If World War Three ever happens, and they start using the big shit, I’m going to put a big fucking target on my roof!” comes the defiant cackle emanating from a grand oak-panelled room in a palatial California mansion.
“I wanna be right under the fucking thing! I’ll just say, ‘You cunts! I bet you can’t hit our house.’ Even if they’ve got a 50-megaton bomb! Imagine if I crawled from the debris with half a body, shouting, ‘I’M STILL HERE!’”
Stop the press, please. You may have read numerous reports about Ozzy Osbourne’s health in recent years, but I can assure you that the man sitting in front of me is not, contrary to popular belief, being consigned to his darkened crypt just yet.
Instead, the vim and vigour that emerges from Ozzy Osbourne, 74, in the time I spend in his company leaves me convinced that, despite countless bouts of surgery and physical setbacks in recent years, only a fool would dare to write him off.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Ozzy Osbourne has not so much become an enduring icon of heavy metal as much as he is the establishment-baiting, darkness-dwelling alchemist who was at the centre of the genre in the first place. It’s why he is the perfect choice for the first-ever Rolling Stone UK Icon Award, supported by Visit West Hollywood.
But on his icon status, Ozzy Osbourne is less sure.
“I wish I felt like a fucking icon!” comes the typically deadpan and sweary response, delivered in a warm and familiar Brummy brogue that hasn’t faded one bit. “I’ve had a long career, and I’ve raised a few fucking eyebrows along the way. I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve done some good gigs, and I’ve done some fucking bad gigs.”
It’s a neat summation of his career, sure, but one that modestly underplays his rather significant role in modern music…
Our reluctant icon’s story begins in Birmingham in the late 1960s, when a teenage abattoir worker called John Osbourne became friends with Terence Butler or, as he was known to his mates, Geezer. When the pair teamed up with guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward, the early foundations of what would become Black Sabbath were laid.
Upon the release of their eponymous debut album in 1970, the four-piece would change the face of popular music forever. For that record, the group created a sound that was quite unlike anything else at the time — an album that took the foundations of their blues rock backgrounds and turned them into something that was uglier, thematically scarier and far more intense.
The album’s title track, for instance, was written by Butler, who occasionally dabbled in the occult. He was in bed one night when he saw a vision of a cloaked black figure standing at the end of his bed. “It frightened the pissing life out of me,” he has said of the apparition, which is represented on the album’s eternally unsettling cover.
Ozzy’s distinctive wail also defined the album, as did Iommi’s wild guitar riffs. The guitarist honed his distinctive playing style after losing the tips of two of his fingers in a factory accident.
The group had delivered what is now widely considered to be the first-ever heavy metal album, and discerning music lovers immediately pricked up their ears to its doom-laden tunes. By the time the band’s second album rolled around a mere seven months later, the group had become underground heroes. The record’s perceived flirtation with satanic imagery also sparked a moral panic in the press and saw the band attracting a few unwanted fans too. Once, they returned to their hotel to find 20 black-clad satanists holding black candles and chanting while standing outside their room.
Even a usually unflinching Sharon Osbourne was nervous when she first met the band. “I remember being very intimidated by them all when we met for the first time,” she recalls. At the time, she was working for her father Don Arden, the infamous rock boss who managed the group throughout the seventies. “I just thought, ‘Oh Lord, this is a bit strange.’ They were sitting on the floor of the office, and I was afraid to look at them in the eyes because I didn’t know what they were going to do or say.”
It all set Ozzy on a trajectory that would see him become one of rock’s most influential figures. After being unceremoniously fired from Black Sabbath in 1979 due to substance abuse, he forged a solo career that made him a far bigger star than he ever was with Sabbath. To date — including his time with the band — he boasts in excess of a cool 100 million record sales under his belt and has enthralled and, at times, repulsed people around the globe in equal measure.
He is the man who bit the head off a bat on stage in Des Moines, Iowa, after mistaking it for a rubber toy. He’s also the man who offended the entire state of Texas by taking a piss on the Alamo.
