Ozzy Osbourne: a rock’n’roll showman like no other

After sadly announcing his retirement from touring this week, NME looks back on Ozzy's history of on-the-road madness, mayhem and tragedy

Several breeds of small nocturnal mammals might have been removed from the endangered list at the news, but the rock music world in general has been distraught to hear that, aged 74, Ozzy Osbourne is retiring from touring. A combination of health issues — stemming from both his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease and a bad fall in 2019 which aggravated injuries from his 2003 quad biking accident (which led to numerous therapies and spinal surgery to save him from paralysis) — have left him too “physically weak” to undertake the travel necessary for a major tour.

“Never would I have imagined my touring days would have ended this way,” Ozzy said in a statement yesterday (February 1) upon finding that his second farewell tour ‘No More Tours II’ — which had been delayed repeatedly by his treatments and the pandemic — was ultimately to be cut cruelly short. The door is still open for fresh studio recordings, though, and Ozzy insists his team are trying to work out ways for him to perform one-off shows. But after more than 55 years of touring madness, mayhem, tragedy and shock, one of the most influential acts in rock’n’roll history has finally reached the end of the road.

A story that would come to include bat consumption, a plane crash, hotels full of Satanists, surfing a cable car and urinating on revered national monuments had a remarkably wholesome genesis. Though something of a troubled teenage tearaway who spent six weeks in prison for burgling a clothes shop, Ozzy made his first forays as an on-stage singer in school productions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore, and had vowed to be a pop singer ever since hearing The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ aged 14.

His taste for on-stage outrage revealed itself early on, though. Joining Geezer Butler’s short-lived band Rare Breed in 1967, before then moving on to form Earth with Butler, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward, Ozzy would often concoct bizarre stunts to grab the audience’s attention. At one show he painted his nose using purple paint, only to find it was indelible and didn’t wash off for several weeks.


Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne performs at the US Festival, San Bernardino, California, May 29, 1983. (Picture: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

When Earth mutated into Black Sabbath in 1969 and set about encapsulating heavy metal music with their dark and doomy blues songs about war, wizardry and the occult, Ozzy became a focal point for the darker edges of the 1970s rock scene. One group of Satanists put a curse on the band when they refused to play a gig at Stonehenge, while another dressed in black robes and sat on the floor outside their hotel rooms with candles, chanting mystical rites. The band saw them off, though, by opening their doors all at once, blowing out the candles and singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

As Ozzy would explain to their more pentangular fans, “the only evil spirits I’m interested in are called whisky, vodka and gin” — an attitude which led to all manner of outlandish behaviour and excess among Black Sabbath in the 1970s. By the time of 1972’s ‘Vol. 4’ album, their rocketing success was so closely matched by their drug intake that their cocaine bill was allegedly $15,000 higher than the album budget. Iommi’s party trick became setting fire to people using rubbing alcohol – a stunt which almost fatally backfired when the alcohol soaked into Ward’s clothes during one incident and left the drummer writhing on the floor in flames.

Ozzy, meanwhile, admitted to taking LSD every day for two years during the Black Sabbath heyday, and became more animalistic as his alcohol and drug issues spiralled. On one occasion, he decided he needed to defecate in the elevator of a plush hotel. “As he’s doing it, the elevator is going down to the reception floor,” Iommi later recalled. “The door opens suddenly — and there’s Ozzy with his pants around his knees. All these people in fur coats are just staring at him with their mouths open.”

Despite the mammoth success of their seminal hard rock albums, such as 1970 debut ‘Black Sabbath’, follow-up ‘Paranoid’ and 1973’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, such antics — and the sometimes physical in-fighting within the band — saw Ozzy sacked from Black Sabbath in 1979. He spent his £96,000 pay-off on a three-month alcohol and cocaine bender, and soon built a prosperous solo career on just such wildman behaviour. His sales were phenomenal – 1980’s ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ album sold over five million copies without a hit single – and the stories are the stuff of rock legend.

Biting the head off a bat that was thrown on-stage in Des Moines, Iowa in 1982, thinking it was rubber and getting a rabies shot for his trouble. Snorting a line of ants while on tour with Mötley Crüe. Shocking several CBS Records conference rooms by either biting the head off a dove or stripping naked, goose-stepping across the table and urinating in an executive’s wine. Dressing in his wife Sharon’s nightwear (she’d confiscated his clothes in a futile bid to stop him going anywhere) and pissing on a monument to those who died at the Battle Of The Alamo in Texas, resulting in a 10-year ban from San Antonio – the list went on.

Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath performs during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony (Picture: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Ozzy always skirted around the very edge of disaster, though, often being so constantly drunk and high on tour that he’d refuse to perform and become violent towards his band and his wife. One spell in rehab was prompted by Ozzy trying to strangle Sharon in a drunken fury following his appearance at the Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989, while the most tragic event involved the death of Ozzy’s guitarist and sonic soulmate Randy Rhoads in a plane crash in Florida in 1982. En route from Tennessee to Florida to play with Foreigner, the band had stopped for the night at a mansion in Florida where bus driver and pilot Andrew Aycock took Rhoads and Rachel Youngblood, Ozzy’s make-up and costume designer, for a morning flight in a light aircraft, only to misjudge a “buzz” of the tour bus where Ozzy and Sharon were sleeping and crash into a nearby house, killing everyone on board.


No amount of substance abuse, crazed behaviour or tragedy could derail Ozzy’s career, however. By the mid-‘90s he’d become a foundational icon of heavy metal, a standing marked by the launch of Ozzfest in 1996, a long-standing event which would help introduce new generations of hard rock acts to five million attendees over the years, grossing $100 million in the process.

Despite tarnishing his Prince Of Darkness reputation somewhat by becoming a reality star in The Osbournes in 2002, his solo shows – and a 2011 reunion with Black Sabbath – continued to be some of the most hotly anticipated events in rock. As Ozzy gives his last demon-stare and hangs up his soil-proof touring trousers for good, then, those who continue to rock in his image undoubtedly salute him.


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