Respectful Insolence

Why is Ozzy Osbourne still alive?

Ozzy Osbourne is, like many rock stars of his advancing age, an amazing creature. Having subjected his body to abuse beyond the ability of most normal people to understand in terms of booze, drugs, and crazy living on the road, like the Energizer Bunny he just keeps going and going and going along. Naturally, given that, against all probability, Ozzy has somehow managed to make it past 60, scientists wonder why he is still alive.

Now some scientists want to find out; they plan on sequencing Ozzy’s genome.

Next up, Keith Richards!

The problem I see with this is that we don’t necessarily have any controls, namely rock stars who abused themselves but didn’t survive. Be that as it may, I was amused by this part of the story:

The 61-year-old former Black Sabbath lead singer — who this week begins his health advice column in The Sunday Times Magazine — is to become one of only a few people in the world to have his full genome sequenced.

[…]

Osbourne’s advice in his medical column starts with suggestions to a mother for putting her young son off cigarettes, including: “Throw some fag ash on his cornflakes.”

Because Ozzy is exactly the sort of person I want to get my health advice from. When I first saw this headline I thought I was reading The Onion. I really was. But apparently it’s true, at least the part about Ozzy writing a health column.

Comments

  1. #1 Bethany
    June 17, 2010

    Thanks for my Friday WTF a day early!

  2. #2 liz
    June 17, 2010

    Hey – his advice has got to be better than Mike Adams’ & Gary Null’s. I’d go for “fag ash” on my cornflakes before two pots of coffee up my bum.

  3. #3 DLC
    June 17, 2010

    Ozzy seriously needs some speech therapy… wonder what his column would look like if he dictated it.
    Kinda funny, he’s famous for mumbling unintelligibly and yet has a very clear singing voice.

  4. #4 Mattand
    June 17, 2010

    At least it’s not a column on how to treat head trauma for bats.

  5. #5 Mike
    June 17, 2010

    Can’t imagine Ozzy’s advice will be any worse than some of the other “Huh?” stuff we see from some of the Web quacks. And, if nothing else, it should make for an amusing read.

  6. #6 debaser
    June 17, 2010

    Still, its not really any worse than when Ben Stein had an economics column.

  7. #7 Dave Ruddell
    June 17, 2010

    I don’t think “Why is Ozzy Osbourne still alive?” is really a question for scientists, but for philosophers and theologians.

    How is Ozzy Osbourne still alive?”, now that’s a question for medical science.

  8. #8 Andreas Johansson
    June 17, 2010

    Given that lots of rock stars are dead by that age, the phrase “tail of the distribution” comes to mind.

  9. #9 Rene Najera
    June 17, 2010

    Fag ash?

  10. #10 Amy R
    June 17, 2010

    I don’t suppose we can dig up Jimi Hendrix and get some DNA for a comparison?

  11. #11 cairne.morane
    June 17, 2010

    For the benefit of Ed’s US readership I feel obliged to point out that ‘fag’ is English slang for a cigarette. Though the term has fallen out of use nowadays. Possibly to to US cultural influence.

  12. #12 cairne.morane
    June 17, 2010

    Oops. I meant Orac’s readership there. For some reason I thought I was still over at Dispatches.

  13. #13 OleanderTea
    June 17, 2010

    Ozzy seriously needs some speech therapy… wonder what his column would look like if he dictated it.

    I believe that Ozzy has a neurological disease thas has some influence on his speech. I think it also explains his shuffling walk.

  14. #14 JustaTech
    June 17, 2010

    I am reminded, strongly, of the Simpsons episode where Mr Burns learns that the only reason he’s alive is that all his diseases are so busy fighting each other that they haven’t gotten around to killing him yet.

    See also: George Burns, the comedian.

  15. #15 theshortearedowl
    June 17, 2010

    The problem I see with this is that we don’t necessarily have any controls, namely rock stars who abused themselves but didn’t survive.

    If we’re quick, we can probably get Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse…

  16. #16 Orac
    June 17, 2010

    If we’re quick, we can probably get Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse…

    I’d be more convinced if they made it past 60. They could be ones who won’t make it; we won’t know for another three decades. I think we may have to go and dig up Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and John Bonham in order to get DNA samples. That’d make a pretty good control group to start.

  17. #17 daedalus2u
    June 17, 2010

    I think this proves the Nietzsche quote:

    “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche

  18. #18 Dianne
    June 17, 2010

    61 isn’t all that old. Ozzy wouldn’t even be retirement age if he held any kind of regular job. He’s still got plenty of time to die young. If he makes it past 80 then I’ll be impressed.

  19. #19 natural cynic
    June 17, 2010

    Simple statistics. If you hypothesize that the rock-and-roll lifestyle has a 20% chance of killing you per decade starting at the age of 25, then 80% will reach 35; 64% will reach 45; 51% will reach 55; and

  20. #20 natural cynic
    June 17, 2010

    Simple statistics. If you hypothesize that the rock-and-roll lifestyle has a 20% chance of killing you per decade starting at the age of 25, then 80% will reach 35; 64% will reach 45; 51% will reach 55; and 41% will reach 65. Then the other natural aging diseases will take over.
    Reminds me of the time about 15 years ago when I saw Richards being interviewed by Hunter Thompson and wondering why either one was alive.

