Ozzy Osbourne: ‘I will get back on stage if it f***ing kills me’

The singer known as The Prince of Darkness has recruited Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and his old Black Sabbath partner Tony Iommi for new album ‘Patient Number 9’. He talks to Kevin E G Perry about being shy, moving back to England, how love saved him from booze and drugs, and his determination to finish his farewell tour

Saturday 03 September 2022 18:22 BST
<p>Ozzy Osbourne: ‘I’m trying to get as much done as I can before the ultimate final curtain’</p>

Ozzy Osbourne: ‘I’m trying to get as much done as I can before the ultimate final curtain’

Ozzy Osbourne is at home in Los Angeles, contemplating the passage of time. When he first came to this city to record, he was a wide-eyed, golden-voiced Brummie lad of 23, with a passion for fringed stagewear and as many cereal boxes full of cocaine as he could lay his nostrils on. The year was 1972, and heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath were in sun-kissed California making their stone-cold classic Vol 4. When it was done, their hell-raising frontman flew back to England and celebrated by swallowing 10 tabs of LSD. “We used to take it all the f***ing time,” he recalls, that Aston accent still clear as a ringing bell. Osbourne wandered into a field and spent an hour talking to a horse before it turned round and told him to “f*** off”. He’s a little hazy on the rest of the details. “I’m sorry,” he says, impishly. “You’ll have to ask the horse.”

Fifty years on, Osbourne is once again plotting a return to England with an explosive new album tucked under his arm. On the eve of his 13th solo record, Patient Number 9, Osbourne and his wife Sharon have put their stately mansion in LA’s leafy Hancock Park up for sale for $18m (£15.5m). After two decades here they’ve decided to go back to their Grade II-listed Buckinghamshire estate, Welders House. It’s time for a change. These days Osbourne walks with the aid of a black cane, and the only pure white lines are the roots near his centre-parting. There’ll be no high-powered psychedelics for tea this time. “I’ve missed going to the cake shop in Beaconsfield,” says Osbourne, infectiously enthusiastic about the move. “It’s still England. It’s lovely. I’ve missed British people. I’m not American and I want to come home, you know?”

The 73-year-old is in fine form, sharp and witty despite various physical ailments. In June, Osbourne underwent “life-altering” surgery to deal with neck injuries he first sustained in a 2003 quad-biking accident, which were exacerbated by a fall in 2019. That same year he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and more recently he’s survived a tussle with Covid. Today, though, he’s enjoying that just-home-from-holiday bounce. He’s been in Hawaii with Sharon, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. “I feel great today,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I’m back off holiday and I’m not spending any more money.” He bought his wife a ruby necklace for the occasion; she got him a ruby-encrusted skull ring. What’s the secret of their long-lasting marriage? “Love, I suppose,” says Osbourne. “If it wasn’t for Sharon, I’d be dead. I was doing f***ing huge amounts of drugs and booze. I never stopped. People wouldn’t know if I was gonna go through the door, the roof or the window. Now I don’t drink or smoke or f***ing do any of that s***. I’m f***ing boring!”

It’s true that Osbourne is now nine years sober, but time spent in his company is never boring. He proved as much when MTV’s The Osbournes became one of the earliest reality TV hits, drawing millions of viewers to the escapades of Ozzy, Sharon and their kids Jack and Kelly. That was 20 years ago. Jack now has four children of his own, while Kelly is having a baby with Sid Wilson of Slipknot. “Sid’s a really nice guy,” says Osbourne, who helped the masked metal band land their first concert tour with Ozzfest in 1999. “We get on really well. Usually when somebody comes in, you go, ‘I don’t like him,’ but he’s a really good guy.” The show is being rebooted by the BBC under the title Home to Roost, covering the family’s return to their UK home.

The Osbournes in a promo shot for their MTV series in 2002

While Osbourne says he’s not much of a fan of reality TV these days, preferring YouTube videos about the Second World War and The Beatles to Love Island, fans of the show will be happy to hear he’s still being kept on his toes by the family’s ever-growing wolf pack. “I now have something like 11 or 12 dogs, and they’ve kept me so busy through this f***ing pandemic,” he says happily. “I love them. Pomeranians are the best f***ing dogs, they really are. Great characters.” The hardest part of dealing with a pack that size? “The amount of s*** in the morning,” sighs Osbourne. “They eat each other’s s***, so at least you don’t have to clean too much up! I don’t understand why some dogs eat s*** and some don’t? When I see a dog do that, he goes to the back of the line. I won’t let him lick me ever again.”

