“My name is John Michael Osbourne, [but] not many people call me John,” Ozzy Osbourne says at the start of the upcoming documentary, Biography: The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne. “They say ‘Oz’ or ‘Ozzy.’ And if I walked down the street and someone said, ‘John,’ I wouldn’t stop.”
The film, which airs on A&E at 9 p.m. ET on Monday, offers an interior look at how the heavy-metal pioneer thinks by breaking his life into nine sections, beginning with his difficult youth in Birmingham, England on through his chart-topping success with Black Sabbath and as a solo artist and reality-TV fame. The connecting thread through his life story? How Ozzy always comes back swinging after facing one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another: getting fired from Black Sabbath, the death of guitarist Randy Rhoads, a near-fatal ATV crash, and now Parkinson’s disease. The doc features new and archival interviews with the Osbourne family, Korn’s Jonathan Davis, producer Rick Rubin, and many others, as well as Ozzy himself, who at 71 scored a Number Three hit this year with his latest album, Ordinary Man.
Biography frequently shows Ozzy watching clips of his life, marveling at how he survived his hardships. At some points, the footage was too heavy for him. “When I put it on for him, there were times when he walked out of the room,” says Jack Osbourne, one of Biography’s executive producers. “I was like, ‘If he’s getting uncomfortable by the things that we’re talking about, it means we’re getting honest enough.’”
But despite having to review several unpleasant episodes of his life, Ozzy was most affected by watching Jack cry over Ozzy’s granddaughter Pearl singing “Crazy Train” with her elementary school class. “I hate to see my kids crying,” Ozzy tells Rolling Stone. “It fucks me up.”
“It was just like this strange thing to look back and be like, ‘Oh, my daughter’s grandfather is Ozzy, who is my dad,’” Jack adds. “I can’t quite put it into words, but it just moved me. Pearl was going to be in the school play six months after my dad’s surgery [due to a horrific late-night fall], so we made that a goal for him: ‘You need to get on your feet and be strong enough to see Pearl do your song.’ So it meant a lot to me in so many different layers.”
Pearl’s performance is not in the film, but Ozzy says he enjoyed it even though he was still in pain from his surgery. “My dad is not one for public emotion,” Jack says. “He’s pretty English and stoic when it comes to that, but he was certainly moved by it. When he was writing ‘Crazy Train’ with Randy Rhoads nearly 40 years ago, I definitely don’t think he ever thought that his granddaughter would be performing it with her whole class.”
Although Ozzy had not yet had a chance to see the full documentary before speaking with Rolling Stone, he says the way director R. Greg Johnston, a producer on The Osbournes, framed his life has impressed him. As he looks back on all of his life’s accomplishments in the film, he now sees his story differently than he used to.
Watching Biography, it’s striking how much you have overcome — getting fired, your health issues, the death of a good friend — and yet you always pushed forward. Why do you think that is?
You know what? I’m here for a purpose. So many of my past friends are no longer here. And when you’re riding the crest of the wave, you think you’re there forever but you’re not.
Yes, but so much of what you’ve experienced might cripple the average person. Why have you persevered?
What else am I gonna do? Sit around and remember when I was famous? As far as what I do as a job, it keeps me alive. I suppose I was probably born to do what I do. My life has been nothing but an amazing journey.
How have you been handling quarantine, especially since you’re still trying to feel better from your surgery?
I’m still in recovery. When they cut into the spine in my neck, they severed my nerves and I got this thing called neuropathy. I’d never heard of neuropathy before; it’s just nerve pain. That’s giving me a lot of grief now. But, you know, I ain’t dead.
Are there more steps for you to take to feel better?
I’m exercising a lot. I’ve got a therapist that comes down and helps me. But it’s like six steps forward and eight back. Very slow recovery. I ain’t good at being laid up.
How are you keeping from going nuts?
I’ve got my little room. I’m scrapping around and do what boys do. I’ve got air rifles, music.
Exclusive Clip – Biography: The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne
What music have you been playing lately?
I’m trying to write something new with [Ordinary Man producer] Andrew [Watt], but he had Covid. He was very sick, and he still is. The thing about this fucking Covid thing is, I don’t think they really know what they’re fucking dealing with; it changes. One time, we’re told it’s harmful to older people; now it’s also harmful to young kids. It’s fucking weird.
But [Andrew] was one of the first ones to get it. And he’s still kind of sick with it. He had a good day and a bad day, you know? It fucks your lungs up.
How has writing been going?
We were supposed to be doing it, but he texted me the other day and said, “I have to ask for some time.” I said, “Whenever you’re ready, call me.”
Do you have a lot of song ideas?
I have a couple ideas; not many. With Andrew, it just comes out in the moment. He’s a good guy and a good producer. One of my favorites [from Ordinary Man] is one of the last songs we did, “Today Is the End.” For some reason, that stays in my head a lot.
I’m sure you can’t wait to sing those songs onstage sometime.
Oh, man. I was talking to [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony Iommi the other day, and he was saying, by the looks of it, we’re gonna be a fucking thing of the past in the respect that there’ll be no more indoor gigs.
Tony has said that he’d still like for Black Sabbath to play live again sometime.
Not for me. It’s done. The only thing I do regret is not doing the last farewell show in Birmingham with [drummer] Bill Ward. I felt really bad about that. It would have been so nice. I don’t know what the circumstances behind it were, but it would have been nice. I’ve talked to him a few times, but I don’t have any of the slightest interest in [doing another gig]. Maybe Tony’s getting bored now.
This year marks half a century since the first two Black Sabbath albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, came out. What does that anniversary mean to you?
That’s unbelievable. When they came out, I remember thinking, “Well, this will be all right for a few years.” Fucking 50 years later, it’s still going. Those guys my brothers, you know? They go back to my childhood. It’s more than a friendship with me and them guys; it’s a family. I don’t know any other people as long as I’ve known them.
It sounds like you’re still close, since you and Tony have been talking.
Out of all of them, he’s been the one I’ve been most in touch with [since my surgery]. He’s been really keeping me going and giving me words of encouragement. I’ve heard from Bill once or twice. I haven’t heard much from Geezer, but that’s Geezer.
Once the pandemic is done, are you eager to get back on the road with your solo band?
Yes, I’m working out every day. I’m doing the best I can. I’ve got to do gigs. I haven’t done my last gig yet. Even if it’s just to do one gig, I will do a gig. Then I’ll feel like I finished my job.
One of my favorite parts of the Biography doc is when you’re asked about retirement, and you just say, “Fuck off.”
Retire from what? It’s not a job. How can you retire from a rock band? It’s like saying, don’t plug in your amp. I don’t know anything else. I’ll retire when they put the fucking nail in the lid.