Ozzy Osbourne reminisces about some legendarily excessive days and nights of rock ’n’ roll overindulgence in this March, 1999 cover story by Chris Simunek. In honor of Ozzy’s birthday on December 3, 1948, we’re republishing it below.
When you look back at the history of rock ‘n’ roll, it is almost exclusively populated by people from two categories: 1. Those Who Got Fucked Up, and 2. Those Who Got Really Fucked Up.
For the latter part of the ’70s and all of the ’80s, Ozzy Osbourne was the Chairman of the Board for category number two. I learned of his legend the way most kids my age did—from pimple-faced geeks in denim jackets with their favorite album painted on the back. The story was always told with the appropriate reverence: He invented heavy metal, he drank a lot, he did a lot of drugs, made some great albums, was kicked out of Black Sabbath for being a loser and then he went solo, bit the head off a bird, bit the head off a bat, pissed on the Alamo, had a guitarist that died in a freak plane crash, went through a period where he looked and dressed a little like Liz Taylor, and now he is sober and quite successful, albeit a bit shell-shocked.
On the heels of his successful Ozzfest tour, a traveling roadshow that has packaged the likes of Marilyn Manson, Tool, Type-O Negative and Pantera, Ozzy stunned his fans with the announcement of his reunion with the other members of the original Black Sabbath lineup: guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward. It’s something they’d been threatening to do for a decade, but the authentic Sabbath hadn’t played together (aside from a Live Aid appearance) since 1979. On December 5, 1997, they played in their hometown of Birmingham, England, a city of industry that makes Pittsburgh look like Paris, and recorded the show for their new live double-disc set, Reunion.
Ozzy and Tony lommi were in New York recently for a Letterman appearance and a meet-and-greet at the new Virgin Megastore in Union Square. When their people contacted High Times about a possible interview, I thought it was a prank. I imagined some high school enemy of mine at the other end of the line—”Yeah man, Ozzy wants to hang out and do bong hits with you guys and then Alice Cooper’s gonna drop by with a couple peyote buttons…” Verifying my sources, I found it was true, Ozzy did have something to say to his bonghitting brethren, and was waiting for us in a suite at the St. Regis. Not wanting to undertake such an important mission alone, I invited Rob Braswell, High Times production director/token metalhead, to join me. What Ozzy and Tony had to say to us we weren’t sure, but we weren’t going to pass up a chance to sit and giggle sycophantically at the feet of our gods.
We arrived early and had a few Berliner weissbiers at the Old King Cole bar to calm our nerves. As we discussed what questions we should ask our favorite air-guitar jamming partners, we both agreed this wasn’t a music interview. If you want to know what Ozzy thinks of the new album or where Tony nicked the riff to “Iron Man,” go read Guitar Player. We wanted tales of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, nothing more, nothing less. Ozzy’s people called the bar and informed us that the King of Doom was ready to see us. In the lobby, we were met by a publicist who told us that Ozzy was sick of talking about his indiscretions at American national landmarks and his past cruelties to the animal kingdom. It was implied that a good interviewer might want to steer clear of such subjects.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I just want to talk about drugs.”
Ozzy and Tony were finishing up a previous interview when we walked into their suite. They were both dressed in classic black with large crosses dangling from their necks, sunglasses covering their eyes.
“Are you rolling yet?” Ozzy cracked as we entered.
When you meet Ozzy, it’s kind of like shaking the hand of a man who just came out of a 30-year panic attack. His hands tremble, his voice stutters, but imagine how you’d feel if you’d spent over a quarter-century in a drunken stupor, screaming your ass off in front of a wall of deafening amplifiers, tweaked on enough central-nervous-system stimulants to jump-start Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen heart. Having heard that Ozzy was completely sober, I asked him if his rolling remark was just a joke.
“Why, you got any?” he inquired.
“Of course,” I said. “You think I’m going to come to this interview empty-handed?”
“Is there any grown in New York?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“What I used to do was nip every other leaf so it would grow out instead of up.”
I smiled. Ozzy had given us a genuine grow tip.
“What did you do?” I asked. “Grow it outdoors?”
“Yeah,” Ozzy said with a grin. “But then I got paranoid.”
The word hung there, begging a response.
“Yeah… to coin a phrase. So I’ve got to ask you about ‘Sweet Leaf.’ Where did that come from?”
“Well, what do you think?” Ozzy laughed. “We used to smoke pounds of the shit, man. We used to buy it by the fuckin’ sackful. We used to be so fucked up all the time. Wake up in the morning, start the day with a spliff and go to bed with it. Yeah, it started to get… I started to get the heebee-jeebees. I was mixing all kinds of other chemicals. Booze, coke, pills…”
“Do you see a difference between pot and other chemicals?”
