Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne - one of the strangest, most enduring, love affairs in the history of the music industry
They were the prototype for the Kardashians, as America's foremost dysfunctional family. Barry Egan examines the Osbournes, and chronicles one of the strangest, most enduring, love affairs in the history of the music industry, Sharon and Ozzy
Long before Keeping Up with the Kardashians, there was The Osbournes. Ostensibly, they were an endearingly dysfunctional family from Birmingham who lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills and had lots more money than sense - if they had any sense to begin with. The father was a mumbling deranged rock star who couldn't control himself, let alone his children Kelly and Jack (eldest daughter, Aimee, did not want to participate), nor his dogs who pooed all over the well-appointed house to the delight of the millions upon millions who watched on MTV when the show first aired in 2002 until it finished in 2005.
It was reality TV with too much reality for the average viewer. "I'm not picking up dog shit! I'm a rock star!" Ozzy harrumphed until his wife Sharon brings in a dog therapist who informs Ozzy: "You don't need to hire a dog therapist, you just need to wake up at 7am and open the f***ing door!"
When Sharon suggested to her husband that he might perhaps go on his next heavy metal tour with a bubble machine as part of the onstage special effects, his reply was classic fare: "I'm f***ing Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of f***ing Darkness! Evil! Evil! What's f***ing evil about a butt-load of f***ing bubbles?" Bubble machine or not, the Prince of Darkness himself plays the 3Arena in Dublin on January 30.
Ozzy's constant roar of "Sharon!" became an international catchphrase in the Noughties. Even when he was shouting after his wife it was difficult not to come to the conclusion that here were two crazy people who were absolutely crazy about each other. Even when Ozzy - who was born John Michael Osbourne on December 3rd, 1948, in Aston, Birmingham - talked about his greatest regret in life there was something ridiculously romantic about it all: "If I could live one day of my life over again it would be the day I got married to my wife Sharon. I was off my face and I didn't make it to the bedroom suite. They found me face-down in the hotel corridor unconscious. I'd like to go back to that day [in Hawaii on July 4, 1982] and go to bed with my wife."
Ozzy had something of a history of being face-down in his own dignity. In 2003, when his daughter Kelly was 19 years of age, she watched him flat-line in a quad bike accident in England. Even at death's door, Kelly recalled in her 2017 memoir - There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch - how her daddy remained characteristically Ozzy. "They had resuscitated him, and he was yelling, 'Don't f** up my tattoos! I'll f***ing kill you if you f*** up my tattoos!'" she wrote. "That gave me a little bit of hope." A few days later, Kelly knew that her infamous father was back to rude health when she saw a bedpan fly out of his hospital room and heard him scream, "I can wipe my own f***ing ass, thank you very much!" Touchingly, Kelly also revealed in her book how Robin Williams helped save her mother Sharon's life during the dark period when she was refusing a second round of chemotherapy for her cancer. Robin paid Sharon a visit, lay on the bed with her and made her laugh out loud. "I tear up when I think about this," Kelly writes.
"Because Robin Williams helped save Mum's life I don't think there are words in the world to describe how much what he did meant to my family. He was a beautiful, generous man."
So is Ozzy Osbourne - despite the colourful language, despite the general air of the escaped lunatic about him. He is the eternal entertainer, showman, as much in life as on stage. Asked about going to prison for burglary in 1964, he said that he tried to find things he was good at. "I tried a bit of burglary but I was no good at that. I was useless. I didn't do any major burglary jobs. It was less than three weeks before I got caught. My dad said to me, 'That was very stupid. And I did feel very stupid. I didn't pay my fine and I got put in jail for a few weeks. It curbed my career in burglary."
Housebreaking's loss was heavy metal's gain. In 2002, he was invited to a dinner at the White House by then President George W Bush because, because as George said: "Ozzy, Mom loves your stuff".
I've met Ozzy (and Sharon; at The X Factor in London and at Elton John's ball at his house in the 'shires) a few times over the years and he has always been warm, unfailingly polite and considerate, sweet even. We had lunch in The Merrion hotel in 2009. Wearing a giant silver crucifix and more tattoos on his bare arms than your average Death Row resident, he told me to sit closer to him as he was going deaf. He then laughed that "people think I live in a Bavarian castle and sleep upside down!"
