Ozzy Osbourne: 'Yes, I've got Parkinson's, but it ain't done for me yet' 

As he releases a new album at 71, heavy metal’s original hellraiser talks sobriety, cheating death and never giving up

Premium
Over the last two years the 71-year-old has endured a brutal sequence of medical challenges
Over the last two years the 71-year-old has endured a brutal sequence of medical challenges

A high, panto-ish voice, familiar from reality TV, talent contests and chat shows, is crackling through the intercom. ‘Oh my God, are you just off the f—ing flight?’ The intercom is located on the heavy iron gate just above the sign saying: never mind the dog. beware of the owner.

It squawks again. ‘You must be f—ing knackered!’ I’m not even over the threshold of this multimillion-dollar mansion in the exclusive Hancock Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles and already I’ve been Osbourned. 

With an electronic buzz and a cackle, the lady of the house – Sharon Osbourne, in all her pint-sized, potty-mouthed glory – beckons me inside. I pass through gardens so perfect they look like they’ve been graphic-designed on a computer, past a gnome flipping the middle finger and into a cavernous reception hall dripping with art, photography and statuary.

Scampering down the stairs comes an advance party from the household’s pack of small dogs: a Pomeranian, what looks like a miniature husky, and another that looks more like a dandelion seed. There are three of them, although there are nearly only two when I almost step on an ankle-high ball of fluffy fur as I gaze upwards at a giant charcoal drawings of a cherub and a devil. 

To the right, Sharon’s office. To the left, the Library. This is the lair of Ozzy Osbourne, his ‘hangout’, says his luxuriantly bearded assistant Steve, who explains it’s the mansion’s most ‘Ozzified’ room. Hence the history books, crucifixes, bat-shaped chandelier and a portrait of Ozzy’s Pomeranian dressed as Henry VIII. On his desk, awaiting his signature, are a pile of ‘Certificates of Ozzthenticity’ to accompany a limited-edition box set of the albums Ozzy has released in a hugely successful solo career stretching back 40 years, since being ousted from Black Sabbath for conduct unbecoming of a rock star. That is, the singer was drinking too much and taking too many drugs, even for a satanically inclined ’70s heavy metal band from the Midlands. Ozzy has sold more than 100 million albums.

Ozzy Osbourne Credit: Ross Halfin

Still, these are troubled times for the hitherto indomitable Prince of Darkness. Over the last two years the 71-year-old has endured a brutal sequence of medical challenges, including pneumonia (twice), near-fatal staph infections and a horrific fall that required spinal surgery. Then, earlier this year, he and Sharon revealed that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

And sure enough, when he enters the room, first impressions suggest that Ozzy’s walking days, much less his rocking days, might be behind him. Extending a hand in greeting, he approaches with a shuffle and a wheeze, limping in his slippers, Sabbath T-shirt and jogging bottoms covered in dog hair. His eyes are rheumy and his nose is runny, meaning he’s constantly wiping at his face. His speaking voice, when it comes, retains a strong Birmingham accent, but is weak and gasping. All of which makes the forceful triumph of this new album, Ordinary Man, his first in 10 years, all the more remarkable.

‘Thank you!’ he replies, genuinely pleased. ‘It came together because of my daughter Kelly. I was lying about, f—ed because of this surgery on my neck.’ He leans forward, parting lush curtains of chestnut-coloured hair, revealing a nasty-looking scar at the top of his spine.

‘And it’s really knocked the wind out of my sails. Plus, the fact that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s – but it’s not the Michael J Fox one. I have a thing called Parkin 2,’ he continues. Parkin 2 is a type of early-onset Parkinson’s caused by a genetic mutation, although both share symptoms including leg or arm tremors and shuffling gait.

But just in case we doubted the septuagenarian grandfather-of-eight’s commitment to hard rock’s shock value, the album’s first song, Straight to Hell, opens with a striking image: ‘You’re flying higher than a kite tonight/You took the hit and now you feel all right…/We must celebrate/I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.’

As he will note, not inaccurately: ‘Well, it’s only me that can get away with a lyric like that!’

Ozzy and Sharon, whose wealth in 2018 was estimated at £140 million, went public with his diagnosis in January. It speaks to the couple’s status as a celebrity powerhouse in America – where Sharon has a morning TV talk show, as well as her regular appearances on UK television – that the announcement came via a prime-time interview on Good Morning America. 

With Sharon in January this year when he was diagnosed and daughter Kelly

But he tells me that in fact he’s known that he has the disease since 2003. That was both the year in which The Osbournes reality show on MTV was at its peak global ratings and the year he nearly died after breaking his neck in a quad bike accident on the couple’s Buckinghamshire estate.

