How I came to love Ozzy and Sharon back in the 1980s
“Don’t tell Sharon I’m here,” Ozzy Osbourne requested as I let him into my room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. Okay, Oz, it’s cool, our secret. “Got anything to drink?”
I didn’t. But the mini-bar sure did, and Osbourne opened it up and was pondering its little liquor bottles with an obvious appetite. “Please don’t start drinking those,” I requested with a chuckle. “They are so overpriced.”
Ozzy looked up and over at me with a smile. “Trust me, I know.” Far better than I ever would I am sure.
Osbourne had somehow slipped away from his bodyguard. “The reason why Ozzy has a bodyguard is to protect his body from Ozzy,” is how my boss, indie publicist Michael Jensen, would later not so jokingly put it.
I was in Philly for Ozzy’s two shows at the Spectrum and to build my relationships with the hard rock singer and his wife/manager Sharon Osbourne as the Ozz embarked on his 1984 Bark at the Moon tour. I’d recently made the full-court shift from rock journalism to the dark side as a music publicist by signing on to be the New York office for Los Angeles-based Jensen Communications. For the next five months I’d be arranging interviews and issuing review tickets for the media as Ozzy toured the arenas of America.
My bar talk description of my time working with the accused messenger of Satan and future reality TV star is that I had a minor recurring part on The Osbournes: The Prequel. Kids Kelly and Jack hadn’t even been born yet (the former was in utero); behind the curtains oldest Osbourne daughter Aimee was a baby in a bassinet on the couple’s tour bus and in their hotel rooms, minded by a nanny.
I’d met them both before: Sharon (briefly) when she was still Sharon Arden and working for her music business mogul father Don Arden on an Electric Light Orchestra tour in 1978. And Ozzy twice before, interviewing him for the syndicated weekly music feature I did from ’77 to ’84 that appeared in hundreds of daily newspapers.
I first met Ozzy as he opened the door to the Arden suite – a quite large loft-y style space with two-story floor-to-ceiling windows – in New York City’s Helmsley Palace hotel. He was wearing hospital scrubs from what I assumed was the stint in rehab he’d just finished. His arms and hands were quite noticeably and vigorously shaking in what I thought was a quite literal case of delerium tremens (years later it was diagnosed as Parkin Disease). Yet he seemed to pay it no mind though it was almost painful to watch him light a cigarette.
Yet there are few people more charming and winning to spend an hour with than Ozzy Osbourne. As anyone who watched the show knows, he’s disarmingly honest about himself. In that first interview he won me over as he talked about an extended alcoholic blackout. “I started drinking one afternoon in a pub in London and woke up five fooking days later in Germany and had no fooking clue how the fook I got there,” he told me with an intoxicating mix of befuddlement and bemusement.
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You almost can’t help but identify when he recalled his notorious incident where he bit the heads off of doves of a meeting with execs from his record label. “I had these two doves under my coat, and the plan was to throw them up into the air to celebrate our deal with CBS and working together,” he told me. “But it was this fooking board meeting and I started getting so… fooking… bored….” So to liven things up… chomp!
My favorite bit he told me about that incident: “Sharon screamed, ‘You didn’t!!’ jumped up and ran to a door thinking it would get her out of the room, and ran straight into a fooking closet.”
The next time I spoke to him was after he’d also bitten the head off a bat in 1982. “Everyone’s talking about what I danger I am to animals,” he told me. “But I bought a donkey that was going to be put down and gave it to Sharon for Christmas. There’s a headline for your story: Ozzy Osbourne Saves an Animal!” He was and remains endlessly entertaining.
I can’t think of another rock star I’ve met with less of a star attitude and who can so easily make fun of himself and get a kick out of it to boot. He’s quite witty, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without even trying. One can say he is a bit daft – the result, I imagine of growing up dirt poor in Birmingham, England, losing a few brain cells and scrambling some synapses from drug and alcohol abuse welll beyond what most all of us can ever imagine, and just who he is – yet the man is not stupid, and at times shows himself to be quite bright, wise and insightful.
As a PR client, he was pretty much a dream. Numerous times writers would call me after doing phone interviews with him to rave about what a great guy and wonderful interview he was. And almost like clockwork, every few weeks I’d get a call from Jensen: “You won’t believe what Ozzy did last night.” It would go out on the wire services and our client was whatever the equivalent of viral was back then.
You just can’t help but love Ozzy, because at heart – and his is quite a large one – he’s just a big sweetie. That’s one big reason why The Osbournes was a hit.
As for Sharon, one can’t help but respect her. Wife/managers in the biz are often perceived as incompetent harpies – can’t discount male attitudes there; I’ve known a number of them that I hold in esteem – but Sharon grew up in the business and obviously has how it all works down cold. Her father was well known for being a rapacious thug (think Tony Soprano with an English accent). But in my dealings with her she was not even so much tough as firm yet fair.
And let’s get real: Without her in his life, Ozzy would have been a dead man long ago. Her firm yet fair way I am sure helped him regain precious sobriety time and again. Plus it was dead obvious back then that she truly loved Ozzy, if sometimes in an almost protective parental way. But not always – it seemed to me she largely let Ozzy be Ozzy, a sure sign of genuine love for another soul.
What she’s done with his career – the TV show, Ozzfest, the current big Black Sabbath final tour, to name a few coups – is nothing short of remarkable, and marks Sharon Osbourne as something of an entertainment marketing genius (Ozzy is one of England’s wealthiest entertainers). And of late she’s made herself into a rather compelling media personality in her own right.
Another big reason why The Osbournes was such a big hit is that it was reality TV in which its subjects were actually for real. (Less than two months after that weekend in Philly I went to see This Is Spinal Tap the night it opened and felt like my life was passing in front of my eyes,) The people you see on the TV show and read about are not at all that different from those I worked with more than three decades ago.
As for Ozzy’s visit to my hotel room back then, I was able to pass him off to the room of a photographer without him getting even one bottle out from the mini-bar. And when his road manager called looking for Ozzy, I was able to tip him off without it seeming like I busted him.
Ever since that time I’ve been rooting for the Blizzard of Ozz and his spouse, and just tickled to see them win time and again. And now that they are (at least for now) split up – Sharon saying she’s finally had enough is the understatement of the last few centuries; she has the patience of a host of saints – I am still rooting for them: Hoping that without Sharon in his life that Ozzy will remain on the rails, and that Sharon gets some comfort from knowing just what a huge good deed her marriage was. After all, they gave me both back then and even more so in retrospect one of the most fun working experiences of my life.