Ozzy Osbourne -- high-mileage rock-and-roller and erstwhile star of television's most expletive-filled reality show, the eponymous "Osbournes" -- is closing in on his first year of sobriety.
And given those long-overdue 12 steps, the location of today's interview -- the empty rooftop bar of the Peninsula Hotel -- seem ironic to everyone but Osbourne himself.
"I go to meetings in bars -- quite a few," says the self-anointed Prince of Darkness, who, in the absence of the booze and the pills and the cigarettes, is positively decipherable. "It doesn't bother me," he continues as spring snowflakes fall and a yellow ribbon of cabs idles on Fifth Avenue. "The obsession has been taken."
By all indications, the Oz-man's career hasn't dried out along with him.
Witness his new box set, "Prince of Darkness," a 52-song package of remastered hits and demos, oddball collaborations with the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan and Miss Piggy, and recently recorded covers, including "Sympathy for the Devil" ("the only Rolling Stones song that I kind of can say I relate to with my image") and Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" ("Leslie West was the first guy to ever turn me on to cocaine, so ... it's his fault").
Lemonade, hold the booze
July brings the 10th anniversary of Ozzfest, the summer tour initiated in 1996, when youth-obsessed Lollapalooza denied Osbourne a slot. Indefatigable wife and longtime manager, Sharon, saw an opportunity to make that proverbial lemonade, and over the past decade, the annual festival has grossed more than $172 million.
Metalheads aside, Osbourne, 56, owes much of his current Q quotient to his family's "reality sitcom." "The Osbournes" transformed him from a rock-and-roll pensioner best known for biting the heads off a dove (wittingly, to show his disgruntlement to studio execs) and a bat (unwittingly, thinking it was a rubber prop) to an endearing if profane father figure who shuffles around his shabby-chic mansion slurping smoothies and fiddling with the satellite remote.
It was in that MTV fishbowl that Osbourne and kin -- including daughter Kelly, now 20, and son Jack, 19, both rehab alumni themselves -- navigated everything from bulldog vomit to obnoxious neighbors. "Father Knows Best" meets "The Munsters" by way of "Blue Velvet," it was an instant hit.
"I still don't understand the magnitude" of the show, Osbourne says, wearing his latest piece of rock bling-bling -- an amethyst cross large enough to crucify a gerbil, a gift from Elton John. "I'm kind of used to walking down the street and being recognized. But not by housewives and priests."
For faithful followers of "The Osbournes," which ended its four-season run last month, the need for closed captioning on any given episode was a good indicator of the former Black Sabbath front man's degree of lucidity. He hit a low point, by his own admission, when Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer during the second season.
"It spun me off into another world," Osbourne says, adding that he pleaded for Sharon to shut off the cameras, to no avail. "I had a plan, you know. I thought I'd go first, considering I'm the nut-case, drunk, alcoholic wreck. She never drinks, and she ends up with colon cancer."
Terrified he would wake up and find his wife dead beside him, he slept on a couch for nine months.
Today, with the removal of one foot of her colon and chemotherapy behind her, Sharon continues her marathon shopping, leaving her husband to good-naturedly kvetch about everything from her shoe collection ("I said to her one day, 'Are you turning into a -- -- millipede?'") to her $60,000 heated toilet ("She does phone interviews sitting on the can").
But behind the veil of vermilion-streaked hair and blue-tinted John Lennon shades, there is sentiment as obvious as the words of a Hallmark card.
"I absolutely adore the woman," says Osbourne, who by all accounts was a latecomer to the fidelity concept. "I don't screw around, I don't go to clubs, I'm not looking for other women. Guys are weird. They get to the age of 45 and they think they've got a pair of new testicles and want to go out and test them out again. I'm not interested."
The show's last episode featured the Osbournes in a mini-therapy session with a phlegmatic Dr. Phil in which Kelly wept at her father's absences. "Kelly's somewhat very dramatic," says Osbourne, adding that her childhood temper tantrums led to her nickname, Kelly Wobbler. "But I love her."
Indeed, he is unabashedly enamored of all three of his children; older daughter Aimee, 21, who declined to be on the show, is "a lot like me," he confides, "in the respect that she's fearful." (Osbourne's first marriage, which resulted in two 30-something children, ended after a decade in 1981. Adult son Louis, a techno DJ, appeared on the first season in a handful of somewhat stilted guest appearances.)
Condoms from Dad
Growing up poor near working-class Birmingham, England, "my folks never told me about anything, not a damn thing," Osbourne says. "Whatever I discovered was listening to my mates on the streets or reading a book or a magazine." His parenting style has been more involved, if somewhat unorthodox, such as tucking giveaway condoms left over from Ozzfest into his children's dresser drawers.
"I'd say, 'If and when you become sexually active, wear these, and make the people wear them, because if you come up HIV positive, your life is -- -- over. And so is mine.' I'm as blunt as that. If it's wrong, it's wrong."
Without the cameras to document his burrito consumption and F-word flinging, Osbourne plans to release another album entirely of covers and has been at work on what he hopes is a Broadway-bound rock opera about Rasputin "the well-hung monk."
While Sharon's forays on stage and screen have been mixed at best -- her syndicated morning talk show fizzled, and earlier this month she and daughter Aimee abruptly pulled out of a London production of "The Vagina Monologues" -- her husband says he'd like to try his hand at a late-night show. All the current ones, he complains, are too " -- -- boringly formulated."
"I want to do another Sabbath album. I want to do another solo album," Osbourne says, sipping mineral water, the picture of tattooed sobriety. "I'll always be about."