How Ozzy Osbourne’s bat-biting debacle became a rock legend

“I won’t get in any trouble for admitting this, will I?”

Mark Neal had good reason to ask that question when he admitted it Des Moines Register that he had thrown a dead bat on stage at Ozzy Osbourneis Jan. 20, 1982, show at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium during his Diary of a Madman trip. All hell broke loose when the rocker sank his teeth into the winged mammal and ripped its head off, giving 5,000 fans a sight they would never forget.

The then 17-year-old Neal couldn’t have known it at the time, but his ill-conceived stunt would become one of the most infamous tales in rock history, cementing the Prince of Darkness’ reputation as a world-class degenerate and resulting in a Lot of rabies outbreaks in the following weeks.

To his credit, Osbourne thought he was biting a rubber bat that fateful night in Des Moines, though he soon discovered that was not the case. “For a start, my mouth was instantly full of this warm, murky liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine,” he wrote in his 2009 memoir I’m Ozzy. “I could feel it staining my teeth and running down my chin.”

Osbourne was no stranger to munching on winged creatures bit off the heads of two live pigeons during a March 1981 meeting with CBS Records. That Diary of a Madman tour also featured Osbourne’s “personal midget” John Edward Allen, who threw raw meat into the crowd and was ceremonially hanged each night.

This depravity on stage inspired the audience to bring naughty props. “We had dead cats, birds, lizards, all kinds of things. Every gig it just got crazier,” Osbourne wrote. “Eventually, people started throwing things on stage with nails and razor blades embedded in them—joke-shop things, mainly like rubber hoses and plastic spiders.”

It only made sense for Neal and his friend Carmen Kelly to smuggle a bat into the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Neal’s younger brother had found the bat two weeks before the concert, and Kelly convinced him to keep it in the freezer until they could deliver it to the singer. Despite Osbourne’s claims that the bat was wriggling in his mouth, Neal and Kelly both insisted it was dead.

“It landed in front Rudy Sarzothe bass player,” Neal shared Register. “He looked down at it and motioned to Ozzy, and as they say, the rest is history.”

Neal admitted the ordeal “really freaked me out,” but he was probably less rattled than Osbourne, who was rushed to the hospital for rabies shots after the show and continued to receive them over the next several weeks. “Every night for the rest of the trip I had to find a doctor and get several rabies shots: one in each cheek, one in each thigh, one in each arm,” he lamented. “Everybody hurts like a bastard.”

The Bat incident has become an inescapable part of the Dark Prince’s mythology, for better or for worse. While Osbourne has long grown tired of answering reporters’ questions about the stunt, it also became an integral part of his goods and iconography, thanks to his savvy wife and manager Sharon Osbourne. “You know, Ozzy has really lived a charmed journey,” Sarzo shared Yahoo music in 2022.

“Ozzy would do something and Sharon would be right behind him to spin it and save the day. Sharon knew right away she had an opportunity here. She contacted Michael Jensen Communications, our publicist, and she spun it. She spun the ‘myth’ ‘that it is today. I saw it happen right before my eyes: she picked up the phone, called Michael Jensen and said: ‘Hey, listen, this happened. Let’s make a story out of this ‘.”

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