Offscreen, the real-life Osbournes remain an admirably tight-knit bunch, and Kelly played a key role in her father’s recent musical resurgence. It was through his daughter that Osbourne met Grammy-winning producer Andrew Watt, best known for his work with the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. At the time, reeling from the Parkinson’s diagnosis and his painful fall, Osbourne was at his lowest ebb. That was before Watt shepherded him through the production of 2020 comeback album Ordinary Man, the singer’s best-received music in years.

Watt was back behind the desk for Patient Number 9, and Osbourne credits the producer with helping him to focus and encouraging his songwriting. “Andrew’s really good,” he says. “We’ll have a conversation and he’ll say: ‘What you just said would be a great line.’” Back when Osbourne was starting out with Black Sabbath, lyrics weren’t part of his job. “In Sabbath, Geezer [Butler, the band’s bassist] wrote the lyrics and sometimes I’d be singing them going: ‘What the f*** does this mean?’” he says affectionately. “He’s got his own world, but me, I could sing about any old s***.” On Patient Number 9 Osbourne sings about lunatic asylums, vampires, and just plain old bad days. The whole thing is shot through with his characteristic humour – on “No Escape from Now” he even quotes Jim Carrey’s The Mask, bellowing: “Somebody stop me!”. “Sometimes I think people can go too far out with lyrics,” he explains. “You’ve got to have a book with the album to understand what they’re singing about! Me and Andrew write lyrics the everyday man can understand.”

Black Sabbath: Tony Iommi, Osbourne and Geezer Butler with their Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2014

While Ordinary Man featured guest appearances from the likes of Elton John and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, for Patient Number 9 Watt urged Osbourne to extend an invitation to an even wider range of musical icons. Osbourne, somewhat surprisingly for a notorious wildman, says he took some encouraging. “I’m shy, me,” he says. “I don’t like to ask anybody.” Former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck was the first to agree, lending a blistering solo to the album’s title track. “He did it in one go,” recalls Osbourne. “It blew my mind.”

Next, Watt suggested approaching a musician Osbourne was certain couldn’t stand him: Eric Clapton. Like Beck, the guitarist was an early icon to Osbourne: by the time Black Sabbath released their debut album, Clapton had already made seminal records with The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith, and there was graffiti across the country declaring him “God”. Osbourne, then, was mortified when he believed he’d made a fool of himself at the International Rock Awards in 1989. He was there to present an award with Grace Jones, and afterwards the pair had their photo taken with Clapton. “So there’s me, Grace Jones and Clapton,” recalls Osbourne. “This photographer goes: ‘Give us your Ozzy face!’ You know, the mad face. I’m going: ‘No, no, just take the photo.’ Eventually I did the f***ing thing. After the photos were taken I convinced myself that Eric Clapton got on the phone and said: ‘Pull that photograph, I never want anyone to see it.’ I never saw it in any magazine.”

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A decade later, Osbourne ran into Clapton in Los Angeles at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – a programme both men have publicly credited with aiding their sobriety. “I’m thinking: ‘Oh no, he’s finally going to tell me what a c*** he thinks I am,’” says Osbourne with a wince. “End of the meeting, I do a beeline across the road and get away. Three weeks later, he’s there again. I try to leave, and just as I get across the road I hear: ‘OZZY!’ I’m thinking: ‘Oh f***.’ He goes: ‘Ozzy, it’s so good to see you in the rooms. I’m so glad you’re getting sober.’ We had a fantastic chat and it broke the ice. Believe it or not, a few weeks later I picked up a magazine and right there is the picture of me, Grace Jones and Eric Clapton!” He cackles with laughter. Turns out Osbourne was just paranoid all along. “Well,” he says. “I wrote the song, didn’t I?”

‘Give us your Ozzy face!’ – Osbourne gets some support in 1982

Also on the album is the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died in March at the age of 50 while on tour in Colombia. Osbourne says he was shocked by the news, although the pair had only spent a little time together. “We wrote this song ‘Degradation Rules’ and we were trying to get something to rhyme,” Osbourne recalls. “He taught me: ‘RedTube rules.’ RedTube is a free porn channel. That’s what I remember him for. He seemed like a nice guy, and his kids must have been f***ing devastated.” He adds that he empathises with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, having been through a similarly gruelling experience in 1982 when guitarist Randy Rhoads was killed in a small plane that crashed into the tour bus. “I’ve been through that f***ing thing when you lose a band member,” he says grimly. “It ain’t much fun.”

