More than 40 years after one of metal’s most controversial moments, people still ask, “Why did Ozzy Osbourne bite the head off a bat?” Turns out there’s a side of the story you've probably never heard before, which explains exactly why a bat was thrown onstage at that ill-fated Ozzy Osbourne concert.

The infamous bat-biting gig took place at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, which is now named Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center. It was January 20, 1982, on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour, just weeks before guitarist Randy Rhoads would die in a horrific plane accident.

Ozzy Osbourne has explained his side of the story many, many times. He thought a fan had thrown a fake rubber bat onstage, and it wasn’t until he chomped into the flying mammal that he realized it was real. Ozzy even claims he felt the bat twitch in his mouth as he bit down on its neck.

Ozzy Osbourne / Bat

The photo above is not the original bat-biting moment.

“I get a lot of weird people at my concerts, it’s rock ’n’ roll," Ozzy told David Letterman in 1982. "Somebody threw a bat onstage and I thought it was one of these toy bats, so I picked it up, bite the thing’s head off and suddenly everybody is freaking out ... I can assure you the rabies shots I went through afterwards aren’t fun.”

Ozzy was rushed to the Broadlawns Medical Center after the concert, and according to the Des Moines Register, who caught up with Ozzy in 2001, the musician had to undergo three weeks of rabies shots on the road. “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,” Ozzy said. “Every one hurt like a bastard.”

Pam Culver was the nurse supervisor on duty that night when Ozzy played Des Moines. Though Culver didn’t treat Ozzy herself, she claims that as the bat-biting news began to spread across the country, she got received calls from England, Canada and all over the United States (likely from journalists) about the incident.

"For a week that was probably 50 percent of my job,” Culver said. “People wanted to know how much did it cost to do that, and did it hurt, and how may shots did he have to have, what part of his body did we have to attack."

Come October 1982, the auditorium directors officially amended their rules "to prohibit concert performers from using, presenting or in any way making live animals a part of a program at Vets without the consent of management." Funny enough, when Ozzy returned to the Iowa venue in 2007, the metal legend wrote “No more bats. Love, Ozzy Osbourne,” on a poster there.

About six months after Ozzy talked about the incident on Letterman, he made a now-classic appearance on the USA Network show Night Flight. After repeating his “rubber bat” line, Ozzy gave some more intimate details of what he experienced that cold January night.

“The taste of bats is very salty,” Ozzy explained. “It tastes of salt.” After the host asked if it tasted like anything else, Ozzy replied, “Well, yes, but I can’t really say that on the air, can I?”

Don’t ask Ozzy that question in 2023, though. In one of his most recent interviews with Billboard, Ozzy named, “What do bats taste like?” as his least favorite interview question.

Ozzy Osbourne in 'Little Nicky'
New Line Cinema

Ozzy Osbourne in 'Little Nicky'

For die-hard Ozzy Osbourne fans, or even the casual metalhead, the basic details of the bat-biting story are well known -- spread far and wide as pieces of iconic 20th century folklore. But the questions that never seem to be asked are:

“Who actually threw the bat onstage?”
“Why didn’t the bat just fly away once it had been thrown?”
“How did an Ozzy Osbourne fan sneak a live bat past security and into the venue?”

Those questions seemed to remain unanswered for decades. Even in Rolling Stone’s 40th anniversary retrospective of the bat-biting incident, published in 2022, the iconic zine claimed, “The Des Moines bat thrower has never come forward publicly.”

This is untrue.

“Who actually threw the bat onstage?”

According to the Des Moines Register, the bat thrower revealed himself in 1982 -- the same year the concert took place. The man’s name? Mark Neal.

Neal was 17 years old when he tossed the bat onstage that night. It was something he’d planned to do, and even told his close friends about before embarking to the Ozzy Osbourne concert.

“We were telling everybody before the concert that we were bringing a bat,” Carmen Martin-Kelly, a friend of Neal’s, revealed. “Hell or high water, we were gonna get it in and throw the bat up onstage. We brought a whole bunch of friends who used to sit together in Section 22, so when Mark was headed up towards the stage, I told him to wait a few minutes so I could get up there and tell everybody that Mark’s getting ready to throw the bat up onstage.”

Mark Neal himself added, “We got right down in front, right in front of Rudy Sarzo, the bass player. I tossed [the bat] up onstage and it landed in front of him. He kinda looked at it a couple of times and motioned Ozzy over. Ozzy came over, picked it up, and the rest is history.”

“Why didn’t the bat just fly away once it had been thrown?”

The answer to this one is simple — because the bat was dead. Although Ozzy Osbourne believed he felt the bat twitch in his mouth, the creature had been long dead by the time it was smuggled into the show.

According to the Des Moines Register, two weeks before the Ozzy concert, Neal’s younger brother had come home from school one day with the bat. He planned to keep it as a pet, but the bat didn’t last long and died. (A later Des Moines Register article claims the bat was already dead when Neal’s brother found it.) Neal says his friends convinced him to put the bat’s corpse into his freezer, save it for the Ozzy gig, and throw it at the metal madman live and in person.

Thus, when the bat was tossed across the night sky and landed onstage before Rudy Sarzo’s feet, it didn’t fly away or move because it was two-weeks-dead, semi-rotted, and thawed out.

“If the bat was alive, it surely wouldn’t have just laid there on the stage,” Martin-Kelly said. “The next day, everybody’s asking about the live bat at the Ozzy concert. I assure you, we didn’t harm any animals. It was definitely dead when we brought it.”

“How did an Ozzy Osbourne fan sneak a live bat past security and into the venue?”

Neal claims those same friends who convinced him to put the bat into his freezer also suggested he seal the bat’s remains in a baggy and sneak it into the show inside his coat. We’re not sure how lax security was in 1980s Iowa, but you could apparently sneak a dead animal into the venue with no issue.

"It really freaked me out," Neal told a Des Moines Register reporter in 1982. "I won't get in any trouble for admitting this, will I?"

Ozzy Osbourne Bat-Biting incident w/ thrower Mark Neal

Ozzy Osbourne would go on to appear in the Adam Sandler classic Little Nicky, saving the day by biting the head off the movie’s main villain, who just happened to have transformed into a bat. Ozzy has also taken press photos of him with a rubber bat in his mouth, sold bat plushie toys with a detachable head and bat-shaped makeup kits, and even started an NFT project called CryptoBatz.

Anything involving Ozzy Osbourne and bats has immediately become a news story over the years, like when bats living on Ozzy’s land stopped a renovation to the Osbourne home in England, or when the Osbourne family announced they would install bat boxes at their home.

The truth about Ozzy Osbourne, Mark Neal, and the bat-biting incident was known from the beginning, but the mysterious lore of a live bat and an unknown fan ultimately triumphed in this game of storytelling. During the pre-Internet age, Ozzy Osbourne and the bat was the perfect storm of metal lore, and in the new century, there’s still absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the legend.

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