By Steve Beard
Back in 2002, MTV announced that the biggest hit in its history was a program called “The Osbournes.” The half-hour show — complete with constant bleeping from excessive foul language — was a curiously fascinating docu-comedy starring the members of Ozzy Osbourne’s family — wife and two teenage siblings (the eldest child bowed out of the show). Ozzy, of course, is the British rock singer acclaimed for his ghoulish heavy metal performances.
The Osbournes had just moved into a new Beverly Hills mansion where they promptly bemoaned the loss of their former neighbor, Pat Boone. Ozzy dottered and mumbled around the house trying to figure out the TV remote control, his wife hired a pet therapist to get the dogs to stop pottying in the living room, and the kids screamed and chased one another around the Osbourne compound.
Truth be told, I found the show captivating in a strange way. Others, justifiably, hated it. The television networks were scrambling to tap into the newly minted genre of “reality” television. At that time, I recommended that the next MTV show should feature Alice Cooper’s family. That’s right, the spooky granddaddy of shock rock who festooned his stage with guillotines, electric chairs, and boa constrictors.
Imagine watching the reactions of parents as they take their sons to their very first Little League baseball practice only to discover that Alice Cooper is going to be the coach. Or where he tries to organize a carpool to his daughter’s ballet lessons (he had three kids ranging from 10 years old to 20). Or what about when he gets thrown into an unsuspecting golf foursome at the country club. It would be a hoot.
Today, Alice Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) still tours around the world doing his theatrical rock and roll show about three or four months out of the year. He still watches kung-fu movies before his performances and downs Quarter Pounders with cheese afterward. This zany character even shows up regularly at Alice Cooper’stown, his sports-n-rock themed restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, where he serves Mom’s Tuna Casserole and Megadeth Meatloaf.
At the height of his worldwide fame, Cooper drank a bottle of whiskey a day. But the bottle almost destroyed his marriage to Sheryl, his wife of 37 years. He started heading off to church with her and felt as if God was speaking to him every Sunday. Even at the pinnacle of his ghoulish career (which he believed was no more provocative than a horror movie musical) he still believed in God. The son and grandson of preachers, Cooper’s faith was crippled by the weight of fame and the toxicity of alcoholism.
He experienced every pleasure that money could buy but found it did not satisfy. “I was the prodigal son. I left the house, achieved fame and fortune, and found out that that was not what I wanted,” he told HM magazine. “Now I read the Bible every day, I pray every day. That’s really what I’m about.” He continues: “I was one thing at one time, and I’m something new. I’m a new creature now. Don’t judge Alice by what he used to be. Praise God for what I am now.”
Cooper has taken the opportunity to speak to curious fellow musicians about the reality of the devil and the change in his life. “I have talked to some big stars about this, some really horrific characters…and you’d be surprised,” he says. “The ones that you would think are the farthest gone, are the ones that are the most apt to listen.”
Although Cooper’s shows still explore the haunting and ghastly aspects of human nature, its message carries a different twist. “It might sound absolutely insane coming from me, but what the world needs is a good shot of morality,” he said. Several of his albums have been dramatic interpretations of what the world would be like without the grace of God. The horror is there, but the message is profoundly different — redeemed. His alter ego is a theatrical prophet of doom, or a rock and roll version of a character pulled from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.
As for the lifestyle found in some quarters of the rock world, Cooper says, “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s real rebellion,” he once told the London Sunday Times Magazine.
In describing the importance of his Christian faith, he says, “It’s everything. It’s what I live for. If you gave me a choice between rock and roll and my faith, I’d take my faith,” Cooper told The Observer in Australia. “Rock and roll is fun — it’s what I do for a living. But it’s not what I live on. I believe in classic Christianity. I’ve given my whole life to the Lord. But I don’t think that means you can’t be a rock and roller.”
After all, as Cooper said when his kids were young, “I must be the only father that bangs on the bedroom door and says, ‘Turn that music up!’”
I still think that would be a fun show to watch.
Steve Beard is the creator and editor of Thunderstruck.