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 confessed to The Des Moines Register that he had thrown a dead bat onstage at Ozzy Osbourne's Jan. 20, 1982, show at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium during his Diary of a Madman tour. All hell broke loose when the rocker sank his teeth into the winged mammal and ripped off its head, giving 5,000-some fans a spectacle they'd never forget.
The then-17-year-old Neal couldn't have known it at the time, but his ill-thought-out 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 shots in the weeks that followed.
To his credit, Osbourne thought he was biting into a rubber bat on that fateful night in Des Moines, though he quickly discovered that wasn't the case. "For a start, my mouth was instantly full of this warm, gloopy liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine," he wrote in his 2009 memoir I Am Ozzy. "I could feel it staining my teeth and running down my chin."
Osbourne was no stranger to munching on winged creatures, having bitten the heads off two live doves during a March 1981 meeting with CBS Records. The Diary of a Madman tour also featured Osbourne's "personal dwarf" John Edward Allen, who tossed raw meat into the crowd and was ceremoniously hanged every night.
This onstage depravity inspired audiences to bring sordid props. "We had dead cats, birds, lizards, all kinds of stuff. With every gig, it just got crazier and crazier," Osbourne wrote. "Eventually people started to throw things onstage with nails and razor blades embedded in them — joke-shop stuff, mainly, like rubber snakes 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 store it in the freezer until they could deliver it to the singer. Despite Osbourne's claims that the bat wriggled in his mouth, Neal and Kelly both insisted it was dead.
"It landed in front of Rudy Sarzo, the bass player," Neal told the Register. "He looked down at it and motioned to Ozzy and, as they say, the rest is history."
Neal admitted that 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 receiving them over the next several weeks. "Every night for the rest of the tour I had to find a doctor and get more rabies shots: one in each arse cheek, one in each thigh, one in each arm," he lamented. "Every one hurt like a bastard."
The bat incident has become an inescapable part of the Prince of Darkness' mythology, for better and for worse. While Osbourne has long grown weary of answering journalists' questions about the stunt, it also became an integral part of his merchandise and iconography, thanks to his savvy wife and manager Sharon Osbourne. "You know, Ozzy has really lived a charmed journey," Sarzo told Yahoo Music in 2022.
"Ozzy would do something, and Sharon would be right behind him to spin it and save the day. Sharon knew immediately that 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 in front of my eyes: her getting on the phone, calling Michael Jensen and saying, 'Hey, listen, this happened. Let's make a story out of this.'"