Despite recent tabloid headlines, Ozzy Osbourne is not dead or even on his deathbed.
But had you asked him about that a year ago, he said he certainly felt like death.
Following a handful of health scares and show postponements and cancellations over the last 18 months, the 71-year-old metal icon and former Black Sabbath frontman is on the mend.
Though headlines as recent as last week put Osbourne near his end, he’s been out and about, meeting with fans and making the obligatory rounds to support his 12th solo album, “Ordinary Man,” his first solo release in a decade, which dropped on Feb. 21 on Epic Records.
We were invited to tag along with Osbourne this month through his L.A. promotional stops including a taped interview for “Ozzy’s Boneyard” with host Billy Morrison at the SiriusXM studio in Los Angeles, a tattoo promotion and album listening party for fans at Mark Mahoney’s Shamrock Social Club tattoo shop and an official family and friends release party at the Rainbow Bar & Grill in West Hollywood.
The final stop was Osbourne’s first music in-store appearance and signing in 10 years at Amoeba Music on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, during which he signed about 1,500 copies of the album for die-hard fans.
Music is The Best Medicine
“Writers come up with their best stuff when they’re miserable,” Osbourne said of the lyrical content of the album during the SiriusXM “Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ordinary Man’ Album Special.” It was done in front of a live audience on Feb. 13, which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut.
“Believe me, I’ve been pretty (expletive) miserable,” Osbourne continued.
Since announcing his final global jaunt, dubbed No More Tours 2, in February 2018, Osbourne has experienced an extended run of health-related issues. First, he contracted a staph infection that landed him at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angles for a week, but he recovered and rallied enough to headline a one-off, sold-out Ozzfest that New Year’s Eve at The Forum in Inglewood.
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However, in 2019, he developed an upper respiratory infection and bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, putting him in the hospital once again. He also took a tumble at his L.A. home in February that led to emergency neck surgery and two other operations to fix dislodged metal rods that had previously held his body together after a near-fatal ATV accident in 2003.
It was then, too, Osbourne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which the family kept quiet until an interview on “Good Morning America” just last month.
Since he was having to cancel or postpone so many dates, including stops at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and North Island Credit Union in Chula Vista, on Feb. 17 he announced that the entire tour was canceled so that he could receive a six-to-eight week treatment in Switzerland to help boost his immune system.
“When I do the North American tour down the road, everyone who bought a ticket for these shows will be the first ones in line to purchase tickets at that time,” he said optimistically via a press release. He remains adamant that he will be back and he will make good on those shows.
Though he was recovering, Osbourne was growing tired and frustrated with being restricted to lying about the house.
He was introduced to 29-year-old guitarist-vocalist and record producer Andrew Watt via his daughter, Kelly, and 24-year-old singer-songwriter and rapper Post Malone, who wanted Osbourne to collaborate on Malone’s single “Take What You Want.” The song also featured rapper Travis Scott and appeared on Malone’s third studio album, “Hollywood’s Bleeding.”
Through that, Osbourne and Watt decided to collaborate and release Ozzy’s first solo album in a decade.
“He got me doing something I wanted to do,” Osbourne said. “I was down on my bed and couch last year thinking it was all over and [the album] recharged my batteries.”
Heavy With a Splash of Humor
Watt enlisted Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith to record the music for the album in L.A. in just four days. Watt also called in Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello for solos. Watt then brought the music to Osbourne and they spent the next three weeks writing lyrics and the album was complete.
Throughout the album there are references to being in pain, looking back at life, facing his mortality and the fear of the unknown and afterlife. For the single and album title track, “Ordinary Man,” Watt was able to include fellow British musician Elton John, who’s also out on his final global jaunt, to sing on the song, which features the line “… and the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man.”
Though he certainly hasn’t led an ordinary life, how exactly does Osbourne want to be remembered?
“It’s not the way I want to be remembered [but] I know I’ll be the man that bit the head off the bat,” he said. “That will be my epitaph. It won’t be, ‘Here lies Ozzy Osbourne … he did a bit of good …’ It’s going to be ‘The bat-biting lunatic,’ which … I don’t care.”