Having lived life to its fullest, he’s now one of the few famous people — alongside The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards — who genuinely leave us wondering what kind of planet we’re going to leave behind when they’re the last ones standing. Such is his ability to withstand the effects of years of excessive drink, drugs and general hard living that in 2010 a geneticist concluded after sequencing Ozzy’s genome that he is a “genetic mutant”.
But even if Ozzy remains the defiant survivor who has weathered a storm of addictions and overdoses, it’s fair to say that a few setbacks in recent years have left some of the wider world wondering if Old Father Time is finally catching up with the Prince of Darkness.
Earlier this year, he underwent a fourth bout of spinal surgery to remedy the damage inflicted by a fall in 2019 which dislodged the metal rods that were put into his body after a serious quad bike crash at his Buckinghamshire home in 2003.
“It’s really knocked me about,” he tells me. “The second surgery went drastically wrong and virtually left me crippled. I thought I’d be up and running after the second and third, but with the last one they put a fucking rod in my spine. They found a tumour in one of the vertebrae, so they had to dig all that out too. It’s pretty rough, man, and my balance is all fucked up.”
The events of recent years have taken a toll on his family, says Sharon. “It’s been nearly five years of heartache, and at times I’ve just felt so helpless and so bad for Ozzy, to see him going through the pain.
“He’s gone through all these operations and the whole thing has felt like a nightmare. He hasn’t lost his sense of humour, but I look at my husband, and he’s here while everyone else is out on the road. This is the longest time he hasn’t ever worked for. Being at home for so long has been so foreign to him.”
At the same time though, Ozzy believes that some of the press reports have been somewhat wide of the mark. “I’m getting pissed off reading the papers, and they’re saying things like ‘Ozzy is fighting his last battle’. He’s sung his last ‘Paranoid’. You know, I don’t even think about Parkinson’s that much,” he says of the neurological condition he was officially diagnosed with in 2003.
“Every time I scratch my arse, they put it down to Parkinson’s!” To further prove the point, he outstretches his arms — showing very little signs of the tremors that affect the majority of people suffering from the condition.
“You do find out who’s a genuine friend when you’ve been through what I’ve had,” he suddenly adds, unprompted. “Tony Iommi has been so supportive of me since my illness,” he beams. But then the mood in the room suddenly shifts. “Geezer Butler hasn’t given me one fucking phone call. Not one fucking call,” he says, the emotion significantly heightened in his voice as he speaks of his Sabbath bandmate.
“When his son was fucking born, I phoned him every fucking night even though we were at war with each other, Black Sabbath and me [after his sacking]. I thought, ‘Fuck it, he’s my mate, I’m gonna call him.’ But from him, not one fucking call.
“It’s sad, man. We all grew up together, and he can’t pick up the fucking phone like a man and see how I’m doing. Even Bill Ward has been in touch with me. I said some things about Bill, and I don’t know why I said it, but when I came through my illness, he contacted me.”
He adds, seeming genuinely hurt: “I’m not in shock, I’m just very fucking sad that he can’t just call me after all this time and say, ‘How you doing?’ Fucking arsehole.”
Why did the pair fall out in the first place?
“His wife and my wife had a falling-out!” he says. “But that’s got fucking nothing to do with me. Are you really going to hide behind your wife’s skirt because of that?”
Arguments aside, the numerous surgeries and setbacks have left Ozzy’s fans wondering if we’ll ever see the Prince of Darkness back on stage again. A brief glimmer of hope emerged when he did a surprise hometown performance at the closing ceremony of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022, but another bout of surgery forced him to officially confirm his retirement from touring at the beginning of the year.
While not counting himself out of a return to the stage, Ozzy is unsure how realistic it is.
“I’m taking it one day at a time, and if I can perform again, I will,” he concedes. “But it’s been like saying farewell to the best relationship of my life. At the start of my illness, when I stopped touring, I was really pissed off with myself, the doctors, and the world. But as time has gone on, I’ve just gone, ‘Well, maybe I’ve just got to accept that fact.’
“I’m not going to get up there and do a half-hearted Ozzy looking for sympathy. What’s the fucking point in that? I’m not going up there in a fucking wheelchair. I’ve seen Phil Collins perform recently, and he’s got virtually the same problems as me. He gets up there in a wheelchair! But I couldn’t do that.”
