'Biography: The Nine Lives Of Ozzy Osbourne' offers kaleidoscopic look at legacy of heavy metal's 'Iron Man'
Spoilers for 'Biography: The Nine Lives Of Ozzy Osbourne'
A&E will be airing a special documentary called 'Biography: The Nine Lives Of Ozzy Osbourne' on Monday, September 7 at 9 pm ET. The 86-minute feature promises an in-depth, extensive look at the personal life and music career of a phenomenal rock star, the living legend we all know and love as Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of Darkness. Presented as nine distinct segments or "lives" of Ozzy, the documentary chronicles the salient episodes and highlights from the entertainer's life, from his humble beginnings and subsequent heyday with heavy metal titans Black Sabbath to his even bigger solo career and latter-day fame as a reality TV celebrity. And as the film summarizes his numerous achievements and outlandish antics from the last 50 years, we also gain a deeper understanding of the man himself, as we explore the madness and mythology surrounding his larger-than-life persona.
Besides archival footage, voice-over animations, and candid moments with Ozzy himself, we also have a selection of interviews with members of the Osbourne family, such as his wife and manager Sharon, and his children Aimee, Kelly, and Jack. A handful of Ozzy's friends and fellow musicians also make cameo appearances, including Rick Rubin, Ice-T, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Jonathan Davis, Post Malone, and Black Sabbath members. This film was co-produced and directed by Greg Johnston, with Sharon, Jack, and Ozzy all serving as executive producers.
As Ozzy admitted at the start of the documentary, "I think there's a wild man in everybody." He then added, “I’m a split personality. Ozzy Osbourne and John Osbourne are two different people. John Osbourne is talking to you now, but if you wanted Ozzy Osbourne, it takes over.” This gives us the first glimpse of a man who was born to entertain, transforming himself into a crowd-pleasing superstar with the flick of a switch. But Ozzy wasn't always this goofy and extroverted. While growing up as John Michael Osbourne in Birmingham, England, he was actually quite anxious as a child and was often bullied. He was also a poor student who suffered from dyslexia, so in order to escape being picked on, he became a class clown, entertaining people out of necessity. He then later got swallowed up by drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the humdrum working-class existence he was doomed to live, following in the footsteps of his parents who both worked at a factory. After various odd-end jobs that included stints at the slaughterhouse and being put in jail for stealing, Ozzy knew he had to escape his monochromatic existence.
After being inspired by the radio, the Beatles, and the American blues musicians of the post WW2 era, Ozzy soon realized he had a passion for music. His father bought him a Shure microphone and a 50W Vox amplifier, a boon that would speedily transform his life. As it turned out, singers who had their own equipment were in demand, and Ozzy's search for a band (his ad read "Ozzy Zig Requires Gig") was soon complete when he met Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, and Geezer Butler, the founding members of Black Sabbath. Although still scruffy and unable to afford shoes, Ozzy elevated himself as a blues singer, and the band started regularly practicing next to a movie theater. It was their rehearsal space that gave them the brainwave -- if people paid money to see horror films, why don't we start making scary music? The dark and mystical ethos of Black Sabbath was consequently born, and the heavy metal pioneers went on to become national superstars, with a gobsmacked Ozzy at the helm. His high voice became his calling card, occupying a rarefied space above the monstrous riff-heavy music that Black Sabbath was busy doling out.
But the sudden fame and influx of drugs, women, and money didn't do Ozzy any favors. He was constantly getting intoxicated and raising hell, and his unreliability was making things difficult for his bandmates. His beloved father died and Ozzy was also getting divorced from his first wife, Thelma, with whom he had two children. As he reminisced on this difficult time, Ozzy candidly admitted that he was terrible at dealing with loss. It further drove into a downward spiral of drinking and hard drugs, by which time his Sabbath mates had had enough and fired him from the band.
