The Ozzman Leaveth: Ozzy Gets Fired From Black Sabbath
Living a “rockstar life” is the dream of so many young men and women. The excess is intoxicating and conjures up dreams of a life that doesn’t seem possible. No rules, no limits, and no worries; just constant satisfaction and gratification. The picture painted by the media and by the artists themselves seems to leave little room for downside. It’s seen as the ultimate measure of success.
On April 27th, 1979, Black Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne was fired from the band, shocking the music world and injecting some reality into the dreams of wannabe rockstars around the world. In his book, “I Am Ozzy,” he recalls:
“We were doing some rehearsals in L.A., and I was loaded, but then I was loaded all the time. It was obvious that Bill (Ward) had been sent by the others because he wasn’t exactly the firing type. I can’t remember exactly what he said to me, but the gist was that Tony (Iommi) thought I was a pissed, coked-up loser and a waste of time for everyone concerned."
If Ozzy could be fired, anyone could be, and being fired for doing too many drugs by your bandmates who were admittedly doing too many drugs was definitely a cause for concern.
Guitarist Tony Iommi defended himself in his own book, “Iron Man,” by claiming that Ozzy’s firing was a band decision, not his own:
“Ozzy seems to think it was me who pushed it, but I was only speaking on behalf of the band and trying to get the thing going. Somebody had to make a move. Somebody had to do something; otherwise, we’d still be there now, and we’d all be out of it. So that was it.”
Dave, Drugs and... Death?
Black Sabbath had been together for more than a decade, and released their eighth studio album, “Never Say Die!” in 1978. It was during the promotional tour of that album that excess spilled from backstage into the forefront. Osbourne claims that he was in no worse shape than any of his bandmates, but they felt differently, and fans seemed more energized and enlightened by opening act, Van Halen, than they did by the Godfathers of Heavy Metal. Not only that, Ozzy was a no-show in Nashville on November 9th, 1978.
He and Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth were up all night doing cocaine, and when it was time for Ozzy to take the stage, he was nowhere to be found. Roth tells the story in his memoir, “Crazy From The Heat”:
“We drove from Memphis to Nashville. Checked into a hotel….It was noontime, and I went right into the bin, fell asleep. Got up, we opened, sold-out show, ten thousand of our closest friends. We’re sitting backstage, and suddenly, two of the guys from Black Sabbath and some muscle burst through the door -
“Where is Ozzy?”
“I says, what do you mean, ‘where is Ozzy’?”
“Ozzy hasn’t shown up. We’re not even sure he checked into the hotel. We can’t find him anywhere. We can’t do the show.”
They canceled the show, and a media circus ensued. Police got involved in the search. They were treating the situation as a missing persons case, a possible kidnapping, and even considered that he could be dead somewhere. It wasn’t until six-thirty the following morning that Osborne was found.
He walked out of the hotel elevator and explained that he’d been asleep in his room that whole time. He used the hotel key from the last hotel, so he ended up in the wrong room. A maid happened to be in the room at the time, and he told her to leave so he could get some sleep. And he did, for almost twenty-four hours.
The Damage Is Done
Recording sessions for the next album were disastrous, and the band had to start making decisions. According to Iommi:
“We had to do something because I used to go to the record company, and they would go, ‘How’re the rehearsals going?’ I would go, ‘Oh, great,’ which was a lie…We never did anything basically. We came with a lot of riffs and stuff, but we’ve never actually done much as far as putting songs together because all thing was just falling apart. Everybody was going in their own individual rooms, puffing this, puffing that…We got some music ideas but not many vocal ideas. Ozzy was going through an awkward stage, and we got so much pressure. Money was going out the window; it was costing a fortune to stay in there. We had to say, ‘What are we going to do?’ We were going to call it a day, or break up, or try to find another singer.”
They hired former Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio a few months after he and Iommi were introduced by Sharon Arden. Sharon’s father, Don Arden, was Sabbath’s manager at the time. Sharon, of course, would marry Ozzy in 1982.
Mrs. OsbourneOzzy and Sharon met in 1970, though their relationship wasn’t romantic until 1979. She decided to be his manager after he was fired from Black Sabbath. Not only is it believed that she saved his career, the move likely saved his life. He was completely checked out, ready to live in a blackout until he couldn’t afford it anymore:
“I'd got £96,000 for my share of the name (Black Sabbath), so I'd just locked myself away and spent three months doing coke and booze. My thinking was, 'This is my last party because, after this, I'm going back to Birmingham and the dole.”
His demons became Sharon’s burden. The record label had a large investment in him, and she was tasked with doing whatever it took to keep him making music. That included convincing him to sell the wine bar next door to his house. Ozzy admits:
“I was getting too pissed there. The thing was, at that time, I had nothing to lose. If I even got to make a new record and it was a flop, who cared?”
He was completely checked out until Dana Strum, bassist for the band Slaughter, recommended he listen to a guitarist he knew named Randy Rhoads.
“He would go on and on about this guy like he was fucking Jesus...I was smoking dope and getting tanked and fucked up on powders, and I just wanted to go home, but he said I had to see this guy. So Randy came in, five-foot-fucking-two and so skinny, I thought he was a fairy. When he played, my brain went, 'Either this is the greatest gear ever, or this guy really is the best guitarist in the world.”
After recording an album with Randy on guitar, “Blizzard Of Ozz” was shopped to Warner Brothers as they had the right of first refusal on all his solo material. President Mo Ostin wrote him a note that said: "Nice try, but we're going to have to pass.” EMI Records also passed. Luckily for Ozzy, Sharon’s father owned Jet Records. Ozzy signed there, and “Blizzard of Ozz” went on to sell six million copies. Less than a year later, Ozzy and Rhoads released another hit album, “Diary of a Madman.”
By that time, MTV had entered the music arena, and it was rapidly changing the industry. Ozzy remembers:
“MTV made a huge impact. Heavy rotation took you from selling one million albums to twenty million albums, and that meant a lot of dough. There was a lot of payola, a lot of wining and dining, and cocaine buying, but it changed everything for us. Those first two years were incredible."
March 19th, 1982
In Florida to play a show with UFO and Foreigner, Rhoads was killed in a plane crash along with Sharon’s friend, Rachel Youngblood. He was only twenty-five years old. Ozzy recalls a conversation the two had the night before:
"Randy had something special about him that night...I was drinking gin, and he was writing his own music, and at one point, he looked up and said he wanted out, he wanted to go to university. I said, 'What the fuck do you want to do that for? We're blazing a trail! Keep on like this, and you can buy a university!' But he wanted a degree in classical music."
Once again, it was Sharon’s support, along with medication, that allowed him to move on: “It took me a very long time to get over his death...I'm on a low dose of anti-depressants even now. Randy gave me a purpose; he gave me hope. I was fed up fighting people. I just had the greatest respect for him.”
Flying High Again
“The Prince of Darkness” has sold more than one hundred million albums worldwide; seventy million of those during his solo career. His career could have been over in 1979, and several times after. Luckily, the bond that started in 1970 with Sharon has motivated him to keep going and reminded him he’s still had work to do.