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Heavy Mettle Mom

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If only the cure for cancer were chicken soup, a garden’s worth of flowers and a frightened family’s devotion, Sharon Osbourne would be doing jumping jacks in her Beverly Hills mansion. Instead she spent the morning of July 12 watching talk shows in bed with her older daughter Aimee before dozing off for an uncharacteristic midday nap. It’s almost 1 p.m. when she steps downstairs in a sleek black outfit, Chanel shoes and a dazzling “Circle of Life” diamond pendant-a recent gift from her husband, who calls from the road to make sure she has eaten lunch. So does daughter Kelly, who is recording an album in New York City. Minutes later the phone rings again. It’s Ozzy. Since Sharon insisted her reluctant husband resume his Ozzfest concert tour, the heavy metal icon sometimes calls just to hear her breathe. “This has been incredibly hard for Ozzy, for both of us,” says Sharon. “Everything in my life was going so good. It’s like I needed something to happen to remind me that I’ve had it too good.”

For the famously tough-as-nails rock and roll matriarch, the most difficult battle still lies ahead. Just two weeks after negotiating a $20 million deal for a second season of The Osbournes—the reality-TV phenomenon that invited the world into the family’s endearingly warped existence, propelling MTV to record high ratings and the offbeat clan to towering heights of celebrity—Sharon, 49, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer on July 1. On July 3—the day before her 20th wedding anniversary—surgeons removed a foot of her colon. Then, on July 8, she was dealt another blow: One of two nearby lymph nodes removed during surgery tested positive for cancerous cells, indicating the cancer has spread beyond her colon. “It was not the best news,” says Sharon, who will start a three-month course of chemotherapy July 29. “You think nothing will ever happen to you. You’re invincible. Then after you get over the shock and panic, you realize how lucky you are to be alive. That’s where I’m at right now. I simply have to take care of this thing.”

Osbourne, who says her “prognosis is very, very good,” is facing it with plenty of support from the family she has steered through times good, bad and ugly—and with her own irrepressibly lewd sense of humor. “Why’d they have to find it in my bum of all places?” she says of her cancer. “It’s embarrassing. I mean, why couldn’t I have had a cute heart-shaped polyp on my vagina?” Ozzy, 53—who, like children Aimee, 18, Kelly, 17, and Jack, 16, calls ? Sharon Mommy—finds it harder to be lighthearted. “I’ve done a lot of praying, believe it or not,” says the singer, who credits Sharon with nurturing him through more than a decade of drug and alcohol abuse and turning his career around with her management savvy. “She’s my whole world—she’s the best lover I’ve ever had, the best friend I’ve ever had. She has been my pillar of strength for many years.”

In fact, doctors told Sharon that Ozzy may have saved her life. In mid-June, the former Black Sabbath front man—an admitted hypochondriac who gets physicals every six months and had a benign polyp removed from his colon two weeks earlier—persuaded his wife to get her first checkup in three years. “I hate doctors,” says Sharon. “But I’m turning 50 later this year, and Ozzy said I had to go. So just to keep him quiet, I went and had a full medical.”

When her doctor asked if she was tired, Sharon replied, half-seriously, “Always.” But blood tests showed she was anemic. Suspecting she was bleeding internally, he ordered a colonoscopy, during which two polyps—growths on the colon’s inner wall—were removed for biopsy. Sharon went home and, in uninhibited Osbourne tradition, showed off photos of the polyps. “The kids went, ‘Ooh, Mom, you’re disgusting,’ ” she recalls with a laugh. Then she jetted to New York City to help them with various projects: Kelly, who performed Madonna‘s 1986 hit “Papa Don’t Preach” at June’s MTV Movie Awards, was recording her upcoming debut album; Epic Records talent scout Jack was doing media interviews; TV-shy Aimee (a sometime model who moved out of the Beverly Hills house to avoid MTV’s cameras) was being photographed for Harper’s Bazaar.

On July 1 Sharon returned to Kelly’s apartment after dinner and got an urgent message to call her gastroenterologist. “My stomach sank,” she says. He told her the polyps were cancerous and she should return to L.A. immediately. “I was in shock,” she recalls. “The kids were in shock.” Back in California, Ozzy was rehearsing for Ozzfest, and “when I heard the news, I completely lost it,” he says. “He was hysterical, just terrified,” Sharon says. “The doctor had to come over and sedate him.”

Chartering a jet to Van Nuys airport, she and her three children “cried and slept the whole way,” she says. Ozzy met them on the tarmac at 3 a.m. holding Sharon’s Pomeranian Minnie to cheer her up. “He was so cute and brave,” she says.

The two of them stayed awake and held each other in bed until Sharon’s appointment for surgery at noon the next day at L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. After the four hour operation July 3, Sharon had lost so much blood she needed three pints transfused. On July 8 she had recovered sufficiently to head home. “I went and had a manicure, pedicure and my hair washed,” she says. “Just being home with my dogs and cats and children was so rejuvenating.”

Word the cancer had spread sent the family reeling again. (Once cancer reaches the lymph nodes, the situation becomes more serious and the required treatment more aggressive.) Still, Mommy quickly declared a no-moping zone. The very next day she ordered Kelly back to New York and Ozzy, who had postponed his first two tour dates, onto the road to kick off Ozzfest in Scranton, Pa. “It was hard for me to leave the house,” says Ozzy, who has led concert audiences in chants of Sharon’s name. “I just wanted to hold her.”