I’ve been through that f***ing thing when you lose a band member. It ain’t much fun

Ozzy Osbourne

If there’s one musician Osbourne would still love to enlist for a collaboration, it’s Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. “I don’t know whether he was out of town or he changed his number or whatever, but I never heard back from him,” says Osbourne. “But there’s always the next album!” Does that mean he’s planning to work with Watt again to complete their trilogy? “I don’t know, but I’d like to say yes,” says Osbourne. “I hope we’ll do another album.”

Even with all the other guitar greats on this album, from the moment standout track “No Escape from Now” kicks in, you can feel by the weight of the riffs alone that this is Tony Iommi announcing his presence. This marks the first time the Sabbath guitarist has ever appeared on one of Osbourne’s solo records, and the magic that exists between the pair remains palpable. “I said to Andrew: ‘F*** you, Tony ain’t gonna do it!’” Osbourne recalls. “When he said ‘Sure’, I was going: ‘F*** me!’ My impression of me ain’t what people think.” He rates their sludgy, doom-laden collaboration as worthy of inclusion on the band’s final album. “That would have made a great track for 13,” he says. “It’s a great Sabbath track.”

Ozzy Osbourne discussing Black Sabbath’s album ‘Sabotage’ at the Bronze Records offices, 1975

When 13 was released in 2013 it gave Sabbath their first UK No 1 album since Paranoid in 1970, and their first ever in the US. It’s a feat Osbourne has never matched as a solo artist, and he’s far too modest to guess whether Patient Number 9 could be the record to do it. “I don’t like to say,” he says. “If it does, I’ll have a s***-eating grin.” I remind him that this is his 13th solo album, perhaps a good omen. He’s not so sure. “I’ll be honest with you, when I’m working out on my Lifecycle [exercise bike], I try and avoid looking at 13,” he mutters darkly. “That’s true! When I get to 10 [miles], I look the other way until it gets to 15.”

Sabbath recently enjoyed a mini-reunion when Osbourne and Iommi appeared together as part of the closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, performing their deathless classics “Iron Man” and “Paranoid”. It was a last-minute decision for Osbourne to sing, but one he’s thrilled he gambled on. “About a week before we went there, Sharon said to me: ‘They’ve asked you to close the Commonwealth Games,’ and I said: ‘Sharon, I can’t even f***ing stand up!’” he explains. “Then I thought: I’ve only got to stand there with a f***ing microphone. I haven’t got to leap around and go crazy. If I fall over they’ll think it’s part of the act anyway – they’ll just think I was drunk! So I said: ‘F*** it Sharon!’ And you know what? It was great.”

Osbourne at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony

The performance was even more special for having taken place in the band’s hometown. “Driving back to the hotel, I went: ‘F*** me, that’s our school there!’” says Osbourne. “The venue was less than half an hour from the school I went to with Tony Iommi. I flashbacked to when I was there, and if somebody had said to me, ‘In so many years you’ll be closing the Commonwealth Games,’ I’d have thought they were f***ing mad.”

What a long, strange trip it’s been since Iommi and Butler first responded to a handwritten sign in a local musical instruments shop that read: “Ozzy Zig Needs Gig – has own PA.” When they eventually got hold of the prospective singer, he turned up with a shaved head, wearing a factory gown, no shoes or socks, a chimney brush over his shoulder and a sneaker on a dog lead. “And it ain’t over yet!” booms Osbourne. “The most valuable asset I have is time. I haven’t done an album this quick in years, not since Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. People ask me: What’s the deal? I’m trying to get as much done as I can before the ultimate final curtain.”

His biggest dream is to get back on the road. His farewell tour, No More Tours II, had been due to resume in May 2020 before being torpedoed by both Osbourne’s health issues and the Covid pandemic. It’s obvious how much it would mean to Osbourne to play in front of his fans again, and he’s worked out a plan to get himself back to tour fitness. “I’ve made a pledge,” he explains. “I will do whatever is physically possible until the summer of next year. If by then I can’t, then I can’t, but I’ll have given it my best. I’m pretty confident. I will get back on stage if it f***ing kills me, because if I can’t do it then that’s what’s gonna happen anyway, I’m gonna f***ing die. I love to see them audiences.”

He sounds buoyant, driven, motivated. After a lifetime of hell-raising, Osbourne has beaten the odds to become one of rock’s great survivors. “If I have to crawl up there, I will do it,” he says. “You ain’t seen the last of Ozzy Osbourne, I can f***ing tell you that.”

Patient Number 9’ is out on 9 September

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