We all know the story. The day after a show at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum in Tennessee on March 18, 1982, Ozzy Osbourne‘s tour bus is stuck by a light aircraft carrying guitarist Randy Rhoads and makeup artist Rachel Youngblood. Both are killed instantly, as is the pilot, Andrew Aycock.
Less than a week later, Ozzy returns to work, appearing on the NBC show Late Night with David Letterman, filmed at Studio 6A in the RCA Building in Rockefeller Plaza, New York. The conversation backstage must have been interesting: the other guest is former President Nixon’s Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman, who served time in prison following the Watergate scandal.
The rush to to get back in the saddle is typical Ozzy, as he’s proved over an over again in the decades since. Whether it’s tumbling off quad bikes or battling Parkinson’s Disease, Ozzy’s recent career often seems like succession of hurdles expressly designed to prevent the Prince Of Darkness from returning to his natural onstage habitat.
The Letterman interview is strange, as if the host us reluctant to discuss what’s just happened. Maybe it’s because he’s only been in the job for a few weeks (the first episode of more than 3000 was filmed the previous month). Maybe it’s because he wants to throw Ozzy a few softball questions before they get to the difficult stuff. But it’s a full six minutes into the seven-and-a-half minute interview before the tragedy is addressed.
First, they talk about Ozzy’s infamous bat biting incident. About a fan who arrived at a show wearing an Ox’s head. About his first jobs. And then Letterman tells the audience that Ozzy has experienced a “personal and professional tragedy”, and expresses surprise that he’s fulfilled his commitment to appear on the show.
“All I can say is that in the last week I lost two of the greatest people in my life,” says Ozzy. “But it ain’t gonna stop because I’m for rock’n’roll, and always for the people. I love people, and that’s what I’m about.”
“I’m gonna continue because Randy would like me to continue, and so would Rachel,” says Ozzy, he adds, moments later, as his face fills with emotion. “And I’m not gonna stop because you can’t kill rock’n’roll.”
A week later Ozzy returns to the stage at the Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA, with former Gillan guitarist Bernie Tormé filling in for Rhoads. No Bone Movies is dropped, but it’s otherwise an identical setlist to Rhoads’ final show in Texas.
Ozzy Osbourne was back, just like he promised.