"Tony Iommi ain't got charisma, it's like watching a lamp post with a guitar on": in 1986 Ozzy Osbourne invited Smash Hits magazine to join him on tour in Japan. The Prince of Darkness had a lot on his mind

Ozzy in Tokyo, June 1986
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

At its peak in the late '80s, UK music magazine Smash Hits was selling north of one million copies per issue. Although it was, at its core, a publication celebrating the most commercial pop music, with Wham!, Bros, Kylie Minogue, Culture Club and Duran Duran among its regular cover stars, rock bands too would feature within its pages, with Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Whitesnake, Killing Joke, Stiff Little Fingers, Public Image Ltd., Dead Kennedys and The Ruts among the artists popping up from the early '80 onwards.

The potential to reach over a million music-obsessed teenagers every fortnight was obviously hugely appealing to record companies, musicians and their managers and publicists, which was presumably why, in the early summer of 1986, an invitation was extended to the magazine to send a writer and photographer to Tokyo to catch the closing shows of Ozzy Osbourne's The Ultimate Sin Tour in Japan.

At the time, Osbourne was enjoying both commercial success and critical acclaim. His fourth studio album, 1986's The Ultimate Sin, had crashed into the Top 10 in both the UK and the US, where it was classified Platinum, for one million sales, within four months of its release. The singer's seven-date Japanese tour was sandwiched in between two legs of a huge US 'sheds' tour (with Metallica in support), with the former Black Sabbath frontman also booked to headline the Monsters of Rock festival at Donington Park in mid-August. 

When Smash Hits writer Tom Hibbert and photographer Andy Catlin met up with Ozzy at Tokyo's Century Hyatt hotel, they were somewhat surprised to discover that the singer wasn't in the best of moods. This, they discovered, was because Osbourne had recently learned that a lawsuit filed against him and his record company by the parents of American teenager John McCollum, who had died by suicide in October 1984, allegedly after listening to his song Suicide Solution, was to go to trial.

"The fact of the matter is there was a boy who was very sick - that poor kid was well sick before he even listened to an Ozzy Osbourne record," Ozzy stated. "I genuinely feel very sorry for both the parents and the child. But I'm a parent myself and if my kid locked himself in his bedroom all the time and acted abnormally, then I'd feel distress and as a parent, I'd try to find out what the problem was and I'd make sure he had some professional help from a psychiatrist or whatever. But they are just trying to pass the buck onto someone else - me!"

"It's absurd to blame me," Ozzy continued. "The poor kid shot himself through the head with his father's gun. Instead of suing me, why don't they sue the people who sold the gun?"

As Ozzy saw it at the time, the lawsuit was an unforeseen and unwanted consequence of his popularity at the time. And all because all he wanted was to entertain people.

"It's a laugh," he told Hibbert. "I'm not a singer. There's a million singers better than me. Ronnie James Dio is a far better singer than me but he hasn't got the charisma. Two Devil signs and that's him over with. It's like watching ice melt. Tony lommi ain't got charisma - it's like watching a lamp post with a guitar on. I have got CHARISMA and you can't take that away from me."

Ozzy had plenty more to get off his chest. He put the boot into Black Sabbath ("I didn't exist to them, they treated me like horse shit"), criticised his own extended family ("When I last did a British tour I held a get together for the whole of my family in Birmingham and it was the worst time of my life... they acted like morons"), and was even getting irked by the fact that his Japanese fans were incredibly welcoming and polite ("The fans are great... but sometimes I feel like telling them to piss off!")

"I'll probably die soon, the pace l've been going for 18 years," he concluded, glumly, Hibbert noting that the singer was "choking back tears" at points. The writer, already well-known for his incisive and fearless interviews, could see how exhausted the singer was, and was sympathetic rather than sneering when the feature appeared in print in the July 30, 1986 issue of Smash Hits. That said, his subject had already told him, "I don't care what you write about me."

"You can say, 'Ozzy is such a prat and he's got a big fat nose and a wart on the side of his head'," Osbourne said. "I don't care because I'm larger than life."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.