The strange story of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘personal dwarf’ John Edward Allen
Perhaps in the quite surreal world of Ozzy Osbourne we should be surprised by nothing. The Prince of Darkness has an arsenal of bizarre, far-fetched and sometimes downright unbelievable tales to tell in a rollercoaster career that spans 50 years.
Being the snarling, uncontrollable frontman of heavy metal icons Black Sabbath, Osbourne’s battles with addiction and mounting controversial rock n roll myths knew no bounds. If Ozzy wasn’t biting the head off a live dove on the day he signed a momentous record deal, or doing the very same thing to a bat while on stage, he was being linked to satanism and being demonised by an endless stream if religious groups.
Having been fired from Black Sabbath in 1979 due to alcohol and drug problems, Osbourne was replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Upon his dismissal, Osbourne once said: “I’d got £96,000 for my share of the name, so I’d just locked myself away and spent three months doing coke and booze. My thinking was, ‘This is my last party, because after this I’m going back to Birmingham and the dole.” But, of course, instead of that well-laid plan coming together, everything went wrong for Ozzy who instead of signing on for the dole, went on to record eleven hugely successful solo studio albums and wrack up over 100 million albums sales.
With that all being said, Birmingham’s favourite son had a warped sense of humour that would repeatedly test the borderline of acceptability. Enter, then, John Edward Allen a man who would take up the role of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘personal dwarf’.
John Edward Allen, a dwarf just 3ft 10in tall, started life as tailor in Southampton having previously attended the Lord Mayor Treloar College. However, in a desperate and somewhat unprompted life change, Allen packed up his bags and flew to America to visit his sister and, ultimately, attempt to fulfil his ambitions of becoming an actor.
After landing a couple of gigs on New York’s Broadway, Allen’s career snowballed with one success after another. From a role in Blade Runner alongside the great Harrison Ford, or Paradise Alley with Sylvester Stallone, or a place on the Wizard of Oz, Allen’s career took off – even performing for President Jimmy Carter at the White House in the late 70s.
Despite his successes, Allen’s personal battles were ever present. Being what some described as “a pretty trouble guy”, Allen loved to drink… almost as much as Ozzy Osbourne loved to drink. It was at this point the two worlds collide. Osbourne’s solo career was flying and, in typical Ozzy style, he had become infatuated with the idea of introducing a dwarf to his live performances. After putting the word out, Osbourne hired Allen for the duration of both his ‘Diary of a Madman’ and ‘Speak of the Devil’ tours.
However, the twist came with Ozzy renamed Allen “Ronnie” in what was a direct dig at the vertically challenged Ronnie James Dio who had just replaced him Sabbath. Plenty of people speculated about the suspicious naming of Ozzy’s ‘personal dwarf’ at the time but it was drummer Tommy Aldridge who confirmed it: “Out of our insecurities, we sometimes say and do things that are not on,” Aldridge once said when asked if Ozzy deliberately chose the name Ronnie. “Ozzy has always had an unusual sense of humour. Without being specific… he took full advantage of any opportunity to poke fun at Ronnie [James Dio].”
During song intervals of live performances on the tour, Ozzy had his roadie dwarf Allen come out and serve him drinks and hand him a towel. Many fans recall that Ozzy would make wisecracks with the crowd, saying things like “say hi to ‘Ronnie’, he lives in a little hole”.
Somewhat unbelievably, Ozzy would then bring ‘Ronnie’ back out later in the show to be hung during the song ‘Goodbye to Romance’, a track which was written about Ozzy leaving Sabbath.
The tours lasted in excess of eight months and would see ‘Ronnie’ being hung for every show. Given the tense atmosphere of life on the road coupled with the fact that both ‘Ronnie’ and Ozzy had a tendency to overindulge on the stimulants, the relationship would often boil over. At one point, Ozzy was criticised for the treatment of ‘Ronnie’ after locking him in the luggage compartment of the tour bus while being interviewed by a journalist.
“He showed up late, he drank… It got to me after a while,” Ozzy once said of ‘Ronnie’. “So, one night, when he wanted to get on the tour bus, I threw him in the luggage compartment. Somebody grabbed me and said: ‘What you’re doing is not only illegal but it’s inhumane.’ I lost it. I yelled: ‘He’s my fucking midget and I’ll fucking do what I want with him.'”
It is at this point that the voice of ‘Ronnie the Dwarf’ could be heart muffled while in the luggage compartment uttering the words “He’s right: I’m his midget and he can do what he wants with me.'”
Allen’s collaboration with Ozzy continued for the remainder of the Speak of the Devil Tour and, of course, he would be ceremoniously hanged every evening.
It was during the Diary of a Madman Tour that they parted ways. As Ozzy’s drug and alcohol issue spiralled out of control following the tragic death of guitarist Randy Rhoads in a plane crash, Ozzy’s ‘personal dwarf’ John Edward Allen left the band.
Allen would return to making films for the next few years before moving back to England and, tragically, dying at the age of 49 from overdose suicide.