A devoted wife and mother, businesswoman, TV star and award-winning producer, Sharon Osbourne has, in her own words, "lived fifty lives in fifty years". Her childhood with her father, the notorious rock manager Don Arden, was an unruly mix of glamour and violence. In her late 20s, Sharon finally made the painful decision to break with her family. Always irrepressible, Sharon flourished, creating a loving family of her own while becoming a legendary manager and rock band promoter.
In rock star Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon found her soul mate, yet Ozzy's drug and drink-fueled excesses-which culminated in his attempt to strangle her-made their marriage a white-knuckle ride from the start. Only her devotion to their three children gave her the will to survive.
From the tremendous highs of the hit show The Osbournes to the devastating lows of Ozzy's near-fatal quad-bike accident and her own bout with colon cancer, Sharon's tenacity, honesty, and humor have triumphed again and again.
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Sharon Osbourne ExtremeMy Autobiography
By Sharon Osbourne
SPRINGBOARD PRESSCopyright © 2005 Sharon Osbourne
All right reserved.
Memory is a strange thing, and since starting this book I have discovered that people's memories of the same event can be very, very different. What follows, therefore, is only my memory of what happened in my life. I cannot say this is how it happened. I can only say this is how it seemed to me at the time.
My earliest memory is of sitting on a wooden chair, watching some girls going through their dance routines in fishnet tights and silver shoes. I can't have been much more than two, but far from this being unusual, it was everyday life for me.
The church hall where my father would always do these rehearsals is no longer there, though the church still is, and the house where we lived - 68 Angell Road - has become one of a row of townhouse-style public-housing apartments.
The area has changed too. There's an edge of danger to it now, which wasn't the case back then. In the fifties and early sixties, Brixton, south of the Thames, was where all the vaudeville artists lived, comedians, singers, ventriloquists, acrobats. Entertainers. Pre-TV, vaudeville was the only entertainment there was for ordinary people, and with the Brixton Empress and the Camberwell Palace being less than a mile away,Brixton was the hub. Across the street from us were the fire-eater and a juggler. A dog act, a man called Reg, lived in a trailer in a bombsite behind our road and I used to play with his little girl.
Our house was large and old, with six steps leading up from the pavement and pillars on either side. At one time it must have been quite grand, but by the fifties the plaster was peeling off, and once you got inside everywhere was dingy and drafty and damp.
Before I was born, in 1952, my mother ran it as a theatrical digs, a boardinghouse for artists who needed a place to stay when they were working in town. And that was how she met my father. He took a room for the week in 1950, and six weeks later they were married.
Looking back, it's hard to see what they saw in each other - she didn't own the house, it was rented, and belonged to a chart-topping honky-tonk piano player named Winifred Atwell. And although my mother was obviously nice to look at - at least my father must have thought so - she was ten years older than him and divorced with two children. Her name was Hope Shaw (Mr. Shaw had been a bandleader and had fucked off to Canada with somebody else) but she was always called Paddy because of her Irish background, though my father would often call her Paddler because he thought it sounded more Jewish.
Maybe my father saw her as being a bit bohemian, because he himself had come from this very strict Jewish background, very frum as they say in Yiddish, while my mother was the polar opposite: an Irish Catholic and a former dancer.
My father's family were Russian Jews who had arrived in Manchester (in the north of England) around the time of the First World War. He was born Harry Levy, but changed it to Don Arden when he decided to make a career in show business. With such an obviously Jewish name he'd get nowhere, he said, and he'd had his fill of anti-Semitism in the army during the war. I don't know where he got it from - perhaps from Elizabeth Arden, the makeup line - but it did what he wanted. It's a name that says nothing about who you are or where you come from. A blank canvas.
My father was a singer, and although popular with audiences he was always in trouble with management. Things came to a head one night when he had a fight with a stage manager who had called him a Jewboy. It ended with them both rolling around the stage kicking the shit out of each other and the other guy falling into the orchestra pit. Not only was he told to pack his things and get out, Don Arden was banned from performing in any venue owned by Moss Empires for two years, and as these people had a virtual monopoly in vaudeville theaters, this was like a death sentence for his career. (They owned fifty of them, so artists would be under permanent contract, moving around the country playing one town a week.)
In order to make enough money to survive, he began packaging whole shows, which he'd then tour around independent theaters where his name still held good. He continued to perform, topping the bill with his own act - not only singing but doing impressions of American stars like Bing Crosby and Al Jolson that people knew from films - but also emceeing the rest of the show: a comic, puppet act, dancers, whatever. He was like a one-man band. He did so well that when the ban was lifted he never went back to simply performing.
