Note: This story was originally published by the Des Moines Register
Out of more than 18,000 nights in the 50-year history of Veterans Memorial Auditorium (now the Iowa Events Center), the landmark night turned out to be a bloody decapitation.
Of a dead bat.
By a looney Englishman with toxic drug habits whose job description at the time read something like “dark prince of heavy metal.” It was the chomp heard ’round the world when, on Jan. 20, 1982, Ozzy Osbourne dined on a bat while on stage in Des Moines in front of 5,000 or so witnesses.
“The name of the town of Des Moines is embossed in my head!” Osbourne told The Des Moines Register in November 2001, on the eve of his return to the auditorium for his first concert there since the incident. “I’ve had some mileage from Des Moines!”
No lie. An issue of Rolling Stone in 2004 ranked the bat-biting No. 2 on its list of “Rock’s Wildest Myths.” Like most chapters of rock lore, the bat-biting was born of a rare mix of calculation and coincidence.
Osbourne already had been prone to decapitations of winged creatures: He bit the head off a live dove in 1981 in Los Angeles, during a meeting with horrified record-company executives.
The bat in Des Moines, however, was most certainly dead, closer to rancid, according to Mark Neal. He was 17 at the time he tossed the bat corpse on stage. Neal’s younger brother had brought the bat home from school, alive and flapping, about two weeks before the concert. No surprise that the bat failed as a household pet. So Neal’s friends, aware of Osbourne’s carnivorous reputation, convinced the impressionable lad to seal the bat remains in a baggy and tuck them inside his coat.
Neal got more of a reaction than he bargained for.
“It really freaked me out,” he told a Register reporter in 1982. “I won’t get in any trouble for admitting this, will I?” After the concert, Osbourne was rushed to Broadlawns Medical Center for rabies shots. Pam Culver was the nurse supervisor on duty that night when Osbourne’s tour bus rolled in. She didn’t personally treat the rocker, but she did weather the aftermath of his visit.
“For a week that was probably 50 percent of my job — fielding calls from England and Canada and all over the United States,” 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.”
Osbourne’s antics also made a lasting impression on the facility’s management. By October 1982, auditorium directors had decided “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.”
What began as a publicity coup has become something of an albatross, according to Osbourne. The bat business has survived his subsequent roles as founder of the wildly successful Ozzfest summer concert tour and star of his own reality-TV series on MTV.
Osbourne in 2001 lamented that he will be plagued until his death with questions about the bat. How did it taste, Ozzy? Why did you do it, Ozzy!? “And then they’ll dig me up and ask me again!” he moaned.
The other ‘decapitation’
Prototypical shock rocker Alice Cooper was warned by Vets Auditorium officials that there should be “no blood, no babies” when he was booked to perform on July 4, 1975.
“Cooper’s past act included simulated blood, and hurling dummy babies on to the stage,” The Register reported at the time. Cooper behaved well enough that he was booked for another concert on April 27, 1978, when he bungled a phony decapitation:
“Only one prop — the guillotine — failed to work smoothly. Cooper’s ‘I Love the Dead’ calls for him to be the guest of honor at his own beheading. But as the evil-looking blade dropped, the phony head let loose too soon.”
When Cooper returned to the auditorium in 1987, his decapitation went off without a hitch.
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