Back then, he recalls, ‘They’d say my “gait” was funny, but I didn’t know what the f— they were talking about. I had a tremor, but I thought that was the DTs from the booze.’

But he insists the Parkinson’s hasn’t affected him too much.

‘It only materialises when I get excited and I start to shake,’ he says, waggling both his black nail-polished hands and rattling his collection of crucifix-rings and bejewelled bangles. ‘I’m not that bad. I only have a little bit of medication a day.’ 

That said, he blames the Parkinson’s for the fall in January 2019 that necessitated the neck surgery. Because of the condition, ‘sometimes my leg goes. And I need to go for a pee in the night, and I can’t sleep with any lights on. So my leg went and I didn’t know where I was. I hit the floor – bang! – and I remember thinking, clearly and calmly, “F—ing hell, you’ve done it now.” And Sharon woke up and came in: “Sharon, can you phone an ambulance? I think I’ve broken my neck again.”’

He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai ‘up the road’, but it was Friday night ‘and it was like a f—ing war zone: people holding bandages to their heads, muggings, gunshot wounds. And Sharon was fighting with some nurse over something…’

I tell him my dad has Parkinson’s. He asks how long since he was diagnosed, and whether he has the ‘full-on’ version.  I reply that his symptoms seem much the same. We compare notes, and Ozzy nods and says, ‘my knees get weak. And when I get wound up or have an argument, I walk like this.’ He hauls himself up from the couch and inches away from me in his slippers. ‘I shuffle around.’

But he insists this hasn’t knocked his confidence. ‘The way I look at it is: I’ve got it. And it ain’t done for me yet.’

Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Morrison attend the Ozzy Osbourne Album Special in February this year

The problems arising from his neck surgery – which focused on his spinal column and resulted in his shortness of breath because now ‘the nerves are pressing on my lungs’ – are much more of a concern. Still as we’ve been talking, Ozzy – in admirably good spirits, considering – gains strength in his voice. And his legendary sense of humour starts to power back, too.

‘If anybody ever says to me, “I’m gonna have neck surgery,” what will come out of my mouth is: “F—ing have a second or third opinion!” When I came round, the surgeon said to me, “You won’t be active for at least a year.” What? A year?’ he splutters. ‘I’ve never had a year off in my life! I’ve never been home this long in 50 years! It’s driving me mad, and I’m driving my family f—ing mad. You feel like you’ve gone outside with no pants on.’

So has Sharon become his carer? He nods. ‘My kids, my wife, I got a nurse [for] 24 hours a day. ’Cause I don’t know when my legs are gonna go.’ But he’s looking after himself: he’s been sober (from drugs and alcohol) for seven years, gave up smoking during a Black Sabbath reunion, and eats carefully. ‘And I’m working on physical therapy to get my strength back. You have to exercise – does your father do that?’ Yes. He nods, satisfied. ‘You gotta keep going, because as soon as you sit down, you’re f—ed. Your [body] just doesn’t work. I walk round the block a few times, I get on the elliptical machine, I do Pilates. I got everything going here. But I’m OK.’ 

All of which makes you wonder: how has this impacted on the couple’s relationship? They’ve been married since 1982 – Sharon is the daughter of Black Sabbath’s legendarily fearsome manager, the late Don Arden – and she’s the managerial and business brains behind much of his success, and that of the whole Osbourne clan. In many regards, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree because Sharon is as tough as they come (as many an  X Factor wannabe will undoubtedly attest).

"I've never been home this long in 50 years. It's driving me mad" Credit: Getty

Still, she must have been tested by Ozzy and his ‘ways’ over the years, including addiction and a reported four-year affair between 2012 and 2016, not to mention that time he tried to strangle her in a drunken rage. ‘Well, to be perfectly honest with you, we’ve gotten closer,’ Ozzy says, a clearly loving look spreading across a face that’s as smooth as that of his wife. ‘I’m 71 now, she’s 66 or something [67, actually], and at this time of my life I’d like to have got out OK. But there’s always something, always a spanner thrown in the works.’

There’s a patter of nails on the floor. In scamper two dogs, followed by Sharon, who’s barefoot and dressed in grey sweatpants, sweatshirt and diamonds. She and Ozzy pet and kiss each other. I ask her how’s it been dealing with a housebound husband.

‘Um,’ she begins, cocking her head.

‘When you say “housebound”, it gives the impression of somebody that can’t do anything and has to stay home. I mean, he can go do what he wants. And now that the news is out, some days he needs a cane and if people see him with it, it’s no biggie – “Oh, it’s Ozzy.” It’s not [shocked], “Why has he got a cane?”

