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35 Years Ago: Ozzy Osbourne Bites Off the Heads of Two Doves

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

“He did what???”

That was pretty much the reaction of music fans in March 1981 when word began to spread that Ozzy Osbourne – the recently deposed Black Sabbath singer – had bit off the heads of two white doves with his teeth.

As the saying goes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and Osbourne was finding ever wilder and unbelievable ways to reinvent his sound and image. First off, he was greatly aided and abetted by a dynamite new backing band led by guitar wiz Randy Rhoads. And it didn’t hurt that his career was being guided by the business acumen and sheer tenacity of his manager (and future wife) Sharon Arden.

Many people have attempted to make sense of that day’s bizarre events, including Mick Wall, who recounted the incident in his Black Sabbath biography, Symptom of the Universe. As Wall wrote, the prospects of Osbourne’s nascent solo career were still in doubt as his debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, slowly fought its way onto the U.K. charts while awaiting its U.S. release. In a bid to encourage Epic Records to take her client’s music more seriously, Arden decided it would be a good idea to “make nice” by attending the label’s annual sales convention.

“[Sharon] arranged for [Ozzy] to give a short speech, lauding the efforts of the company workforce in the lead-up to the U.S. release of Blizzard of Ozz,” Wall wrote. “The piece de resistance was to have Ozzy ending his speech by releasing three white doves into the gathered audience of [label] higher-ups and worker bees.” But Arden’s clever peacemaking reference unexpectedly and gruesomely backfired when Osbourne (who “had polished off a bottle of brandy in the car on the way to the convention,” according to Wall) got bored with the proceedings.

As Osbourne recalled to Wall, “I just remember this PR woman going on and on at me. In the end, I said, ‘Do you like animals?’ Then I pulled out one of these doves and bit its f—ing head off. Just to shut her up. Then I did it again with the next dove, spitting the head out on the table, and [the woman] fell on the floor screaming. That’s when they threw me out. They said I’d never work for CBS again.”

A mortified Arden immediately turned this potential fiasco to her advantage — not by trying to minimize the damage, which was, for the moment, known only to label executives, but by building it up into a perfect storm of press coverage, to ensure that the public would be able to read and watch all of the gory details in every newspaper and newscast across America.

Within days, Osbourne’s latest career debacle had been spun into a career catalyst, as Arden would later tell Wall that “the album began selling the same day.” Indeed, Blizzard suddenly had enough momentum to enter the U.S. charts, going on to sell millions of copies and turning around Osbourne’s post-Black Sabbath career. Future scandals would likewise only fuel the flames of his fame even higher.

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