My father didn't dare tell his family he was married until 1951, when my brother David was born. Even then, as he expected, his mother went insane and only finally agreed to meet my mother when I came along. Sally, as everybody called my grandmother, was herself divorced from my grandfather, so maybe he thought she'd be sympathetic - in fact I later found out that she'd been dumped in very similar circumstances to my mother - but she never really accepted having a shiksa as a daughter-in-law, and that went for my father's sister, my auntie Eileen, as well.
I can't remember a time when there wasn't turmoil within the family: fights between his mother and my mother, between his sister and my mother. And then, back in Brixton, there was my half sister, Dixie: always some drama with her. And different sorts of problems with my half brother, Richard. In fact, my father detested both his stepchildren, who by the time I was born were fifteen and ten respectively. According to him, Richard was always a dimp and a schmuck and Dixie was always a tart. But I was very close to them when I was growing up. With both my parents involved in the business, they relied on Richard to babysit and Dixie to cook and make my clothes.
The house on Angell Road was always overflowing with people. Not just us: my parents and me, David and Richard (Dixie had been sent away to school - my father got rid of her as soon as he could), but, to bring in extra money when it was needed, they continued to rent out rooms, mainly to other artists. In the basement next to the kitchen there was a permanent lodger, a young man named Nigel Heathhorn, who lived there until we moved. He had been orphaned during the war and put in the care of my mother by the bank that acted as his legal guardian. I never really knew what he did, but he used to spend money like water. My father had a record player he'd bought at Boots, and Nigel would buy all these classical records and stand there conducting them with a baton while admiring his reflection in the window. He even got hold of a proper film projector, 35mm, and would rent out movies from Wallace Heaton in Victoria and show them on the back wall of the yard, with a sheet pinned up for a screen, and everyone on the street would be hanging out of their windows watching.
Apart from Nigel, the only people who ever came into our house were artists or people connected with that world. The first room on the right when you came in was used as the office, and behind that was the sitting room, which opened onto the conservatory, and this was where friends and business associates were entertained. My mother's pride and glory was a bar that she bought at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Earl's Court, made out of wine barrels cut in half, which was stuck in the corner of every home they ever owned. There was a part you lifted up to go behind, and there was a corner shelf for the miniatures. And I can picture my mother there now, leaning on that bar, a gin in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
School was about half an hour's walk up Brixton Hill, but we usually took the bus from the end of our street. It was a preparatory school called Clermont, and the owner and only teacher was Miss Mayhew, a survivor of the Titanic. It was tiny, never more than thirty children, and we did our work in two rooms at the front. Our playground was the yard.
I was five when I started. David, being eighteen months older than me, had gone the previous year. My mother took us for the first week, to show me how to take the bus, but then we were on our own, rain or shine, sometimes with a packed lunch, usually not. My mother was never an early morning person. I'd go to my parents' bedroom to ask for a shilling for my lunch and she and my father would both be still sleeping and it was like: "For fuck's sake, Sharon, can't you see your mum's sleeping?"
Even when I was older and could make my own sandwiches, half the time there was no bread in the bin. So we'd buy some fries from the fish-and-chips shop, or pick up a bag of chips from the corner store. In the summer, we might walk to the café in Brockwell Park, an old building that seemed very grand in the middle of all that green and trees, and it was on top of a hill, so you could see right over London, and David would watch the birds.
Brixton then was a good place for kids to grow up. It was a poor part of London, like Compton in Los Angeles, which meant it was cheap. There were the market arcades under the railway line full of little stalls, like the pie and mash shop with its metal trough of jellied eels that they would chop up, which made me gag but fascinated me at the same time. And then there were the Indian shops with saris hung up outside the little entrances, all those amazing colors and strange foreign smells.
Just up from the market was Woolworth's where, as well as spending any money we might have, my brother and I would go stealing candy. My role was to go up and ask for something, and when the assistant went looking for it, David would stuff his pockets with anything he could find: play cigarettes, blackjacks, fruit salads, flying saucers.
The other place we stole from was a tiny candy store that was the only building still standing on the World War II bombsite behind our house, at the end of an alley. The lady who ran it was very old so taking anything was easy: flying saucers, sherbet dips and Jubblies, a pyramid of iced orange that you used to squeeze.
In those days my brother was very industrious in trying to find ways of making money. When it was Guy Fawkes night he used to dress me up, put me in an old-fashioned carriage with big wheels, stick me outside the pub, and I'd be panhandling bait. My father was a Black and White Minstrel for a while, on the hit TV show that was broadcast on Saturday nights. It would never be allowed now. In America it's called blackface, exactly what Al Jolson did, and it was probably the highspot of my father's singing career - so there was always plenty of greasepaint hanging around the house. David would black me up, then find a bit of black cloth to drape me in, shove on an old hat and push me along to the pub, and we'd get all the Irish drunks as they came out.