  21. #21 Dave
    June 17, 2010

    Im going to question the underlying assumption of the study – that Ozzy is alive. Lets look at the evidence:

    * Shambling walk.
    * Speech consists of grunts and groans
    * Displays marked preference for nighttime
    * Unnaturally pale

    I think its quite likely Ozzy is a zombie.

  22. #22 Ian
    June 17, 2010

    @Dave

    Explains his latest “Greatest Hits” tracklist:

    1. Crazy Brains
    2. Mama I’m Comin’ Home (to eat your brains)
    3. War Brains
    4. Back in the Earth
    5. Screamer
    6. I Don’t Want to Change the World (I just want to eat your brains)
    7. Mr. Crowley, Master of Necromancy
    8. Goodbye to Romance (hello to fresh brains)
    9. I Just Want You(r brains)
    10. No Easy Way Out (of the grave)
    11. Paranoid (no joke here, that song just kicks ass)

  23. #23 liz
    June 17, 2010

    Digging up old rock stars wouldn’t make a difference, since they asphyxiated on their own vomit, OD’ed, died in wrecks, etc. They were all accidental, not wear-and-tear related.

    Remember the ATV that rolled on top of Ozzy a few years back and he STILL lived to tell the tale… maybe he made one of those infamous rock and roll pacts with the Devil?

  24. #24 paulmurray
    June 17, 2010

    “Fag” is british idiom for cigarette, from the word “faggot” meaning a bundle of wood that you throw on the fire.

    Yes, the used to burn ‘em at the stake and that’s where the word comes from.

  25. #25 antipodean
    June 17, 2010

    Now that’s a health column I’ll actually read. Pure comedy gold.

  26. #26 Ian
    June 17, 2010

    @paulmurray

    I enjoy urban legends as much as the next person, but that’s not a true story.

  27. #27 Passerby
    June 18, 2010

    I suggest that they run a f-MRI an PET scan or two on the Ol’ Ozz before anyone decides to fling money into a pot to digitalize his DNA.

    Mr Osbourne’s slurred speech reflects his deafness. I wouldn’t be surprised if his strange walk and talk area also related to neurological misfiring: not quite operating on all 8 cylinders, is our Oz.

    Come to think on it, I doubt that he actually *has* much brain matter left. Maybe just a thin layer of cortex and scrap or two of basal ganglia. Think Minimalist.

    You can rest assured that whatever gray matter he has remaining has been restructured by decades of drug abuse, deafening loud un-music, sleep deprivation and crazy publicity stunts.

    Of course this makes the thought of him penning a medical advice column even more bizarre or pathetic (take your pick).

  28. #28 Rogue Medic
    June 18, 2010

    @ 20 natural cynic,

    Simple statistics. If you hypothesize that the rock-and-roll lifestyle has a 20% chance of killing you per decade starting at the age of 25, then 80% will reach 35; 64% will reach 45; 51% will reach 55; and 41% will reach 65. Then the other natural aging diseases will take over.

    I completely agree.

    This is not really different from Nassim Taleb’s analysis of the statistical likelihood of any admired CEO being successful due to nothing more than chance – although plenty of people will be willing to explain why whatever convenient quality is the reason for this success. Of course, this ignores all of the leaders with the same quality, who had less successful outcomes.

    2000 Ken Lay is a god, who will lead the US economy to dominate the next century. He made $40 + million the previous year and people think he earned every penny.

    2002 Ken Lay is being defended by those who are trying to keep the stock from falling (Wakefieldesque).

    2004 Ken Lay is indicted on various charges of fraud, which some have suggested were not intentional – only examples of extreme overconfidence and incompetence. A continuing parallel with Ex-Dr. Andrew Wakefield?

    There is a great interview with Ozzy talking about how surprising it is that Keith Richards is still alive. As for his singing, I attribute that more to studio engineers than to clarity of singing voice. Perhaps he uses the same ones as Axel Rose and Milli Vanilli.

  29. #29 WMDKitty
    June 18, 2010

    Oh, come on now, don’t you know?

    Ozzy IS God!

  30. #30 Dunc
    June 18, 2010

    It’s a selection effect. Early ’70s rock stars got pretty thoroughly winnowed out, so any that managed to survive must be more or less indestructible.

  31. #31 Jud
    June 18, 2010

    Keith Richard’s genetic codes are more like guidelines, really.

    P.S. Speaking of dead rock stars, I’ve gotta put a word in here for my man Lowell George. Listen to Dixie Chicken or Fat Man in the Bathtub sometime – he was a genius with double entendre lyrics, music, and slide guitar (for which he famously used a Sears Craftsman 11/16″ socket as a slide).

