One of the most infamous moments in a long career of infamous moments, today marks the anniversary of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat live onstage in front of a stunned audience. It’s gone down in history as one of the most unforgettable moments in rock history.
Arriving in Des Moines as part of his solo tour in 1982, Ozzy Osbourne was in typically audacious form and was ready to give the audience a performance they would never forget. While Osbourne was more than capable of pulling off such a feat without the theatrics, he chose to turn things up a notch on this occasion. The singer was at the height of his infamy when he clamped the mammal’s head between his teeth and chomped down.
It has become one of the most iconic moments of Osbourne’s long career. 2019 even saw the Prince of Darkness release a plush toy of a bat with a detachable head to complete your child’s collection. It shows just how integral this, and many other stunts, have been to Osbourne’s legacy. It’s such an integral piece, in fact, that we’re more than happy to revisit the morbid mutilation.
The story begins in such a genteel fashion too. Osbourne was visiting the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines in support of his second solo record, Diary of a Madman, and was in buoyant mood. The performance was going well, and Osbourne felt the crowd’s energy. Perhaps as part of that jubilation, he noticed a soft toy had landed at his feet, thrown from the crowd.
In a somewhat deranged episode of Night Flight, the acclaimed TV series, Osbourne explained the rest of the tribulations: “I thought it was one of those rubber bats. I picked it up and it was a real bat, you know?” The interviewer then asks if the bat was alive when Osbourne picked it up, he replied it was, “’Til I bit the head off it.”
The reports as to whether the bat was, in fact, alive tend to differ slightly depending on which source you go to. The Des Moines Register naturally covered the story after it broke and sparked outrage. The paper spoke to the man responsible for launching the bat onstage in the first place, Mark Neal. Having failed at housebreaking the mammal into a domestic animal, Neal claimed the animal had been dead for two weeks when he decided to bring it to the show as part of a party trick.
Dead or alive, the bat eventually ended up in Ozzy Osbourne’s dental guillotine. Osbourne persevered with the set and ended with rapturous applause but, as one might imagine, that wasn’t the end of the story. Osbourne was later rushed to the hospital and given a host of rabies injections. What’s more, when he finally did settle down after the show adrenaline and rabies shots cooled off, he soon realised the mistake he’d made and the headlines he had created.
“I had to go straight from the gig to the hospital, and the guy said, ‘we better give you some precautionary rabies shots’,” Osbourne recalls in the 1992 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.”
It wasn’t the first time Osbourne had found himself with an animal’s life between his teeth. According to the author of Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe and the band’s former publicist Mick Wall, the singer had acted similarly when in a meeting with CBS Records executives, which had grown tiresome, bit the head off two doves. Wall says that Osbourne had originally planned his appearance at the executive meeting by charmingly releasing three doves into the air like some kind of metal magician.
Not so charmingly, after Osbourne got drunk and subsequently upset with a PR exec, he decapitated the birds in front of everybody.
Wall claims Osbourne told him some years later: “[I] pulled out one of these doves and bit its [expletive] head off. Just to shut her up. Then I did it again with the next dove, spitting the head out on the table. That’s when they threw me out.”
While no footage of the event exists below you can find Ozzy explaining the horrifying incident in the aforementioned Night Flight episode below.