The Bat, the Alamo and Randy Rhoads’ Death: The Two Most Troubled Months of Ozzy Osbourne’s Life
Somehow, Ozzy Osbourne managed to survive the '80s. But looking back at the decade, it's a miracle he did, especially the two-month period in 1982 that included events that were, by turn, humorous, tragic and downright bizarre.
They not only caused heartache and trouble with the law, but they came to define the singer to most people in the mainstream and cultivate his reputation as rock 'n' roll’s most notorious wild man.
These days, Osbourne no doubt looks back on the period with a mixture of sadness, regret and solace. He entered the ‘90s with huge successes -- with the hit record No More Tears, a steady stream of solo triumphs and then with a 1997 reunion with his Black Sabbath bandmates.
But first he needed to get through the bat, the Alamo and Randy Rhoads' death -- the two most troubled months of Ozzy Osbourne's life.
It all began on Jan. 20, 1982, in Des Moines. Performing at Veterans Memorial Auditorium while on tour to support the Diary of a Madman album, his second solo effort since departing Black Sabbath almost three years earlier, Osbourne picked up what he believed was a toy someone had thrown onstage.
“I thought it was one of those rubber bats,” Osbourne told Night Flight the year of the incident. “I picked it up and it was a real bat, you know?”
The interviewer asked if it was alive, and Ozzy said it was, “’Til I bit the head off it.”
That’s where a bit of confusion comes in, as The Des Moines Register caught up with the man who said he was the one responsible for bringing the mammal to the concert. Unsuccessful at housebreaking the bat along the lines of a dog or cat, Mark Neal claimed the bat had been dead for two weeks when he decided to bring it to the show. Whether it was alive or dead is beside the point, as Osbourne had to make a trip to the emergency room either way.
“I had to go straight from the gig to the hospital, and the guy said, We better give you some precautionary rabies shots,” Osbourne noted in the documentary Don’t Blame Me: The Tales of Ozzy Osbourne. “I had one in each rear, one in each arm, and one in the top of my leg -- and I had to have that every night. For anyone out there who thinks it’s “cool”… and if you want to be a complete dick, try it.”
The next occurrence took place 30 days later before a gig in San Antonio at the San Antonio Convention Center Arena, and is even more mired in debate as to what exactly went down than the bat biting. Colloquially known as “that time Ozzy was arrested for urinating on the Alamo,” the truth of the affair remained unclear until 2016, when the singer returned to the scene of the crime in an episode of the History Channel series Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour. The TV show documented Osbourne and his son’s excursions to various landmarks around the world.
Osbourne met with Texas State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who told the singer, “All I ever remember hearing was you urinated on the Alamo wall.”
He then pointed the pair to City Hall where they are able to access the original police report from Feb. 19, 1982, with the assistance of Councilman Roberto Treviño, who provided a copy of the arrest record, which shows the myth is much greater than the reality. “Believe it or not, it was for public intoxication, so not for the other thing we know about,” Treviño revealed to a visibly relieved Osbourne. “One of the most important parts about history is setting the record straight. So we’re happy to welcome you back, and you guys are always welcome here in San Antonio.”
“I nearly broke into my happy dance,” Osbourne said afterward. “I mean, I’m not really proud of the fact.”
Back in 2014, Texas Monthly reported the singer urinated on the Cenotaph, a tall structure across the street from the building. So in the end, Ozzy didn’t actually take a whiz on the Alamo. The lore of it outweighed the veracity, and though most people have that idea in their head, it’s incorrect, and Osbourne is in no rush to adjust.
“It’s kind of like the bad boy. Nobody wants me to say, ‘Hi, I’m a Christian,’” he said. “They want some bad-ass, you know?”
Beyond the bat, past the Alamo thing, what lies closest to Osbourne’s heart is the death of Randy Rhoads. It happened one month after the Texas arrest.
He found not only an inspiration in Rhoads to move forward in his post-Sabbath career, but a friend who became a chief collaborator on classics like “Crazy Train,” “Flying High Again” and “Over the Mountain.”
Then Rhoads died in a harrowing mishap on March 19, 1982. According to Osbourne in his 2010 memoir, I Am Ozzy, while traveling to a festival in Florida, Rhoads announced his departure from heavy metal. “I don’t think I want to be a rock ‘n’ roller anymore,” he told Osbourne, who couldn’t believe the young guitar prodigy would bolt from such a lucrative gig. “I want to go to university,” the Santa Monica native told his boss. “Get a degree.”
“We had this communication, it was incredible,” said Osbourne, who desperately tried to convince Rhoads to stay.
In the documentary Don’t Blame Me, Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister added, “He was a good boy, Randy, man, but more importantly, he worked with Ozzy very well. Without him, Ozzy couldn’t have done the album Blizzard of Ozz."
Rhoads, who had an alleged fear of flying, took up an offer from a random pilot with an expired flight license to traipse about the airspace while the rest of the band had decamped, including a sloshed Osbourne.
Pilot Andrew Aycock thought it would be a stellar move to take up Rhoads and the band's seamstress, Rachel Youngblood, for a ride where he intentionally buzzed the bus where drummer Tommy Aldridge and bassist Rudy Sarzo were chilling. The third pass went exceptionally wrong, clipping the bus and sending the aircraft spinning out of control into a nearby house. Rhoads' body was identifiable only by his jewelry.
“I’d never felt so totally f---ing out of it in my life,” Osbourne wrote in I Am Ozzy. “It was worse than the worst acid trip I’d ever had.”
Suddenly, Osbourne was without the guitarist who invigorated his musical career, kept him relevant and made him a star after his former bandmates wanted nothing to do with him. “I loved him as a person; I loved him as a human being," Osbourne said in Don’t Blame Me. “I suppose that time when he died, a part of me died with him. It was the first guy – the person – who came into my life and gave me hope.”
“When I was with Black Sabbath, I’d never felt worth anything, because I couldn’t contribute musically.“When Randy came along and was my partner … I remember when we wrote 'Goodbye to Romance' and I wrote this melody, and I kept humming this melody and he lived in my house when I lived with my ex-wife in Staffordshire, and he said, 'What’s this song and melody?' and he said, 'We’ll sit down, we’ll write it, you know? And with Sabbath, I would’ve never f---ing dreamed of that.”
Falling into a mental breakdown after Rhoads' death, Osbourne managed to pull himself back together fast, and less than a month later, he was back on the road with a new, temporary guitarist in Bernie Tormé, who had most recently played for Ian Gillan.
The years would include more moments like this -- from a legendary, drug-fueled tour with Mötley Crüe to being blamed by the parents of a teen who had killed himself while one of Osbourne's records was on the turntable, leading to a lawsuit. But those treacherous two months in 1982 stand as his most troubled.