‘The most important thing is not getting depressed,’ she continues. ‘Because if you get depressed, then everything falls apart. And Ozzy right now is doing his physio, his voice lessons, everything… And professionally, his singing voice is better than it’s ever been.’

Really?

‘I mean, it’s just beautiful. But it’s just that our road is a different road right now.’

The Osbournes photographed starring in 'The Osbournes' on MTV Credit:  Zuma

After she exits, dogs in tow, Ozzy goes on a rant about the contrasting approaches of the UK and US medical establishments.

‘You end up taking 50 pills a day here – it’s f—ing nuts!’ he exclaims. Equally, his US doctors ‘can’t get their head round the NHS. One day I went to my doctor and he goes: “You should try these.” “OK.” And I went to the pharmacist and they said, “These are quite expensive, and we don’t take insurance.” “How much are they then?” “One pill is $120.” “You know what? You can f— that off!”’ You can take the working-class kid out of Birmingham, I say. ‘Absolutely,’ retorts Ozzy, who grew up with five siblings in post-war poverty. ‘But you try telling your kids that. I remember when Kelly was little, I said to her, “Look, you can’t keep taking these big pound notes out of my box.” She was taking £50 notes and putting them in her purse! “It’s all right dad, just go to the bank man.” “Well, I have to make it to give it to that man.” “Why?”’

With a weary shake of the head he says that Kelly, 35, her brother Jack, 34, both TV presenters (he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012) and sister Aimee, 36, a musician (he also has three children from a first marriage that ended in 1982), have no real sense of the challenges of his childhood.

In LA in 2018 with Sharon, daughter Kelly and son Jack, who all featured in reality show The Osbournes  Credit: Getty

‘At 12 I was delivering coal, I had a paper round and a grocery round. I made a quid a week! Because I come from a family of six kids, three sisters and two brothers, two of them are gone, a two-bedroom house in Aston. How the f— did we live in that place? It was tiny! You could fit our house and yard in this room.’

When he started making money with Black Sabbath in the early ’70s ‘it was like I’d won the lottery… But the manager was ripping us off royally. But since then, I’ve said to Sharon, if we’d have had what was justifiably ours, I’d have been dead years ago,’ he admits. Meaning: he’d have partied himself to death.

‘I’d have had the wildest time! But if I’d had a million dollars when I was 23, I’d have been out of my depth. I was frightened of having that much money. And your ego – that much dough when you’re a kid would blow your mind!’

 Ozzy Osbourne & Tony Iommi performing live onstage as 'Earth' (1969) Credit: Ellen Poppinga 
Ozzy Osbourne, former lead singer of Black Sabbath, pictured at home two weeks after the birth of his baby boy Jack (1985) Credit: Getty

Still, they did all right in the end. The house that featured in The Osbournes was bought by Christina Aguilera. They’ve been in this one for five years. How much did it cost? ‘You want to know?’ he smiles. ‘Ninety. Or 70,  I can’t remember.’ To be clear, that’s $70 or $90 million. Is he happy here? He shrugs, and I ask whether he’d ever move back to the UK.

‘Oh, yeah. This has always only been my temporary home. I loved England, I love Britain. You ain’t gonna get shot!’ he laughs. ‘These houses, I don’t know how they can charge the price they charge. They’re made out of wood and bulls—t.’

After the interview is over, Ozzy exits and Sharon enters. A wholly gracious host despite that spiky reputation (amplified for telly, I suspect), she asks, for the second time, whether I’d like something to eat. Then, in a manner that’s more house proud than show-off, she gives me a tour. She clearly enjoys spending the money earned by the couple’s multiple revenue streams. I see her collection of royal wedding china (Charles and Di figure highly), then she opens a door that leads into a blood-red staircase.

The walls are glittering with silver, gold, diamond and platinum discs awarded to her husband. A giant stained-glass Jesus looks down, commissioned by Sharon from a Canadian artist. This is less shrine to a supposed satanic rock’n’roller (he’s not) than the Church of Ozzy. But neither Ozzy nor Sharon want to be here, worshipping at the altar of past glories. He wants to get back on his feet, and back on the road. To that end, the couple are travelling to Switzerland in April for treatment with a doctor renowned for rebooting seriously ill patients’ immune systems.

‘Then he has these things for pain that aren’t opioids,’ Sharon says. ‘So your body is strong, so it can deal with whatever it’s fighting – cancer or Parkinson’s or whatever. Your body can endure so much more. So this guy will hopefully, hopefully take way the pain from Ozzy’s accident and build up his immune system so he can say, “Yeah, I can  f—ing tour. Sure I can.”’

Ozzy celebrating with Black Sabbath in 1986 Credit: Getty

So, the May tour will be a goer? His rescheduled world No More Tours II tour will be his second attempt to complete a second farewell tour. 