Even if a final performance doesn’t materialise, Ozzy says he still owes a lifetime’s debt of gratitude to the fans that transformed him into one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been the most fucking pissed off at: I never got the chance to say goodbye or thank you,” he says, his voice rich with heartfelt gratitude. “Because my fans are what it’s all about. If I can just do a few gigs… They’ve been loyal to me for fucking years. They write to me, they know all about my dogs. It’s my extended family really, and they give us the lifestyle we have. For whatever reason, that’s my goal to work to. To do those shows. If it’s at Ozzfest or somewhere, or even a fucking gig at the Roundhouse [the venue of the Rolling Stone UK Awards, in collaboration with Rémy Martin]!
“If I can’t continue doing shows on a regular basis, I just want to be well enough to do one show where I can say, ‘Hi guys, thanks so much for my life.’ That’s what I’m working towards, and if I drop down dead at the end of it, I’ll die a happy man.”
But even if physical challenges might stand in the way of live performances, modern technology means that there are plenty of alternatives. Last year, ABBA won huge acclaim with their Voyage show —which uses cutting-edge technology to present on-stage projections of the Swedish group that are often indistinguishable from the real thing. Could an Ozzy-tar be on the horizon in the near future?
“Well, Sharon took me to some birthday thing a few years ago, and I was sitting at the front of this fucking marquee, and suddenly the lights go down, and a fucking Frank Sinatra hologram appeared. It was 18 inches fucking tall! I just turned to her and said, ‘What the fuck is that?’ I just cracked up laughing at it.” We’ll take that as a maybe, then.
Instead, Ozzy’s longer-than-anticipated convalescence has allowed him to do a lot of thinking, he explains. He’s been searching for spirituality, but admits he won’t become a “fucking monk, my brain won’t last five seconds”. More recently, he’s been thinking of the friends who aren’t here anymore. He lost a close friend in Motörhead’s Lemmy in 2015, and he also laments the loss of UFO bassist Pete Way in 2020, who played with him throughout the 1980s.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reflection while I’ve been laid up, and all my drinking partners, I’ve realised they’re all fucking dead!” he exclaims. “The graveyard’s full of them! You’re dead and you’re dead and you’re dead.”
Coming back round to the subject later in our chat, he adds: “I should have been dead way before loads of them. Why am I the last man standing? I don’t understand any of it. Sometimes I look in the mirror and go, ‘Why the fuck did you make it?!’ I’m not boasting about any of it because I should have been dead a thousand times. I’ve had my stomach pumped God knows how many times.”
Does he fear death? “I don’t fear dying, but I don’t want to have a long, painful and miserable existence. I like the idea that if you have a terminal illness, you can go to a place in Switzerland and get it done quickly. I saw my father die of cancer.
“But look, I said to Sharon that I’d smoked a joint recently and she said, ‘What are you doing that for! It’ll fucking kill you!’ I said, ‘How long do you want me to fucking live for?!’ At best, I’ve got ten years left and when you’re older, time picks up speed. Me and Sharon had our 41st wedding anniversary recently, and that’s just unbelievable to me!”
It’s fair to say that Ozzy and Sharon have been one of rock’s most influential couples, but also one of the most tumultuous. Despite meeting through her dad, Sabbath’s manager, their relationship didn’t truly bloom until Sharon became Ozzy’s manager when he left the group.
They tied the knot in 1982 and have weathered a lifetime’s worth of storms — a great deal of which have stemmed from Ozzy’s rock’n’roll lifestyle.
“It’s incredible to think that I’ve had more of my life with Ozzy in it than without him,” Sharon tells me in a separate chat. “I just can’t think of my life without him in it. It’s unthinkable for me. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I’ve loved him, and without that there’s no hope of keeping a relationship together, is there? Our relationship hasn’t been rainbows and roses the whole time, and it’s been really tough. But that’s life, isn’t it? I just know that my life is better with my husband in it than it is without him.”
Ozzy, meanwhile, says that Sharon has “saved my arse”. “Talk about tough love!” he smiles. “She’ll still walk in the room and give me one look that [makes me think], ‘Oh fuck, I’ve done it now.’”
