The wisdom of Oz
He has survived plane and quad-bike crashes, drug and alcohol addiction, mental breakdowns and dysfunctional family life to become a world authority on pharmacology, neurology, psychology and hypochondria. Meet our new under-the-counter health columnist, Dr Ozzy
"Let me ask you a question, Mr Osbourne,” a doctor in America once said to me, after I’d listed all the heavy-duty substances I’d been abusing since the 1960s.
“All right,” I said. “Go ahead."
The doctor put down his notebook, loosened his tie a bit, and let out this long, weary sigh.
“Why are you still alive?"
I've often wondered the same thing myself. By all accounts I’m a medical miracle. When I die, I should donate my body to the Natural History Museum. It’s all very well going on a bender for a couple of days — but mine went on for 40 years. At one point I was knocking back four bottles of cognac a day, blacking out, coming to again, and carrying on. While filming The Osbournes I was also shoving 42 types of prescription medication down my neck, morning, noon and night — and that was before all the dope I was smoking in my “safe” room, away from the cameras. Meanwhile, I used to get through cigars like they were cigarettes. I’d even smoke them in bed.
“Do you mind?” I’d ask Sharon, as I lit up another Cuban the size of Red October.
“Oh no, please, go ahead,” she’d say, before whacking me with Good Housekeeping.
Then there are all the other things I’ve managed to not die from during my rock’n’roll career: like being hit by a plane (it crashed into my tour bus when I was fast asleep with Sharon in the back); or the time I got a false-positive HIV test; or the time when they told me I “probably” had Parkinson’s disease (they were wrong — it turned out to be a rare genetic condition, a Parkinsonian-like tremor). I was even committed to a mental asylum for a while. “Do you masturbate, Mr Osbourne?” was the first thing they asked me. “I’m here for my head, not my dick!” I replied.
And then there was the rabies treatment I had to go through after eating a bat — which you might have heard about once or twice. All I want to say is that I thought it was a rubber toy, swear on my 17 dogs’ lives.
Oh, and yeah, I’ve been dead twice: it happened (so I’m told) while I was in a chemically induced coma after I broke my neck in a quad-bike accident in 2003. I’ve got more metal screws in me now than in an Ikea flatpack thanks to the doctors and nurses at the NHS.
So, as you can imagine, when The Sunday Times Magazine asked me to be its new health-advice columnist — Dr Ozzy, as I’ll be known from now on — I thought they were taking the piss, to be honest with you. But then I thought about it for a while, and it makes perfect sense: I’ve seen literally thousands of doctors over my lifetime, and spent well over £1m on them, to the point where I sometimes think I know more about being a doctor than doctors do.
And it’s not just because of the lifestyle I’ve pursued. I also happen to be the world’s worst hypochondriac. I’ll catch a disease off the telly, me. Being ill is like a hobby. I’ve even started to diagnose my own diseases, thanks to Google (or I should say thanks to my assistant Tony, because I’m not exactly Steve Jobs when it comes to computers).
Understandably, the question I always get is: “If you’re such a hypochondriac, Ozzy, how could you have taken all those drugs?” But the thing is, when you have an addictive personality like mine, you never think anything bad’s gonna happen. It’s like: “Oh, well, I didn’t do as much as so-and-so — I didn’t drink as much as him, didn’t do as much coke.”
Now, that might be fine in theory, but in my case the so-and-so was usually a certified lunatic like John Bonham or Tommy Lee, which meant they’d put enough up their nose to march the Bolivian army to the moon and back. Another thing I’d always tell myself was: “Oh, a doctor gave me the drugs, and he must know what he’s doing — mustn’t he?” But that was ignoring the fact that I’d administered the stuff myself. And if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a qualified medical professional.
Which explains all the near misses I’ve had: overdoses, seizures, you name it. Most of the time I blamed it on my dyslexia: “Oh, I thought it said 24 pills every two hours, not two pills every 24 hours."
The funny thing is, to my friends I’ve been Dr Ozzy for years — mainly because I used to be like a walking pharmacy. I remember back in the 1980s, when a friend came to me with a leg ache. I went to get my “special” suitcase, pulled out a pill the size of a golf ball and said: “Here, take this.” It was ibuprofen, before you could buy it over the counter in the UK. He came back a few hours later and said: “Dr Ozzy, you cured me!” The only problem was, I gave him 800mg — enough to cure an obese elephant. It knocked the bloke out for a month. That was in the old days, of course, before lawsuits were invented. I’d never do that now. Honest to God.
