“Whatever else I do,” heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne once said, “my epitaph will be: Ozzy Osbourne, born Dec. 3, 1948. Died, whenever. And he bit the head off a bat.”
Six million viewers — many of them teen-agers — tuned in to make “The Osbournes” the highest-rated show in MTV history. But their knowledge of Osbourne’s life and career probably doesn’t extend much beyond his imagined epitaph.
Looking to fill in the gap and capitalize on the show’s popularity, author Sue Crawford has written “Ozzy Unauthorized” (Michael O’Mara Books, $14.95), a bite-sized look at Osbourne’s amazing story.
The breezily written biography dwells on Osbourne’s personal travails and pays scant attention to his music. Crawford converts VH1’s “Behind the Music” formula perfectly into print.
While “Unauthorized” — written, as the title implies, without the cooperation of the Osbournes — does not do justice to Osbourne’s lasting influence on heavy metal, especially his work with Black Sabbath, the book does dish out the juicy details of his debauchery-laden past.
Early on, Osbourne was fascinated with death and with killing living things.
“I always had a big thing about the darker side of life, the morbid gray side of things,” Osbourne says in the book.
The catalog of morbid acts seems endless: He once tried to strangle a brother and set fire to a sister; he once took seven different drugs in one day; he shot a bunch of chickens in his back yard and later shot 17 family cats; he bit the head off a dove in a meeting with record company executives; and during a bender he attempted to strangle his beloved second wife, Sharon.
That last bit of bad behavior earned him three months in a rehabilitation facility and nearly ended his marriage. Sharon eventually forgave Ozzy for the incident, just as she has forgiven most of his sins.
In fact, in her acknowledgments, Crawford sends “a heartfelt thank you to Sharon Osbourne for keeping Ozzy alive for the last seven chapters; without her this would have been a very slim volume.”
Since Sharon bought out Osbourne’s contract from her father, Don Arden, his life has changed entirely. He no longer uses illegal drugs and rarely drinks. Where once he went through gobs of money, now Sharon manages his career with great success, landing them a spot on British Rich List in 2001 with a joint fortune of $58 million.
Add to that the reported $19.5 million the Osbournes will be paid by MTV for a second season of their reality sitcom antics, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
The big question that Crawford fails to answer in her book — and which is probably unanswerable by even Osbourne himself — is how much of his life is an act put on to amuse, entertain or frighten others, and how much is a real expression of his inner torment.
“When I’m cornered,” Osbourne says in the book, “when I’m surrounded by a lot of other people, I feel like I have to be an eccentric for them to like me.”
The secret of the TV show’s success is that because Osbourne’s bad-boy image is so deeply engrained in the public mind, eccentricity for him now means puttering around his house in track pants trying to discipline his own teen-age children, Jack and Kelly.
“Ozzy Unauthorized” only highlights what a radical departure Osbourne’s current home life is from his first 40 years on the planet.
In that sense, it is perfect summer reading. It won’t mess up a day at the beach by probing its subject too deeply.
© 2002, McClatchy/Tribune Information Services