Though a bulk of the tracks are lyrically heavy, there’s also some of Osbourne’s humor shining through. First, there’s “Scary Little Green Men,” which is a silly and catchy rock song about aliens. There’s a bluesy rock jam with Osbourne on harmonica and McKagan’s heavy bass groove that’s about a man from Germany who placed an ad asking for people to eat him called “Eat Me.” Osbourne added that it’s also about there not being more “meat restaurants” in Los Angeles, thanks to the cultural shift to more vegan/vegetarian-friendly eateries.
Then there’s “It’s a Raid,” a straight-forward punk rock song featuring Malone that loosely retells the story of recording Black Sabbath’s “Vol. 4” in Beverly Hills in the early ’70s. As legend has it, Osbourne tripped a house alarm while there was “a pile of cocaine and weed on the table,” he recalled with a grin. When the police showed up, Osbourne said he was going to flush the drugs, but decided to sniff up as much as he could instead.
“I was awake for four days,” he added.
Tattoos, Pizza and The Rainbow
To commemorate the release of the album, tattoo shops around the world participated in a listening party and Ozzy-flash tattoo promotion on Feb. 20 during which thousands of die-hard fans opted to get some fresh ink. Dozens of patrons visited Shamrock Social Club on Sunset Blvd. throughout the day and seemed to share the mentality of “Why not? It’s Ozzy!”
They swapped stories of favorite albums, songs and concerts and got a little surprise when the man himself walked in to say a quick “‘ello.”
“On one hand, I’m very honored, but the thing is, it’s there for the rest of their lives,” Osbourne said of his fans getting tattoos that pay tribute to him. “People, they come and go, but that tattoo will be there forever. I love The Beatles, but I haven’t got a Beatles tattoo.”
Across the street at the legendary Rainbow Bar & Grill that evening, friends and family gathered to celebrate the new record and to check out photos of Osbourne by Mark Weiss displayed around the venue.
While the Osbourne family — including manager/wife Sharon and daughter Kelly — dined on the venue’s famous pizza, a slew of famous faces including Rob Zombie, Machine Gun Kelly, Yungblud, Taryn Manning, Calico Cooper and Joe Manganiello turned out to pay their respects. It was a late night for Osbourne, who said he was a bit overwhelmed by the attention after having been cooped up for so many months, so he cut out a little early to head home and rest up for the Amoeba signing.
Doing It For The Fans
For Debbie Nichols of Covina, who kept her place in line at the signing on Feb. 21 for 33 hours, Osbourne is and always will be “a legend.” She was one of the more than a thousand fans that lined-up for a chance to see him.
“I’ve been listening to him since I was 13 years old and he got me through a lot,” she said, showing off an older Osbourne-inspired tattoo on her leg. She also hasn’t missed a Black Sabbath or solo Ozzy show in the L.A. area since 1974. “I’ll tell you what, he wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for Sharon.”
Rick James, also of Covina, was the first person in line. He got there 72 hours before the signing and wasn’t going to budge. He wasn’t a big fan of the Elton John-Osbourne collaboration on the new record, noting that he’s more old school and “Disco and metal do not go together,” but overall he’s happy with the finished product. “His music is inspiring and uplifting to me,” he said. “He has a sound … you know it’s him … it’s just Ozzy.”
Osbourne signed each CD and vinyl sleeve with such care. He’s not a scribbler, so he was focused on making each signature legible and a bit unique. Fans told him all kinds of stories from naming their kids after him to celebrating their sobriety by listening to his music. They brought him gifts — original artwork, rings, necklaces, roses and even a carefully rolled joint. One young fan, an adorable little girl, looked up at the Prince of Darkness and offered a simple and shy, “Hi Ozzy.” He returned her greeting with a sweet smile.
“The fans are what have kept me alive,” he said bluntly. “I knew they had been camping out and about two-thirds of the way through I got a bit fatigued, but I had to keep going. They waited all that time and I’m a little uncomfortable … so what? They deserve my effort.”