From rock star wife to reality TV celebrity, to talent show judge and chat show host, Sharon Osbourne has found a firm place in the nation's hearts. What will she get up to next?
She was born Sharon Rachel Levy in October 1952 to father music manager Harry Levy, who later changed his name to Don Arden to avoid anti-Semitism, and mother, Hope, an Irish Catholic and former dancer. She would become estranged from her father only to reconnect with him a few years before his death and suspects her mother’s cold personality was the result of a violent head injury in a car accident. In 1999, when her brother called to say their mother had died, Osbourne said, “Oh, what a shame,” and put down the phone.
Life as the daughter of Don Arden was never ordinary, to say the least. He represented some of the biggest music acts of the 1960s and 1970s - Little Richard, Electric Light Orchestra, Small Faces, even Queen for a short time - but he was hopeless at managing money and the family lurched between poverty and the high life. The Ardens spent years in a ramshackle house in Brixton, south London, before moving to a flat in Mayfair where bailiffs arrived occasionally to remove the furniture if business wasn’t going well.
Arden was known as a tough and ruthless manager who was not averse to using standover tactics; he once threatened to throw a rival music impresario out of the window for daring to discuss a change in the management of Small Faces. As a young woman, Osbourne modelled herself on her father. She beat people up and drank until she vomited, but says witnessing her father’s financial mistakes only served to make her business acumen sound.
One of the bands her father managed was Birmingham rock group Black Sabbath. The band’s lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne, had a dark persona and was known for wild antics on and off stage. He was briefly kicked out of the band in 1979 for heavy substance abuse and while he was solo, she took him on as a client, eventually going out with him. Arden resented his daughter for dating Ozzy and managing his career and he even set his dogs on her when she visited him. She was pregnant at the time and tragically lost the baby. She soon lost contact with her father and did not speak to him for 20 years. (He died 21 July 2007). Osbourne had told her children that their grandfather was dead, so it was a surprise to them when she revealed he was actually alive and kicking.
The dog attack was one of many cruel things her father did. In her book, ‘Extreme: My Autobiography’, Osbourne claims that as well as threatening to kill her, Arden robbed her blind, tried to turn Ozzy against her by taking him to the pub and telling him his wife slept around, was “sexually deviant” and had tried to seduce him, her own father. To his credit Ozzy staggered back from the pub and said he thought her dad was nuts. Arden also tricked her into signing a tax bill which, in 2003, resulted in an invoice for $2.5m.
Osbourne says she was surrounded by violence during her childhood and that it was a normal occurrence to see her father threatening someone or brandishing a firearm. She finally made the break from him when she discovered he was having an affair and this began to expose all the other lies he'd told her.
She made an equally sharp about-turn after waking one morning following a heavy night of drinking with Ozzy and hardly recognising herself in the mirror for the bruising, with no memory of what had happened. From that day forth she didn’t touch alcohol in Ozzy’s presence.
“Our fights were legendary,” she says. “We’d beat the shit out of each other. At a gig, Ozzy would run off stage during a guitar solo to fight with me, then run back on to finish the song! We were in the gutter, morally, and I realised that if we both carried on, we’d wind up a washed-up pair of old drunks living in a hovel somewhere. So I stopped drinking.”
Ozzy’s cute image on MTV is hard to square with his wife’s account of those years. On one occasion he knocked out Sharon’s front teeth. The most notorious incident arose in August 1989 when Ozzy was arrested for attempted murder after he had returned from a peace festival in Moscow and tried to strangle his wife in a haze of alcohol and drugs. She retaliated equally violently, throwing a full bottle of Scotch at his head. After the incident, he spent three months in rehabilitation as a result of his actions, after which time, Osbourne said she regained her strength in their relationship and did not press charges. She considered leaving Ozzy but had nowhere to go and, despite everything, found that when they were apart she missed him. After the strangling incident he swore he’d reform and while the drinking continued, as far as the violence went, he was true to his word.
When the couple had their first child, Aimee, in 1983, Osbourne worried about the environment she was bringing her new baby into. “Being born into this family. I was very, very worried for her,” she says. “But I knew that if I protected her enough and showed her the right way, she’d stay on my path.” The couple went on to have two more children, Kelly, then Jack. While their upbringing was by no means conventional, there can be no doubt their parents dote on the trio. Osbourne remembers the night Jack was born. She came home to find Ozzy in bed with another woman. “Ozzy was loaded when he got to the hospital. Then he collapsed and went home. My assistant popped in to see if he was OK and found him in bed with the nanny. She wasn’t a beautiful blonde; she was an ugly old cow. Ozzy was a raging drunk. I don’t know if he actually got it up.”
During term time, they lived in a quaint village in Buckinghamshire and during the holidays they went on the road with Ozzy; it is hard to imagine a weirder contrast. They fitted in much better in Great Missenden than in Beverly Hills, she says. “The kids would go to California and stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel and see all the Paris Hiltons and all that shit, and then they’d come home and they’d go to the Gateway [school] and we’d go to the sweetshop every day after school and get a little bag of sweets and we had a very normal life. It was a good learning experience for the kids; they learned that it’s not all like Beverly Hills.”
In 1999, an overweight and unhappy Osbourne underwent lap-band surgery losing 100 pounds and gaining a new svelte, tailored image. She has admitted to spending £300,000 on plastic surgery. From 2002 to 2005, much of the world tuned in to catch a glimpse of the domestic life of the rocker, his wife Sharon, and two of their children, Jack and Kelly, on the MTV hit reality show ‘The Osbournes’. After managing her husband’s career for decades, Osbourne stepped into the spotlight with the series. In July 2002, Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer and viewers of the MTV reality series watched every excruciating moment of the struggle as she fought for her health. She beat the cancer and two years later founded the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program.
When heavy metal went out of fashion and Ozzy couldn’t get bookings at any of the big music festivals, she set up her own for him, Ozzfest, which became bigger than all the existing ones. As well as the book and TV shows, such as ‘The X Factor’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’, chat shows on both sides of the Atlantic, and an appearance in ‘The Vagina Monologues’, she has also made a film, ‘It’s A Boy Girl Thing’, in which she played the mother of one of the leads. Osbourne was suggested for the part by her friend, Elton John, who executive produced. “The part called for an English, middle-aged, pushy, loud-mouthed mother and he said: “Well, I know one of those.”
Never known to mince her words while judging on TV talent shows, Osbourne is just as revealing about herself in her book. She admits to sending her own excrement to people who have crossed her path. “I must have a thing, not about shitting but about sending it to people. I've done it for an awfully long time. I suppose I find it funny.’’
In 2008, Osbourne announced that she would not be appearing as a judge in the fourth series of ‘The X Factor’. In a statement she thanked the British public for their support and said her time on the show had been an "exciting ride". In an interview on Piers Morgan's Life Stories the following year, Osbourne revealed that her decision to leave was down to her relationship with fellow judge Dannii Minogue. "I didn't enjoy working with her at all and didn't fancy the prospect of spending six months sitting next to her," she said. however, she did return to the show in 2013, minus Danni!
Osbourne went on to join the judging panel of ‘America's Got Talent’, alongside Piers Morgan and David Hasselhoff. In October 2010, Osbourne became one of five hosts on new CBS show ‘The Talk’ – a panel show similar to The View.
Sharon hit the headlines the following year when it was revealed that her family had racked up a tax debt of £1 million. Osborne had not been aware of the debt and initially blamed her accountant. However, she accepted blame and said she had been "too involved with herself" to keep track of the family's finances. Osbourne has since cleared the debt.