When it comes to icons in rock and roll, you'd be hard-pressed to find one more revered (or borderline insane) than Ozzy Osbourne. Best-known to teens of the 2000s as a reality TV father of a dysfunctional family on MTV, the singer has a discography of influential work that most musicians would kill to say they were responsible for.
Even at the age of 69, he continues to tour on a schedule that most younger bands couldn't hope to match, and his status as "The Prince of F***ing Darkness" (as he refers to himself) is concrete. But what exactly was it that caused him to gain as much infamy as he did?
Born John Michael Osbourne in the bombed-out industrial town of Aston, Birmingham, England, in 1948, Ozzy was the son of a factory worker mother and toolmaker father, living in a small two-bedroom house alongside his three older sisters and two younger brothers. The after-effects of World War II were readily visible in the town, and it would have a significant impact on his music.
Ozzy decided he wanted to be a rock star after first hearing "She Loves You" by The Beatles on the radio, and after several odd jobs and a stint in prison for robbery (seriously), he and his friend (and bassist) Terry "Geezer" Butler formed the band Rare Breed.
This band soon disbanded, but the two quickly formed a new one, Polka Tulk Blues, which was soon renamed to Earth after they added guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward. The band had little success at first, until they started performing one song in particular; "Black Sabbath," named after the Mario Bava horror film of the same name.
The band changed their name to match the song and soon began shifting their sound toward its heavier, darker vibe, and success came very soon afterwards. Black Sabbath had a string of massive hit records one after the other, and were considered by many to be the founders of this new form of music called "heavy metal."
Even more legendary than their music was their tolerance for substances, and after several years of touring and partying, Ozzy was fired from Black Sabbath due to his unreliability when it came to performing. This would only bolster his desire to perform, and he soon began a massively successful solo career, with hit albums like Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman.
It was around the release of Diary of a Madman in 1981 that Ozzy really managed to start finding himself at the center of controversy, largely thanks to his near-constant state of inebriation. After signing a deal with CBS Records, he attended a meeting with the label's executives, during which he had planned to release doves as a sign of peace.
However, in his inebriation, Ozzy instead grabbed one of the doves and bit its head off, spitting it to the ground with blood still dripping out of his mouth. It was shocking and unexpected even for him, and while it was the first time he had committed such actions with an animal, it wouldn't be the last, or even the most infamous.
In the span of a year, Ozzy and controversy would meet face to face once again. During a performance at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, Ozzy was surprised to find something tossed up on stage by one of the concert’s attendees. Upon examination, it was revealed that someone had thrown some kind of bat onstage, which the singer insists he believed to be made of rubber.
Doing what I’m sure made sense at the time (at least to his drug and alcohol-addled mind anyway), Ozzy reached down and grabbed the bat, then proceeded to stick it in his mouth and bite down on its neck. It was at this point that history was made, as it turned out that the bat was not only very real, but that it was also still alive and had just been stunned by the stage lights.
The bat proceeded to (understandably) panic and begin thrashing and biting as its head was bitten off, while a shocked Ozzy felt teeth sink into his lips and his mouth fill with blood. The show continued on from there, but afterwards he was rushed to the hospital and tested for rabies.
The bat incident has since become one of the most legendary moments in rock and roll history. It solidified Ozzy’s reputation as one of the scariest people to parents who thought his music was literally the tool of the Devil, and has since been parodied countless times by shows, other bands, and even the Ozzman himself. It’s often imitated, but never repeated, and it lives on as just one of many insane controversies found in rock music.
Oh, and he urinated on the Alamo the same year too. But that’s another story entirely.
Do you remember Ozzy biting the head off the bat?