  32. #32 squirrelelite
    June 18, 2010

    Actually, the recommendation to dump cigarette ashes (and/or butts) on the food might not be a total waste.

    When I was a kid growing up, my grandfather was a heavy smoker. I liked him and had many wonderful hours riding in his welding truck out into the countryside where I could poke around in the fields while he worked on some job.

    But, I eventually found the smell of cigarette smoke irritating and still try to stay away from it as much as possible. (That is much easier nowadays!)

    And, an additional factor in helping me never start smoking was that after meals, I would clear the dishes to wash and there would always be a couple of cigarette butts in among the food to clean off and dump.

    Often, there were some cigarette ashes to scrub off the plate.

    Yuck!

    Anyway, it’s just an anecdote and I can’t imagine how you would ever do a randomized controlled double-blinded trial to test it. But, I’m pretty sure it influenced me.

    R.I.P. Grandpa!

  33. #33 Jon H
    June 18, 2010

    There might be some dead rock star offspring who could act as controls.

    Lowell George’s daughter, Inara George, is around.

    The daughter of Kurt Cobain (suicide) and Courtney Love (living but wasted) could be interesting.

    Anyone else? Did Brian Jones or Keith Moon leave any kids?

  34. #34 Jon H
    June 18, 2010

    liz wrote: “Digging up old rock stars wouldn’t make a difference, since they asphyxiated on their own vomit, OD’ed, died in wrecks, etc. They were all accidental, not wear-and-tear related.”

    Ah, but perhaps they choked on their vomit, OD’ed, or died in wrecks because they lacked some genetic resistance to the substances which caused the others to vomit, OD, or wreck.

  35. #35 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 18, 2010

    Anyone else? Did Brian Jones or Keith Moon leave any kids?

    Keith left a daughter Mandy by his wife Kim.

    Brian left kids (5 in total) all over England by various young women.
    http://www.angelfire.com/rock3/sixtiesfish/kidsweb/kids.html

    Don’t ask me how I know this.

  36. #36 Mark P
    June 18, 2010

    Surely Mr Osbourne is a living denial of all the woo-meisters that tell you that bad attitude and unhealthy living is what gives you diseases.

    If “toxins” kill, then how is it Mr Osbourne is still with us, yet clean living Mormons die of cancer in their youth? If “negativity” kills, how did he not die 30 years ago?

  37. #37 Meg Thornton
    June 19, 2010

    I’d suggest maybe broadening the sample size – start by getting a sample of the late Bonn Scott (former lead singer of AC/DC) and then compare and contrast with the DNA of Angus Young (long time lead guitarist for the same band). Add in a lot of the various extant and deceased rock stars from various continents (US, UK, Australia, NZ – the Finn brothers could be an interesting sample pair, Canada etc) and see whether there *is* actually a similarity. Oh, and throw in Cliff Richard, for one who’s supposed to be clean living and nice as a bit of a contrast. Then broaden out the sample some more – and get people who aren’t rock stars who have long-lived ancestors (I’ll volunteer my mother’s family – both her parents survived past 90). A single sample isn’t going to net them anything worthwhile.

    My own theory is that a lot of the more “durable” rockers are the children of working-class families from the poorer areas of Britain, born at the right time to benefit from a lot of improvements to medical knowledge and practice, and having inherited a complex mix of genetics from ancestors who survived the worst that plague, pollution, famine, poverty and industrial accident could throw at them before they even hit breeding age. This accounts for the fact that most of them give the strong impression they’re not going to be able to be killed by anything short of being dragged to the knacker’s yard and put down.

  38. #38 RobNYNY1957
    June 19, 2010

    Speaking of Keith Richards, compare Ramses III:

    http://allradionews.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/keithrichards.jpg

    http://www.ethnicavenue.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Ramses-at-the-end.jpg

    I ask you, who looks better? The one who looks like a 3,000 year old corpse, or the one who is a 3,000 year old corpse?

  39. #39 Mojo
    June 21, 2010

    But apparently it’s true, at least the part about Ozzy writing a health column.

    Yup: “Ask Dr Ozzy”.

    It has a disclaimer, of course:

    Warning: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional. Caution is advised

  40. #40 James Sweet
    June 21, 2010

    Simple statistics. If you hypothesize that the rock-and-roll lifestyle has a 20% chance of killing you per decade starting at the age of 25, then 80% will reach 35; 64% will reach 45; 51% will reach 55; and 41% will reach 65. Then the other natural aging diseases will take over.

    This was my first reaction, and it’s still my primary thought, but there’s a little bit of question-begging baked into this assertion. It assumes that the causal processes behind the 80/20 split are necessarily stochastic. They may be; they may not be.

    It’s not shocking that Ozzy is alive, for exactly the reasons you cite. But that also doesn’t rule out the possibility of a significant genetic component.

    Still, gut instinct tells me that the majority of the causal processes at work probably are essentially stochastic after all.

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