Enter Sharon Arden, the daughter of Don Arden, Sabbath's manager at the time. It was Sharon who believed enough in Ozzy to help him forge a solo career, while also keeping him on a tight leash that limited his addictive personality and thus cause minimum damage. After finding a kindred spirit in the late great Randy Rhoads, Ozzy began to find hope again. He consequently released two blistering solo albums, 'Blizzard of Ozz' and 'Diary of a Madman', which cemented him as an even bigger superstar. But then things took a tragic turn when Randy Rhoads was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1982, and a part of Ozzy died along with him. But helped by Sharon, who became his wife in the same year, and by surrounding himself with superlative musicians, Ozzy continued to push the limits of his craft and became a multi-platinum-selling and Grammy-winning music icon by the '90s.
His notoriety was no doubt helped by his maniacal persona and crazy onstage antics. He famously bit the head off a dove while meeting with record executives, then later similarly decapitated a bat onstage, and was also arrested for urinating on the site of the Alamo. But through it all, Sharon emerged as the calm voice of reason and restraint, shepherding Ozzy in his career, while helping him build a multi-million dollar empire. But even Sharon must have been having second thoughts when Ozzy nearly choked her to death in 1989 while high out of his mind. Thankfully, he was sent to rehab (for the second time) and emerged determined to become a better man for the sake of his wife and three children. As Sharon later told him, "Either I'm going to kill you or you're going to kill me."
But all that drug use started to take its toll on Ozzy, and he started suffering health complications. He was diagnosed with a hereditary tremor and was forced to take a break from music, signing off with his No More Tours farewell tour. He became a devoted family man in Buckinghamshire, England, and spent many golden days of peace and playful activity with his wife and kids. As Sharon later admitted, he was funny, kind, sweet, and generous. But entertaining crowds was always in Ozzy's blood, and he and Sharon later founded the hit music festival Ozzfest, after being rejected by Lollapalooza.
In the latter stages of Ozzy's career, his star shone brightly once again, as the MTV reality show 'The Osbournes' made him a household name. His sweary antics and lovable TV dad persona made him instantly relatable, and the world opened the hearts to Ozzy in an even bigger manner. He was even invited to the White House, an unheard-of achievement for a rock star, which signified that he was one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. But like all things in Ozzy's life, good things were followed by bad. Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002, and while she was undergoing chemotherapy, Ozzy had a horrific ATV accident that broke multiple bones in his body, including his ribs and collarbone. But true to form, he discharged himself a month later to recover at home, while Sharon gradually also made a full recovery. As his daughter Kelly later admitted, Ozzy was no ordinary man, he was "the real Iron Man."
'Ordinary Man' is, incidentally, the title of Ozzy Osbourne's latest hit album from February this year, released after he hit the ripe age of 71. It was recorded with a slew of celebrity collaborators, while Ozzy was still battling and recovering from a variety of health complications that included the onset of Parkinson's disease. So what really sustained this intense drive and unprecedented longevity, which made the 'Iron Man' singer such a world-conquering hero? As we came to find out, Ozzy did it by following his musical passion, all in the spirit of rock 'n' roll. He was a man of the people, and entertaining arenas full of people was better than any drugs he could find.
As his fellow musicians and admirers declared, he was charismatic and inspirational, a "badass" who always had a "huge smile" on his face. Rubin also admitted he didn't know what music would have been like without Ozzy, and insisted that he had "changed everything" in the course of his career. His daughter Kelly also stated that he was "the most irresistible madman you will ever meet," while his son Jack acknowledged, "His contributions were far greater than his faults." And as his adoring wife Sharon noted while beaming with pride, “He left one of the biggest rock bands in the world and became bigger. A credible artist on his own, finding great new talent. And then made it huge on TV. Nobody had done that.” This documentary proves that Ozzy is no ordinary man, and we're privileged to still have him in our lives as he enters the final stages of his career. Perhaps Ozzy summed it up best with his closing words in the documentary: "I'll retire when I can hear them nail a lid on my box. And then, I'll do an encore... I'm the Prince of Darkness!"