‘Please God,’ she smiles. I tell her that when I asked Ozzy, he didn’t seem so confident.

‘I know, I know,’ she says quietly. ‘But I’m the one who sits with the kids and we do the research and we read and read and read. And there are people who have managed to live an active life after going to see this guy. He can’t cure anything. But he can make you strong. And that’s what we need for Ozzy.’

Ten days after our interview, reality bites: Ozzy announces that he’s cancelling the North American leg of the tour. In a statement he says, ‘I’m so thankful that everyone has been patient because I’ve had a s— year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get to Switzerland for treatment until April and the treatment takes six-to-eight weeks. I don’t want to start a tour and then cancel shows at the last minute, as it’s just not fair to the fans.’

Still, he remained hopeful, not to mention defiant. ‘I’d rather they get a refund now and 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.’

Back in our interview, I ask Sharon about her and Ozzy’s relationship now?

‘I’m not gonna allow him to just sink and feel sorry for himself. None of us will allow that. “Come on, we’re going, get up, let’s go!” That’s what was so great about making the album: he had to go in [to the studio]. But he wanted to – he had the taste for making music.’

The album’s title track, a duet with Elton John, features these lyrics: ‘I was unprepared for fame/Then everybody knew my name/No more lonely nights… I don’t wanna die an ordinary man.’

I’d asked Ozzy if that was really true. His reply was  upbeat and philosophical.

‘I still am an ordinary man. I’ve got wealth, I’ve got success, I can afford things I couldn’t afford before. But I don’t think I’ve changed that much as a person. You know, we’re dying from the moment we’re born. You don’t know when you’re gonna go. So, I’m alive now. I don’t plan on going any time soon. But I’m 71 now. If you’d asked me when I was 25: “Do you think you’ll make it to 71?”, I’d have said, “You must be f—ing joking, the way I’m going!’ I shouldn’t be alive!”’

So why is he? 

‘God only knows. I haven’t got a clue. But I’m glad. All the s— I’ve put myself through, and the Parkinson’s, broken neck – I ain’t done so bad. At the end of the day I’ve had a great life.’

Before he heaved himself from the sofa and limped from the room, I asked him what was left to achieve. Nothing, really. He’d done more, gone further, than he ever expected. 

‘And after 50 years, people are waiting for me to get better – no one more than me, believe me!’

A knighthood? He shrugged.

‘I can take it or leave it.’

Would Sharon like to be Lady Osbourne?

‘Well, the f—ing shopping trolleys would get bigger!’

Ozzy’s Most Outrageous Moments

Biting a live bat

In an attempt to get Epic Records to take Ozzy’s solo career seriously in 1981, Sharon intended for him to give a speech at the label’s sales convention and release live doves at the end. But a drunk Ozzy bit the heads off two of the doves instead. After the story spread, a fan gifted him a real bat at a concert in Des Moines the following year. Thinking it was a toy, Ozzy bit into it.

Biting a live bat

Throwing a TV out of a hotel window

While staying at the Four Seasons in Prague with his guitarist Zakk Wylde in 2002, a boozed-up Ozzy decided to toss a television out of the hotel window, almost hitting a smoker below. Reflecting on the event, Osbourne said: ‘It landed on the floor and f—ing exploded. It went like a bomb… I had to pay three months for the room and the repair of the window.’

Snorting a line of ants

Heavy metal band Mötley Crüe’s book The Dirt includes the story of how Ozzy once snorted a line of live ants by a pool in 1984. At the time, the band were on tour with him as his supporting act and they all spent leisure time together between gigs. When Ozzy asked the band for drugs, they explained that they didn’t have any, so he proceeded to snort the insects instead.

Warring with neighbours

In a 2002 episode of The Osbournes, Ozzy and family became agitated with the music from the house next door – owned by one-hit wonder ’80s Scottish singer Owen Paul (of My Favourite Waste of Time fame). It ended with Sharon and Jack throwing olives, cheese, pâté and an entire ham into the garden before the police were called.

Getting banned in Texas

In the early 1980s, Ozzy was banned from San Antonio, Texas, after urinating on a monument dedicated to soldiers killed in the Texas Revolution near the Alamo. The ban was lifted a decade later after he donated $10,000 to maintain the shrine.

Heckling George W Bush

Ozzy and Sharon were invited by Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2002 during George W Bush’s presidency. After a speech in which Bush thanked him for his attendance, Ozzy drunkenly jumped up on the table and screamed ‘yeehaw’ until the room fell silent. Bush is said to have muttered ‘this might have been a mistake’.

Ordinary Man is out now on Columbia Records

Comment speech bubble