It’s very difficult to go back and recapture what you once had. It’s like we’ve all grown. One thing I’m really glad about is we’re all mates again. That means more to me than anything.
How do you think your status as a celebrity has affected your musical career?
I don’t know. I’ve got to be truthful to you. The celebrity side of it. I didn’t plan it and go: “If I do The Osbournes…” With success, everybody wants to get seen with you. The paparazzi, now it’s like a disease. My house, I had to have 24-hour armed surveillance. We had to shred everything because people go through the bins. It’s like being a fucking prisoner. It was a hoot at the beginning. I was fucking out of my brains every minute of the show.
How would you describe yourself?
Very lucky. Very fortunate. Very fortunate to have fallen in love with my wife. Very fortunate to have lasted so long. Very fortunate to be alive. Very fortunate to be sober and clean today.
And how would you describe yourself to someone who had never heard of Ozzy Osbourne?
A clown. A clown wants to make people happier than they already feel.
Is that how you’d like to be remembered, as a clown?
No. A guy that tried to make people have fun with their lives.
As the Prince Of Darkness, how do you feel about those unlikely moments when you find yourself doing things like having dinner with President Bush or performing at Buckingham Palace?
I didn’t have dinner with President Bush. I’m not like that Irish guy [he means Bono]. I went to this thing. I didn’t know what the fuck it was about. I thought, “Fuck this”. I’d had about three bottles of fucking plonk, I was out of my shitter. I kept going for a piss. When I got there, it was just like pandemonium. There must have been about 3,000 cameramen. It was just when The Osbournes took off. It was only a few months after they blew the World Trade Center out of the sky.
I go in this place and there’s a dais on this stage. All around us is all these news channels, Fox, MSNBC, BBC and Christie Brinkley’s at one table and I’m like: “What the fuck is all this about?” I just thought, “This is nuts, and I started drinking the wine. I get shit-faced. And when he [Bush] gets up on the dais, I’m thinking: “Is this a fucking dream or what?” He goes: “We have some very distinguished guests here tonight, like Ozzy Osbeeeern [adopts Texas drawl]. My mother’s a huge fan.” This is fucking nuts. I’m like in shock. I’m thinking, “Terrorists are going to blow this place up. They’re going to kill the government and me with these fuckers”. I never expected it be like this.
Finding yourself at Buckingham Palace performing at the Queen’s 50th Anniversary Concert must have felt equally bizarre.
When I went into the Palace for that fucking thing, there were signs saying: ‘No foul language,’ ‘No abusive terms,’ ‘No chasing the wild animals.’ I’m thinking, I’m sure this ain’t for anybody else. ‘Don’t chase the animals.’ ‘Don’t throw anything in the lake’. . . unless you’ve got a brick tied to your neck [laughs].
How do you feel about turning 60 in December?
I’m not looking forward to it. But I can’t deny it. I’m 60. I don’t look that bad. I don’t feel that bad. I’ve had an incredible life. I don’t know what to say about being 60. It’s only another birthday. I’m glad I’m going to reach 60. I hope I reach 70. When I was 18-20, I’d go: “I’m going to be dead before I’m 40.” That was alright until I was 39. Then I’m like: “How about 50?” Nobody gets out of here alive.
Do you fear death?
No. I ain’t looking forward to it. But it’s what happens.
What would you like on your headstone?
See, I told you I was ill.
Given everything you’ve been through, do you think of yourself as a survivor?
I’m kind of an accidental survivor. When I used to do drink and drugs and all that, I would never sleep lying on my back. It’s something I drilled into my head because so many people along the way lay on their back and choke on their vomit in the night. So automatically I would just lie on my side. Even now I can’t sleep on my back. Is it because I’ve survived that people think I’ve sold out?
No. I think it’s more the fact that you’ve lived at times a reckless life. People might question your flippant attitude towards death.