Looking like Rasputin with his face caught in a wind tunnel, Ozzy said he stopped drinking and taking drugs because his "world was crashing down. At one point I would be feeling pissed off or bad about something and I'd have a drink and feel OK. But then it started to turn on me and I'd have a drink and I'd feel worse. I went to myself one day: 'Why do I drink this stuff? Why do I take this dope? I don't like them really'. I had a real heart-to-heart inside with myself. I was sitting there thinking, 'What do I do?'" said Ozzy, pouring himself tea that day in The Merrion, before adding that one day he had a revelatory if heated conversation with his son Jack (who last year split from wife Lisa Stelly but is still sober.)
The multimillionaire Ozzy, who thought he had given his young son everything, said to him, "What have you got to moan about? I went out and worked and got you the best things in life. What did you ever need?" Jack looked at him and said: "A father."
"I never looked at it that way, Jack," Ozzy replied, before telling me that "you know, alcoholic thinking is a very selfish way of living; you think everyone is against you".
I asked Ozzy when he stopped being a victim. "When I suddenly got real with me," he replied. "I mean, my son Jack got sober before I did. He wasn't one of these kids who went, 'I'm sober. Why aren't you?' I knew. I knew after the first rehab visit what the problem was," he said meaning that he was alcoholic.
The daughter of one of the toughest operators ever to work in the music business - Don Arden - Sharon must have had some inkling of what she was getting involved in when she met Ozzy for the first time in 1971. She was working as a receptionist for her father, who had just signed Ozzy's group Black Sabbath.
"Ozzy walked into my father's office without shoes, with a water faucet dangling from his neck and sat on the floor," she told People magazine. "I was terrified." The terror can only have been unimaginable when her alcoholic, drug-addict beau blacked-out and attempted to kill her on September 2, 1989. "There was a really bad atmosphere in the house, very hostile," Sharon said in 2005. "I knew that something was going to happen. He went to bed. I was reading downstairs. He came down in his underpants, sat on the sofa right opposite me and said, 'We've come to a decision'. I was like, 'Yeah' - sort of sarcastic - 'What's the decision?' and he said, 'We're very sorry but you're going to have to die. There's no other option'." Ozzy told me during that repast in The Merrion that he used to black-out a lot from alcohol abuse and as such his biggest fear was waking up in a police cell and having an old woman say to a police officer: "Yes, that's the guy who ran my husband down," or "That's the guy who hit my son over the head with an axe."
That September morning in 1989 Ozzy woke up in a police cell. He looked up and asked a police officer, 'what am I here for?'
"I hadn't got a clue. It's the most horrific feeling. He read me a piece of paper, and said, 'You're charged with attempting to murder Mrs Sharon Osbourne'. I just went numb."
Not long after a court-mandated stay in rehab Ozzy and Sharon were back together again, more crazily in love than ever, until Ozzy did something stupid or crazy again and she would go on network TV in America and tell 20 million people that she was divorcing him, In May, 2016, Sharon said she had issued divorce proceedings after she learned Ozzy was having an affair. Or affairs. In keeping with the history of psychodrama in their love life, Ozzy revealed his infidelities after his wife had given him a few extra sleeping pills, which caused him to confess everything.
"I was a broken woman. He sent me an email that was meant for one of his women," Sharon, who was born on 9 October 1952 in London, said. "Then he took his sleeping pills. I put an extra two in his drink and asked him everything, and everything came out. He would have never told me the truth, ever," Sharon added of her rationale behind dosing her cheating hubby up on pills to get at the truth.
"He was ashamed, afraid. I knew how long. I knew who it was. I knew what he was thinking and then, you know, you leave." Until she took him back again. In July, Ozzy went on Good Morning America declared that the divorce was off. "It's just a bump in the road," he said. "It's back on track again."
"I forgive," Sharon told the audience on her US chat show, The Talk. "It's going to take a long time to trust, but we've been together 36 years, 34 of marriage... I just can't think of my life without him." For good measure she called Ozzy - who had been despatched for sex addiction therapy after his four-year-long affair with his former hair colourist Michelle Pugh - "a dirty dog" who was "gonna pay big".
Ozzy would also very publicly put a diamond wedding ring on his poor wife's finger in front of millions of viewers on The Talk in October, 2016.
"I will never not be good with my dad," Kelly told The Insider. "That does not mean that I think what he did wasn't f***ing stupid, but that's between him and I. I'm a daddy's girl. I love my dad."
In fairness, Ozzy Osbourne was never going to be the father of the year, of any year.
In February 1982, he was arrested for urinating while drunk at the Alamo Cenotaph in Texas. A few weeks earlier, Ozzy bit off the head of a bat thrown on stage at his concert in Des Moines, Iowa. He thought it was a rubber toy. It wasn't.