But it’s not just medication I’ve given to my friends. As strange as it sounds, a lot of people have asked me for family advice, especially in recent years. I suppose it’s because they saw me raising Jack and Kelly during The Osbournes, and they think I’m like the Bill Cosby of the undead or something. They ask me stuff like “How do I bring up the subject of sex with my kids?” or “How do I talk to them about drugs?”
I’m happy to help the best I can. The trouble is, when I talked to my kids about drugs, it was: “Can you give me some?” But I’ve become a better father since then, I like to think. I mean, during the worst days of my addiction, I wasn’t really a father at all, I was just another one of Sharon’s kids. But I’m a different person now: I keep fit, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t get high — or least not on anything but endorphins.
I enjoy my family more than I ever have before: not just my five amazing kids (two of them with my first wife, Thelma) but also my four grandkids. Plus, after nearly 30 years, my marriage to Sharon is going stronger than ever, so I guess I must be doing something right.
When you live full-time in California, as I’ve done for the past few years, you often feel people spend so much time trying to save their lives that they don’t live them. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re all going to die. So what’s the point of always worrying about your health?
For me, the decision to change my life wasn’t really about my health. It was about the fact that I wasn’t having fun any more. As I used to say, I’d put the “wreck” into recreation. I was on clonazepam, zolpidem, temazepam, chloral hydrate, alcohol, Percocet, codeine — and that was just for starters. But morphine was my favourite. I didn’t do it for very long, mind you, because Sharon would find me passed out on the floor with the dog licking my forehead, and she put a stop to it. And thank God she did: I’d have kicked the bucket a long time ago otherwise.
Funnily enough, it was the smoking that put me over the edge. I’m a singer, that’s how I earn a living, but I would get a sore throat then cough through a pack of Marlboros to the point where I couldn’t do gigs. It was ridiculous; the stupidest thing you could ever imagine. So the cigarettes were the first thing I quit, and that started the ball rolling. Now I take drugs only for real things, such as high cholesterol, depression or heartburn.
I can understand — sort of — if people think it’s more rock’n’roll to die young. But what really winds me up is when you hear: “Oh, my great-aunt Nelly smoked 80 fags a day and drank 16 pints of Guinness before bed every night, and she lived until she was 103.” I mean, yeah, that happens. My own gran lived until she was 99. But the odds aren’t on your side. Especially when you get to the grand old age of 61, like me.
Another thing that puts a bee up my arse is people who never get checkups, and never go to the doctor, even when they’re half-dead. I had my prostate checked just the other week, for example — I’m on a three-year plan for prostate and colon tests — and couldn’t believe how many blokes said to me: “Your prostate? What’s that?” I was like: “Look, chicks get breast cancer, and blokes get cancer of the prostate.” One guy even asked: “Where is it?” I told him, “Up your arse,” and he went: “How do they check that, then?” I said: “How do you think? It starts with a rubber glove and ends with your voice rising 10 octaves.”
My prostate guy here in Los Angeles says that every man over 50 will develop some kind of prostate problem as they get older, but only half will get tested. And yet nowadays you can cure prostate cancer if you get to it early enough. It’s the same with colon cancer. Mind you, I’m the first to admit that the preparation for the colon-cancer test isn’t exactly glamorous. They give you this horrible liquid to drink and then you have to crap through the eye of a needle until your backside is so clean, if you open your mouth you can see daylight at the other end. But it’s only because I got tested for colon cancer that my wife did the same — and her test came back positive. Thanks to that, they caught the cancer in time and her life was saved. So my first advice as Dr Ozzy will be: don’t be ignorant.
I haven’t always been a hypochondriac. When I was growing up in Aston, Birmingham, for example, our family GP was a guy called Dr Rosenfield, and I’d do anything to get out of an appointment with him — mainly because his receptionist was a woman with a full-on beard. I ain’t kidding you: a big, black, bushy beard. It freaked me out. She was like Captain Pugwash in a frock. And Dr Rosenfield’s surgery was so drab, you felt worse coming out than when you went in. Rosenfield himself wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t exactly a comforting figure, either. I remember falling out of a tree one time when I was scrumping apples: I hit a branch on the way down, and my eye swelled up like a black balloon. When I got home my old man smacked me around the ear before sending me off to get my injury looked at — then Dr Rosenfield smacked me around the ear, too!