You have a bottle of vodka for breakfast in the morning, you ain’t going to have much to care about by fucking 12. I was a chronic alcoholic. Let me tell you something, when I started drinking booze and getting loaded, it was very much fun. We had fucking joints, coke, all this shit, but there came a point in my life, and I can’t really remember which point, it flipped on me. I couldn’t do that anymore to myself because I didn’t want to die and I was terrified of living at the end.
Do you have any regrets?
Everybody has regrets but you can’t change the past, but you can try and do something about the future. I like to believe that my life has been somewhat of a path of experiences. You don’t know whether you like strawberry jam until you taste it. I don’t want to sound like an old fucking philosopher. If you enjoy getting fucking loaded, great. Believe me, if I could get successfully fucked up again, I wouldn’t be talking to you saying that, I’d be off. But it turned on me in the end.
A lot of the guys ain’t here because of it: John Bonham, Keith Moon. I’m a meat eater. I’m not a fucking guru of brown rice and Buddha. My last attempt at trying to get into Buddha: I bought a six-foot high gold Buddha for seven grand and I can’t find anywhere in the house to put the fucking thing so it’s rotting out in the garage now. I thought I’d get spiritual, for 10 minutes.
Why were you trying to get spiritual?
As you get older you start to think, what happens next? When I do make that final plunge, where do I go to? Heaven sounds like a fucking boring place to me. Hell’s more my kind of domain because it’s like the bad guy. But I ain’t a bad guy. I was a very sick guy for a long time. I still am. Responsibilities? I neglected them. Whatever I wanted, I went for. Sometimes I’d get it and sometimes I wouldn’t. I’m just very lucky to be able to talk to you like I’m talking to you now. I do have some damage. I broke my neck on that ATV which fucked me up bad. The guy said to me when I came out of the coma, had it been a milli-fucking-metre either way, you wouldn’t have been sitting here talking to me, you’d have been in a wheelchair at best for the rest of your life.
When events like that happen, where you are clearly lucky to have survived, do you wonder, why was I saved?
I know without any question of doubt, had I been awake when Randy got on that plane, I’d have been on the fucking wing with a bottle of vodka. I’d have been with him. But it was my destiny not to be.
Once, when asked about the incident when you killed your ex-wife’s chickens, you said: “Everyone likes the wild and crazy guy, but that guy’s got to go to bed and lie on that pillow with his conscience.” Does your conscience ever keep you awake?
Sure. My conscience tortures me at times. I’ll re-run the day sometimes. But I’m very sensitive. I think: “Why the fuck did I say that?” I’ll know when you leave today I’ll be going: “He’s going to think I’m a fucking dickhead.”
When people read my old quotes, that was what I was feeling like at that time. The thing is, if you continue to do the same stupid thing and expect a different result, that’s what craziness is. If I sit in a bar and I’m not doing anything crazy, people go: “What’s up with Ozzy?” Don’t I have the right to do what I want to do? Sometimes my people pleasing side gets me into something I can’t get out of. I’m a professional people pleaser. That’s what I do. I can’t play a fucking guitar.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
What ambitions do you have now?
Learning to live life on life’s terms. I’ve only got today. I’ll sit here and go, fucking hell, next Christmas I’ll be doing this . . . But when I’m worrying about tomorrow, I ain’t living today.
Do you like yourself now?
I like myself better than I did, but I’m always looking for the black cloud. Sharon would say to me: “I don’t understand you. The fucking sky’s blue and you won’t be happy until you find that little black cloud.” That sums me up.
Have you tried to figure out what that’s about?
I guess it’s insecurity. At school I didn’t do well. I didn’t do fuck-all any good. But when I hit the stage, I did better.
Do you feel insecure now?
Yeah. I didn’t conjure up the way I am. I didn’t sit down and go, for the first so and so years of my life this is when I’m going to be the crazy fucker. Then I’m going to slow down. That would keep me hitting the bottle because I’d worry I’m getting too normal now. I can’t have that. I’m always questioning myself.
Do you have any plans on retiring?
Every year. I don’t like to really look at it because then I realise how fucking old I am. I’ve always said, as long as I’ve got an audience and giving good service.
And finally, are you happy?