“Absolutely,” he said, waving his cigarette. “This, for instance, tobacco. I couldn’t smoke as many joints a day as I can this fuckin’ stuff. Gotta legalize pot. I’m all for the legalization of pot, decriminalize it. I don’t smoke it myself, but if anybody wants to smoke it, fine. I got busted for it. We all did.”
“Speaking of busts, what was it like for Black Sabbath to go through Customs in the ’70s?
“Did you guys ever have to drop trou?”
“Oh yeah. I remember one time we went from Detroit to Canada through the tunnel. I grabbed one of the guys and asked him, ‘Have we done all the drugs?’ Then I go through my bags and empty them again and, remember them pipes you could get with a fish pump? You got like a fish-tank pump and all these wires and you put the pot in and you just suck on the pipe. They found that.” Ozzy hit his cigarette and chuckled. “Big rubber gloves, the whole nine yards. For fuckin’ smoking pot, man.”
“Do you get more paranoid in the States?”
“I just get paranoid,” he said. “When I do coke I’m like Mr. Paranoia. I’m fucking scared shitless. When you combine it with Demerol and opiates you get real fucked up, you know? You think to get normal, you have to get high. Anything in moderation, but with cocaine I couldn’t.”
“It makes for good VH1 documentaries though,” I commented. “You guys in the ’70s had a rep for taking the most amount of time to record records.”
“We were fucked up!” Ozzy laughed at the obvious.
“Which record took the longest?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tony answered, not as impressed by Sabbath’s more dubious accomplishments as I was.
”We went to Canada one time, uh…” Ozzy looked at Tony to help him pull the memory out.
“Never Say Die.”
“Never Say Die took fuckin’ forever,” Ozzy said, and the two of them giggled like kids remembering a particularly naughty Halloween prank. “We got this guy coming around giving us bags of cocaine every fuckin’ Wednesday and we’d be like—” Ozzy clenched his face like a coke-freak frozen in action.
“Oh yeah,” Tony said. “When we started out the albums were quick and then…” He shrugged his shoulders, as if there was nothing that could be done about it now.
“With coke,” I wondered, “wouldn’t you record the album fast?”
“You’d do it and then you’d forget what you were doing!” Ozzy said laughing. ’’We couldn’t turn the fucking tape machine on! We’d turn like ‘pause’ on instead of ‘play/record,’ you know. We’d be playing for fuckin’ twenty-four hours.”
“These neat little bags,” Tony said, reminiscing.
“Just chop us another line out! Get another can of beer out the fridge! Roll another joint!” Ozzy shouted. ”We used to smoke blocks of hash. Big fuckin’… we used to buy hash by the pound.”
“And coke,” said Tony. “We used to buy these sealed bottles of coke.”
“Government-sealed,” Ozzy added. “We rented this house in Bel Air and we just had these fucking packages up to here—” With his hands Ozzy indicated a pile about the size of a Volkswagen. “It would come in like big gallon-bottles with a spoon on it, covered with a seal of wax. This coke was the best coke that I’ve ever had. I’m lying by the pool one day and I met this guy and I ask him ‘You want to do some coke?’ He goes, ‘No no no.’ I’m whacking this stuff up my nose, it’s a brilliant sunny day, and this guy’s sitting there with one of those reflectors under his chin getting a suntan. I say, ‘What do you do?’ He says, ’I work for the government.’ ‘Uh… what do you do with the government?’ I work for the drug squad.’ I sez, ‘You’re fucking joking.’ He shows me his badge. I fuckin’ flipped. I was fuckin’—” Ozzy slammed his fist in his chest like a raging heartbeat. “Flames were coming out of my fingers, man. He says, ‘Oh you’re all right, I’m the guy that got you the coke.'”
“We all got fucked up but me and Bill went fuckin’ a little bit further,” Ozzy continued. “Bill ended up in a psychiatric fuckin’ place. Bill’s antidrug, antidrink, antieverything now. He don’t mince his fucking words either, you know. With the coke and all these chemicals, I got a chemical imbalance in my brain. I’d become really shaky. I have to take Prozac and various medications just to stabilize me.”
“So you never drink, or every once in a while you’ll have something?”
“I don’t drink right now. Every once in a while is like… I’ve done OK so far, you know. I’m not going to say ‘I’ll never drink again.’ I don’t know. When I’m doing a show and I can smell that wonger out in the front, it does tempt me. One thing about the cocaine, though. It used to isolate you and you used to stay in your room paranoid. You buy a bag of white powder and the paranoia soon follows.”
“I’ll never do it again,” said Tony, remembering a promise he once made.