Meanwhile, with Jack and Aimee close at hand, Sharon is undergoing treatment to bring her red blood cell count up before starting chemotherapy and eating soft foods—like chicken soup cooked up by family chef Gloria Lopez—as she recuperates. She plans to allow MTV to film her cancer treatment when shooting begins in L.A. in a few weeks. “People will see me having chemo,” she says. “It’ll be interesting.” Particularly for fellow chemo patients. “We need to get a different vibe going,” she says of the treatment facility. “I think I’ll bring some music, introduce myself, maybe we can sing some songs and cheer the place up.”

Is she putting on a brave face for her husband and children? “Yes and no,” says Sharon. With no family history of cancer, her diagnosis “was terrifying,” she says. Research has linked colon cancer—a widespread disease that eventually strikes 1 in 20 Americans (more than 90 percent of them over age 50) and is the second leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths after lung cancer—to smoking and drinking, but “I’ve never had a cigarette in my mouth,” she says. She drank heavily decades ago, but now “I drink a glass of wine with dinner and can make it last for four hours.” Her diet, however, has always been poor. “My vice is that I like crap food. I’m a connoisseur of junk.” In 1999, weighing 224 lbs. after years of yo-yo dieting, the 5’2″ Osbourne had bariatric surgery to shrink her stomach by inserting a band around it. She lost 95 lbs. in nine months. (Doctors say the operation didn’t increase her risk of colon cancer and won’t pose problems for her treatment.) Osbourne understands her fat-filled, no-fiber choices may have contributed to her cancer. “I can’t regret whatever’s in the past,” she says. “I’ve been through worse. I’ll get through this.”

It could be her motto. The London native’s father, Don Arden, 76, managed rock acts like ELO and the Small Faces (her mother, Hope, a dancer, died in 1998). Along with big brother David Levy, now 52 and an entrepreneur, “we’d go from having everything to nothing,” Sharon recalls. “When my dad had money, we spent every penny.”

At 15, she dropped out of school (“I hated it”) and went to work as her father’s receptionist. She met Ozzy (whose real name is John Michael Osbourne) in 1971 when heavy-metal pioneers Black Sabbath walked into her dad’s office. Ozzy, the son of factory workers from Birmingham, England, wore a water faucet on a chain around his neck. “I was nervous and frightened of them,” says Sharon, then 18. Still, “I always thought Ozzy had a cute face.”

Romance didn’t bloom until 1979, when Ozzy was sacked by Sabbath for excessive substance abuse and went on a six-month cocaine and alcohol binge in an L.A. hotel room. Sharon barged in to collect a $500 debt for her father. She wound up signing Ozzy as a solo act—and falling in love. “He was so vulnerable and sweet and honest,” she says. “He was a bit of an oddball. But he was really, really loving.” Their coupling cost Ozzy his first marriage to Thelma Mayfair (with whom he had two children, Jessica and Louis) and led to such a bitter fight between Sharon and her father that she quit speaking to her family for 20 years. (They have since reconciled.) “It came down to money,” she says. “I lost a family but gained a husband.”

Mounting pressures, plus heavy drinking to keep up with Ozzy, led Sharon to a nervous breakdown in 1980. Within a year she sobered up and dedicated herself to reviving Ozzy’s career. She earned a reputation as a tough negotiator. “People told her to go home, lose weight, have babies and make dinner,” says Ozzy. “She busted their balls.” They married on Maui on July 4,1982. “I had to pick a day that Ozzy would remember,” Sharon says with a laugh.

Ozzie and Harriet they definitely weren’t. Through the ’80s and early ’90s, she packed the big-haired rocker off to drug and alcohol rehab more than a dozen times. In 1989 she called police after he went on a drinking binge, wrapped his fingers around her throat and tried to strangle her. (She dropped the charges and he spent three months in rehab.) For her part, “I’d max out the credit card to get him mad,” she admits. “But we’ve never given up. I shake my head at these people who get married for a few years, then say their careers are pulling them apart. Hey, you get married for life. You make it work.”

She certainly got Ozzy’s career clicking. He has sold more than 70 million solo albums; Ozzfest, dreamed up by Sharon in 1996, took in $24 million last year alone. (The couple’s estimated fortune: more than $50 million.) Then came The Osbournes—another brainstorm of Sharon’s that ended up on MTV after being rejected by FOX. After its March debut, the look at the loony-but-loving family sparked a media frenzy. As the typically bleepable Ozzy puts it, “I met the President, the Queen. So much f—ing wacky wild s— has happened.”

Ozzy and Sharon, who plan to renew their vows on her 50th birthday Oct. 9, are trying to view her diagnosis with similar calm. “I’ve always had a plan that I’d get sick before she did, that I’d die before she did. But my plan didn’t work out,” says Ozzy. “She’s my soulmate. If anything did happen to her first, I wouldn’t get married again. Sharon and Ozzy, we’re a team.” He pauses and adds, “Life has a way of kicking you in the nuts.”

Sharon insists they can weather the blow. “I always knew how precious and lucky it is to be alive, and now even more so,” she says. “I have a million more things I’m going to do. And I’m not going anywhere.”

Samantha Miller

Todd Gold in Los Angeles