The new 'family man' of TV
By Todd Leopold
Ozzy Osbourne is riding the crest of a new wave of popularity
(CNN) -- Not so long ago, Ozzy Osbourne -- if not exactly forgotten -- was more or less an elder statesman of heavy metal. He'd become a decent concert draw whose name and music brought back memories of a 1970s and '80s headbanging heyday heavy with Dokken, Iron Maiden and his own band, Black Sabbath, as well as his solo work.
Today, he's a big TV star -- and he has taken his family along for the ride.
"The Osbournes," his MTV "reality sitcom," is the most successful show in the music network's 21-year history. The final episode of its first season had 7.8 million viewers, far more than any show in the cable channel's history. According to Nielsen Media Research, the show has topped professional wrestling as cable TV's most-watched programming.
The series' second season began November 26. This time around, the family is facing a major crisis: wife and mother Sharon Osbourne's battle with cancer. But early reviews indicate the family handles the challenge with its usual good humor.
That good spirit has made the family popular even among folks who wouldn't normally be considered fans.
Ozzy nearly upstaged President Bush when he attended the annual White House correspondents' dinner in May. During his speech, the president acknowledged Ozzy's presence.
"The thing about Ozzy is, he's made a lot of big, hit recordings -- 'Party With the Animals,' 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,' 'Face in Hell,' 'Black Skies' and 'Bloodbath in Paradise,' " Bush said. "Ozzy. Mom loves your stuff."
Ozzy reacted by standing on his chair and blowing kisses to the 2,700 guests who represent the Washington establishment.
His summer tour, Ozzfest, was one of the summer's heavyweight extravaganzas and included such alternative hard-rock favorites as System of a Down and Adema.
And Ozzy recently received the ultimate showbiz accolade: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ozzy seems pleased with the attention, even if he doesn't quite understand it.
"I see the show. I don't see anything funny about it. It's just me with my family, at home," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper on "American Morning." "People go, 'Oh, that's so funny, Ozzy, when you run up the stairs' and the dog craps on my carpet, you know. It's normal for me. ... We just went with what is normal."
Drugs 'n' women, bats 'n' doves
Not long ago, most people wouldn't have described John Michael "Ozzy" Osbourne, 53, as "normal."
Born December 3, 1948 in Birmingham, England, the rocker first came to fame as the leader of Black Sabbath, one of the first heavy metal bands, in 1970. Its albums, featuring fatalistic, angry songs -- "Iron Man," "Paranoid" -- were usually roasted by critics. But those albums quickly became million-sellers in the United States and attracted the band a huge following.
Black Sabbath lived the drugs 'n' women, rock 'n' roll lifestyle to the fullest, and Osbourne was its ringleader. According to the "Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll," he claimed to have attempted suicide several times as a teenager, took LSD every day for two years with Sabbath's drummer, and during his last months with the band, in 1977 and 1978, "got very drunk and very stoned every single day."
Ozzy Osbourne with his wife -- and manager -- Sharon Osbourne.
Osbourne left Black Sabbath -- some reports say he was kicked out -- in 1978, and went solo, forming a backing band. The group's first album, 1980's "Blizzard of Ozz," helped by the hit "Crazy Train," was a million-seller, and so were its follow-ups, 1981's "Diary of a Madman" and 1982's "Speak of the Devil."
But despite his financial success, Osbourne was dogged by tragedy and criticism. In March 1982, a plane rented by his tour went down; Osbourne, who was riding in his tour bus, was not hurt, but the crash killed guitarist Randy Rhoads and two others.
His on- and off-stage antics, including biting the head off a bat thrown onto the stage by a fan (Osbourne allegedly thought it was a fake; he later required rabies shots) and biting the head off a dove at a meeting with record executives, made him a target of censors and the religious right.
At one point or another, he has been banned from performing in cities including San Antonio, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; and -- of all places -- Las Vegas, Nevada.
Many people weren't fans of Osbourne's occult-metal music, either. He was accused of placing subliminal messages in his songs, including "Suicide Solution," which was trotted out in 1986 in a lawsuit by parents who accused him of inducing the self-inflicted deaths of their sons. The suit was eventually dismissed.
'It just took on a life of its own'
Although written off as a dinosaur by music critics, Osbourne has never stopped selling records or selling out arenas. His Ozzfest tours, which began in 1996, have been huge successes. Younger artists -- including rapper Busta Rhymes, who collaborated with Osbourne on a remake of "Iron Man" -- have acknowledged a debt to the singer.
He has also settled down. He married his manager, Sharon Arden, in 1982; the two are now parents to 17-year-old Kelly and 16-year-old Jack, as well as another daughter, Aimee, who opted out of "The Osbournes." He gave up drinking and drugs more than a decade ago and speaks freely of his past, an openness that has no doubt helped his show.
The Family Osbourne, stars of MTV's "The Osbournes."
"The Osbournes" was Sharon's idea. The family had appeared on a highly rated episode of MTV's "Cribs," a show that takes viewers through the homes of the famous, and she suggested doing a series on the family.
"I don't think we knew what we were getting ourselves into," she told CNN. "Initially, it was only meant to be three weeks, and it just took on a life of its own, and three weeks turned into five months."
The success of the show, writes Time's James Poniewozik, lies in its ability to breathe fresh life into tired sitcom conventions. "The Osbournes are the oldest thing on TV since the test pattern: a nuclear family that eats meals together, shares its problems ... and survives wacky scenarios," he writes. But, he adds, "the pace is leisurely, not forced, and the humor derives less from 'jokes' than from characters who ... surprise you."
Such as Ozzy himself, unable to work a remote, telling Kelly not to get a tattoo (though he's covered with them), and walking through his house like the middle-aged, slightly befuddled, working-class English bloke he appears to be.
Drew Carey, the host of the White House correspondents' dinner, even found similarities between Osbourne and President Bush.
"First of all, they both love their families," Carey said. "They both partied a little too hard when they were younger. Half the time you can't understand a word either one of them is saying. And neither one of them can make a move without their wife's approval."
The show's surprise success has paid dividends. Ozzy has gained a higher profile; Sharon got to step up the bookings and will likely get her own talk show; and other networks have attempted to copy the show in one way or another, with little success.
About the only ones who don't seem impressed are Kelly and Jack.
"Everyone wants to talk to us now, and it's annoying," Kelly said. "It's kind of like, you know, 'Go away.' But you don't want to be rude."