I rarely got any kind of proper medical care in those days, mind you. If one of the six Osbourne kids had an earache, they’d get a spoonful of hot chip fat down their earhole. And my gran would give us milk and mutton fat for croupy cough. As for my father, he had this tin in his shed. I don’t know what was in it, some kind of black greasy stuff, and if you got a boil on your neck he’d go: “I’ll get rid of that for yer, son.” And he’d slap it on there, and you’d be, like: “Not the black tin! Nooo!” But that’s all my folks could afford. Shelling out on zit cream from Boots wasn’t gonna happen when they could barely afford to get food on the table. My father was one of those people who’d never see a doctor. He’d never take a day off work at the GEC factory, either. He’d have to have been missing a limb to take a sickie; even then, he’d probably just hop into the factory like nothing had happened. I don’t think he got a single checkup right up until the end of his life — and by that time he was riddled with cancer. It was his prostate that gave up first. I don’t know why he’d avoided doctors, given that it was all free on the NHS, but it made me think the opposite way: if I go to the doctor now and there’s something wrong with me, they’ll catchit early and I’ll get to live another day. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I ain’t afraid of dying. Although it would be good to know where it’s gonna happen, so I can avoid going there…
Sometimes I think people in Britain don’t make enough use of the NHS because they’re too busy complaining about it. But Americans — who’ll queue up outside a sports arena for three days just to go to a free clinic — can’t believe the deal we get over here. I’ll never forget the first time I got an x-ray done in the US after my quad-bike crash. The doc came into the room, holding up my slide and whistling through his teeth. “How much did all that cost you, huh?” he asked, seeing all the rods and bolts holding my neck and back together. “A couple of mill?“A
ctually, it was free,” I told him. “I had the accident in England.” I almost had to call for a nurse, he got such a shock.
I just had my eyes fixed, having suffered from cataracts for years. I’m a new man in so many ways. I might be 61, but I haven’t felt so young since the 1960s. Aside from my eyes, the other big change in my life is that I’ve pretty much become a vegetarian. Seriously. It’s my new phase: brown rice and vegetables. I don’t even drink milk, apart from a splash in my tea. It ain’t because of the animals. I mean, I used to work in a slaughterhouse. You won’t see me marching over the frozen tundra, hunting down people who club seals. I just can’t digest meat any more.
I also saw that Food, Inc film the other day, which gives you a new perspective — not just on meat-eating, but on the whole animal-product industry. I mean, think of the entire population of the US, which is, what, 309m? Say 80m of them eat an egg every day: that’s a lot of eggs to squeeze out of a lot of chickens. And the way they do it at these megafarms is enough to put you off breakfast for life.
Not that I’m into any of that organic bollocks. People think they’re buying another day on this Earth, so they get ripped off. If you want organic, grow your own, that’s what I say. I used to do that when I was married to my ex and we had a little cottage in Ranton, Staffordshire. A veggie patch also happens to be a great place to hide your stash. Having said that, I’d always get stoned and forget where I had buried it. One time, I spent a whole week down the garden, trying to find a lump of Afghan hash. The missus thought I must just be really worried about my carrots.
I suppose when people hear stories like that, they might think I’m too much of a bad example to give advice. I wouldn’t argue with them — and I’d hate for anyone to think: “Oh, if Ozzy survived all that outrageous behaviour, so can I.” But d’you know what? If people can learn from my stupid mistakes without having to repeat any of them; or if they can take some comfort from the crazy things my family has been through over the years; or if just hearing me talk about colonoscopies makes them less embarrassed about getting tested for colon cancer, that’s more than enough for me. Dr Ozzy’s job will be done.
One last thing: being a hypochondriac, I’ll never tell someone to just stop worrying and/or come back later if their symptoms get worse. In Dr Ozzy’s surgery, everything will get taken seriously. As I’ve always said to my own doctors, “One day you’re gonna be standing at my graveside while the priest is reading the eulogy, and you’re gonna look down and see the inscription on my headstone, and it’ll say, ‘See? I told you I was ill.’”