“And when you hear those birds going in the morning tweet-tweet you want to get a fucking machine gun and shoot every bird in sight. When the day breaks it’s horrible. And what do you do when you wake up? Snnnnnmmmunfff. Like a fiend, you know.”
“Why is it that so many rock stars crack up?” I asked. “Isn’t it supposed to be the best job in the world?”
“What other job can you imagine where the more fucked up you turn up, the better people think you’re gonna be? ‘Oh fuckin’ Tony’s stoned or Ozzy’s stoned or Bill’s stoned… it’s going to be good fun tonight.’ Too much of anything, eventually you pay a price. If you play now, you pay later, I don’t give a fuck what it is.”
“Is it rough to be sober these days?” I asked, sensing a bit of regret in his voice.
“It sucks,” he replied bluntly. “I don’t like being sober, but say you chopped some lines, I’d go, ‘Yeah, I’ll go for it.’ By twelve o’clock I’d be hanging off the fucking building screaming with a bottle of vodka in my hand. Once I start I can’t fucking stop. I gotta go all the way, you know.”
“So what do you do now to fill the gap?”
“Play with my dick,” Ozzy answered with a laugh. “In the ’70s there was a big period of time when I used to drink cheap wine and do ludes. I’d be like fucking jelly and the audience would be like a pond, a fucking oil slick. They were sweaty fuckin’ downed-out fuckin’…” Ozzy trailed off, as if he could still see that placid sea and then asked, “Did you ever try the original Quaaludes?”
The cooler half of Black Sabbath trained their eyes on me and for a moment I felt like a pink, newborn fetus. “No,” I answered with shame. “That’s a little bit before my time.”
“They were fucking wonderful, weren’t they?” Ozzy said and then looked to Tony for confirmation. “I could still get them,” Ozzy offered. “I know somebody who froze ten thousand.”
“Froze them?” I pictured a skinny hipster with sunken cheeks stocking up on 714s so that when the world’s methaqualone supply ran out, he could rise from his bunker and be the Lord of the Ludes.
I was running out of questions and would have to wing a few.
“We were wondering like…” I combed my beery skull for a relevant topic. “Well, since Meatloaf came out with Bat Out of Hell II and Frampton came out with Frampton Comes Alive II, would you ever come out with Volume IV, II?”
“No,” Tony answered as if I should know an artist of his caliber doesn’t repeat himself like that.
”I don’t think so, no,” Ozzy said, pondering the question before a grin split across his face and he let out another tremolo laugh. “Volume IV II, yeah. Volume IV 1/2 + 2… he-he-he…”
“We had a question about like, uh… heavy-metal fashion in the ’80s.”
“Oh, don’t,” Ozzy started. It was obviously a sore subject.
“What was up with that?”
“I look back at some of those things and I was drinking an enormous amount of booze. Every day I would drink four bottles of Hennessy, a case of Budweiser and as much fucking dope as I could get down my fucking face. As much as I could. I was overdosing on a daily basis.” Ozzy laughed again at the thought of it. Unlike other sober-rockers, he still gets a kick out of his past.
“That’s where the funny clothes came from?” I asked.
“I think that’s where the funny everything came from,” he answered. “We all thought we looked cool. Now we look at ourselves—gay wasn’t even the word. Gay people used to come to us and say, ‘What are you fucking doing, man?'” Ozzy pondered for a moment and said. “It’s all part of the crazy world of rock ‘n’ roll.”
I made the mistake of mentioning the time Ozzy put on a dress and redecorated the Alamo and he visibly cringed. It was like asking Achilles to repeat the story about the time he fucked up his heel. He was somewhat appeased when I informed him that this incident was now a highlight of the Alamo tour. At first he didn’t believe me, but I swore to him that a Texan friend had just seen it.
“They should put it in the Guinness Book of World Records,” offered Tony.
“Your own indelible mark upon American history,” I said and a proud, impish smile spread across Ozzy’s face. Our time was running out, so we asked Ozzy to autograph a few records. I handed him my beaten copy of Paranoid. With a quivery hand Ozzy scrawled “Get Stoned” across the gatefold and then signed his name. It was advice from an expert.
Back down at the Old King Cole, Rob and I felt invigorated, like we’d just been to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor and he’d given us a shot of Vitamin Cool.
“He was just like I imagined,” Rob cooed.
“Yeah,” I said, my eyes full of butterflies. That a guy could go through what Ozzy did and still be on top was more than luck, it was damn close to a miracle. When the going got tough, he dressed up in women’s clothing and pissed on national landmarks.
I decided from that point on to try and be more like Ozzy. He has a message for people like me: If you want a yellow brick road to follow, you have to pause sometimes and paint the stones yourself.