The legend of having a father who bites the heads off bats, it transpired, can come in useful. When Kelly was bullied at school, she would tell the perpetrators that her father would bite their heads off if it happened again. Unsurprisingly, given her troubled background, Kelly ended up in rehab four times before she reached her 20th birthday. The good news is that she has been sober for a year despite a brief and hellish relapse last year.
She thanked her brother Jack for helping her through it. "[He] picked me up from where I had fallen yet again without judgment," she wrote on Instagram last August. "He has held my hand throughout this whole process. "I still don't know who the f*** I am or what the f*** I want but I can wholeheartedly confess that I'm finally at peace with myself and truly starting to understand what true happiness is. I'm sorry if I let anyone down."
It would be easy to quote a certain Philip Larkin poem, This Be The Verse:
They f*** you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you.
In as much as any of this is true, the dynamic between Kelly's parents was never the stuff of good parenting manuals, whatever about the romantic novels of Mills & Boon. The chemistry between Sharon and Ozzy is more - as singer Lita Ford, who duetted with Ozzy on the hit Close My Eyes Forever, put it: "Ozzy's a lunatic and Sharon isn't."
And it is that toxic chemistry that produces its own set of problems. "One day he can be loving and romantic," Sharon once said, "but the next day he'll turn into this Jekyll and Hyde monster. I never know what I'm going to wake up with."
Sharon did know, however, the good man who was there for her in 2002 when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. "He slept in a chair by the side of my bed for 18 months," she told The Telegraph in 2010. "He was scared that if he closed his eyes for a moment, I would be dead when he opened them. He would carry me to the bathroom when I wet myself because of the medication, then shower me and put me back to bed. When my hair was falling out he would pick it out of my food: there was no disgust there, because he loves me unconditionally, just as I do him."
After all Ozzy had put Sharon - and their children - through, looking after his wife when she needed him most was not something for which he deserved a medal. As he wrote on Facebook in 2013: "I was an asshole to the people I love most, my family. However, I am happy to say that I am now 44 days sober. Just to set the record straight, Sharon and I are not divorcing. I'm just trying to be a better person."
In July, 2017, Ozzy and Sharon renewed their wedding vows in an intimate Las Vegas ceremony. Ozzy told Hello! magazine: "For me, this was actually our real wedding day. This is the one that I will remember. Sharon and I have been through so much, and this honestly feels like a new beginning."
It was anything but a new beginning for her career as a judge on The X Factor when last September Sharon made certain comments to Howard Stern on his US radio-show about the popular ITV talent contest. "Oh f**k, I don't have to have those kids singing in my face. Those little shits. They all suck. It is like, 'Hey, is this f***ing karaoke or what?'"
This was made worse when she also told Stern that The X Factor creator Simon Cowell was a "pain in the arse" whose raison d'etre was to get his "f**king fat face on TV". In an interview with The Sun, Cowell denied that her insulting comments would affect her employment status on the show.
That said, Sharon perhaps sensing the jig was up, posted on Facebook: "After watching the new season #XFactor unfold, I've seen the new judges finding their rhythm and they are doing brilliantly. Simon was so gracious to find me a spot on the live shows but at this point I really don't think I'm needed and I would honestly feel odd coming in at this point. So I have decided to pass on the series this year. I wish the show continued success and as much as I love to get my face on TV you will have to do without me this season."
It was, in fact, Sharon's husband's comments about another popular TV show that caused more of a frisson in the end. In an interview last year with The Big Issue, Ozzy snorted: "I said to Sharon the other day, 'What is the deal with these Kardashians? They don't sing, they don't act, they don't do anything'," he explained. "She told me, 'The trend now is that people want to be celebrities and make money for doing f***ing nothing.'"
The Black Sabbath singer and biter of bats was perhaps forgetting that The Osbournes was a prototype for Meet The Kardashians.
In late 2009, to promote her autobiography Fierce, Kelly told me she "sold her soul to the devil for that show [The Osbournes] but recognising it didn't stop the pain. She added that she "sat in my bedroom by myself doing drugs all day. I wouldn't pick up my phone. I wouldn't call people back. I wouldn't answer my door. I wouldn't get up and get dressed. I wouldn't leave my house". It is good to know now that America's most dysfunctional family - after the one in the White House - are pretty much able to leave the house once again.
Ozzy Osbourne plays the 3Arena in Dublin on January 30.
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