Those were the good days. Bad days were when I'd be put in the coalhole, which was like a horrible underground cupboard off Nigel's bedroom. Coal still got stored in there - delivered down a chute from the street - and whenever my brother or I misbehaved, my parents would lock us in there for what seemed like forever, but was probably only an hour or an hour and a half. It was horrible. And the worst thing was the spiders, and scufflings that David said were rats.
My grandmother Nana lived in Prestwich, a smart suburb of Manchester, and I absolutely adored her. She's probably the only woman I ever met who was bald, and to hide it she had this terrible combover, a real wraparound hairdo (think Donald Trump) - except hers would wrap around twice. When we were out - Nana was a big one for afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel - she wore hats to cover it up. Hats with matching gloves and matching handbag. Everyone wore hats in those days, if they were ladies. There were other things she taught me about being a lady, like using rose water and witch hazel on your skin and not sitting on the lavatory seat when you were out because you could catch things. Unspecified things, but which later I discovered included babies when you didn't want them. So she showed me how to cover the seat with overlapping sheets of shiny toilet paper and then try to sit down quick before they fluttered away.
Whenever my parents were on tour in the north, they'd take us out of school and leave us with her. They didn't give a shit about the academic side of life. But the atmosphere between my mother and Nana was terrible, and until my parents left the house it was like walking on eggshells, so I couldn't wait for them to leave.
Being with Nana made me feel warm and safe. She was motherly. She would cook for me. She would tuck me up in bed. And she was very house-proud and would scrub the front step every day. Everything in that house was scrubbed and cleaned till it shone.
She couldn't have been more different from my other grandmother, who unfortunately I saw more of because she lived not far from us in Clapham, just off Wandsworth Common. She'd been a dancer like my mother, and again like my mother she now ran a theatrical rooming house. Dolly O'Shea had long white hair that she wore down to her shoulders, curled under and tied with a huge red satin bow, and she always had dark red lipstick, like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, that went over the lines of her mouth, and I never saw her without a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She was incredibly ugly and had the biggest nose I have ever seen. A real Fagin nose. She frightened me and she stank, stank of her fanny and BO, and her flat stank of fried food. She adored my brother - she even paid for him to go to stage school in the beginning - but she hated me. If she'd been Chinese she'd have been the sort of person who had the girls put out to die.
And I remember so clearly clinging to the banisters on Angell Road when my dad said we had to go and see her, and me saying, "Please don't make me! Please, please let me stay home!" And then he would whack me over the knuckles so I'd let go of the banister and then he'd drag me into the car.
My father was soon going farther afield with his tours, mostly to American air bases in Germany. There were four in Frankfurt alone, each one of them full of bored GIs waiting to be entertained. We never stayed on the bases themselves, but sometimes we'd be allowed in to watch the show. He could keep the fucking show; what I wanted was the PX, the general store with all the American magazines and comics, Batman and Superman. But the best thing was the food, milk shakes and burgers- there was nothing like that in fifties Brixton. But usually at night they'd leave us back in the boardinghouse or hotel, where my brother and I would run riot, breaking into the kitchens, playing around with the elevators and generally causing havoc.
The other thing I remember about Germany was Christmas. My father had a partner named Gisela Gumpher who had a house in the Black Forest where we spent two Christmases running. In Angell Road we never had what you could call a proper Christmas, and so this was my first experience of what fun and how happy a family-type Christmas could be, and I never forgot it.
Religion was never a big deal in our house. My father used his religion only when it suited him, like speaking Yiddish. As a lot of other people in the business were Jewish, it was a way of keeping some people in and other people out - perhaps even my mother. Though, having been brought up with it, I understood everything.
Being Jewish, he told me, was something to be proud of, and he gave me a pair of Star of David earrings and a little Star of David to put around my neck. I had no idea really what it meant, it was just a necklace as far as I was concerned. But one day when my brother and I were coming home from playing in the park, some kids began to taunt us, calling us dirty Jews. I hurled myself on them, and suddenly David was there too, punching and kicking and scratching, till they were the ones backing off. It didn't affect me. They could just as well have said I was an alien or a robot for all the difference it made. That was just how it was.
As for my mother, she never mentioned religion, never wore a cross, never went near a priest. But Kath McMurray, whom she had known since they worked in the same dance troupe before the war and who was one of her few real friends, was very Catholic. As Teresa, her daughter, was a friend of mine, I'd sometimes go to their church with her and wait while she went into the confessional box, dillydallying around until she came out. My parents' line was that we were "cosmopolitan." And it was "whatever you want to do." It was the same with any other kind of prejudice. Being in the business and living in Brixton made us color-blind.
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