She’s the manager of his career and, you sense, his life too.
“I remember being first attracted to her great laugh. When she laughed it was just fucking fun.”
Together, they have forged a familial unit that is ostensibly rock’s first family. They are parents to Aimee, 40, Kelly, 39, and Jack, 38. The latter two shot to fame in 2002 when MTV commissioned The Osbournes, a fly-on-the-wall documentary that showed the family — minus Aimee — going about their daily business in Los Angeles.
It was the simplest of premises, but one that would change the face of both reality TV and Ozzy’s public persona forever. It showed the chaotic day-to-day happenings of family life and in turn transformed Ozzy from a hardened rocker into a cuddly, bumbling family man who found joy in the smallest things.
In one memorable episode, he sweetly showed a then-teenage Jack a recently rediscovered keyboard from his Black Sabbath days (“Look at this baby, Jack! This thing is fucking awesome when it gets going! It’s got a Sabbath sticker on the back!”)
In another, hugely relatable clip that has recently done the rounds on TikTok, he’s trying to find the person who “has been in my room and taken my beers”, before Sharon politely tells him he’s already drunk them.
“When I first did that show, people accused me of selling out,” he recalls. “But I just thought it’s all part of the deal. I’m not doing the fucking news at six. I never really watched it, but recently I did an interview where they showed me clips of it, and I realised that our kids can show our grandchildren what it was like with their grandparents when they were kids. It’s a good living diary of what happened.
“But the thing is, now it’s all scripted reality,” he adds. “They set the stage, whereas The Osbournes literally took the madness of what went on in my house every fucking day! You could be watching it, and suddenly someone comes running through with a fucking frying pan on fire. It was just normal for us — we’d swear, we’d cuss, and there’d be fucking dog shit everywhere. That’s what we were really like. It all started to get a bit silly in season three, where they’d suggest stuff like taking us on a boating trip, and I just thought, ‘Oh, fuck off!’”
He adds: “We were asked to do another series, but the kids were fucked up from it, I was fucked up from it, and Sharon was going through cancer. Rock’n’roll fame was one thing, but TV was just off the fucking Richter scale.”
As for family life these days, it’s being a grandfather that brings Ozzy the most joy. He may still be the Prince of Darkness, but he’s a strong contender for the happiest man on the planet when he speaks about Sidney — Kelly’s son with Slipknot DJ Sid Wilson who was born in 2022.
“I can already see what’s he gonna be like,” Ozzy grins warmly. “He’s gonna be a real proper little boy, poking sticks and setting fire to things. Just like I was! We get on great, and it’s just fucking wonderful. I never had a chance to see much of my kids growing up because I was always on the road. But being at home has allowed me to do that as a grandad, and little Sid is just fucking great. He really is.
“It’s been the making of Kelly too,” he adds. “If I’ve got a favourite kid, it’s Kelly.”
Are Jack and Aimee aware of that? “Oh, they know it! Me and Kelly, we’re like two peas in a pod!”
Next up for Ozzy, then, is finalising his long-gestating move back to the UK. He and Sharon have been planning a return to the family’s Buckinghamshire abode after extensive renovations.
To put it another way and to paraphrase one of his best hits, mama he’s coming home. A lad from Aston, Birmingham, who went and changed the world, achieving musical immortality in the process.
“I do count my lucky stars. I don’t know why I’m still here and I do sometimes think I’m on borrowed time. I said to Sharon the other day, ‘What a great fucking life we’ve had and what a great fucking experience.’”
Ozzy Osbourne, as the first-ever Rolling Stone UK Awards icon, we salute you.
Photography: Danielle Levitt
Fashion & Creative Direction: Joseph Kocharian
Stylist: Katja Cahill
Grooming: Denika Bedrossian at THE PRTNRS
Hair: Jonathan Hanousek at Exclusive Artist Management
Fashion assistants: Tracey Moore, Aliya Lahijani, Ateana Swaby & Gabriel Langenbrunner
Tailor: Yuliy Mosk
Wardrobe PA: Sophia Link
Taken from Issue 14 of Rolling Stone UK, our Awards Issue. You can buy it here.