Exclusive: Sharon Osbourne Frequently Referred to Julie Chen as ‘Wonton’ and ‘Slanty Eyes,’ Sources Say
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Exclusive: Sharon Osbourne Frequently Referred to Julie Chen as ‘Wonton’ and ‘Slanty Eyes,’ Sources Say
Sharon Osbourne, co-host of the CBS daytime panel show “The Talk,” would frequently refer to then-co-host Julie Chen, who is Chinese American, as “wonton” and “slanty eyes,” according to multiple sources, including former co-host Leah Remini.
Osbourne also referred to former co-host and executive producer Sara Gilbert, who is a lesbian, as “pussy licker” and “fish eater,” according to multiple sources including Remini.
The accusations come as Osbourne faces a torrent of criticism for not only publicly supporting British TV personality Piers Morgan—who accused Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, of lying about having suicidal thoughts and doubted her accounts of racism within the royal family and their court—but also appearing defensive and angry and ordering one of her co-hosts to not cry when asked about the blowback during a segment on “The Talk.”
Though Osbourne has spoken abusively for years with little to no consequence, she’s facing significant scrutiny for the first time in her career as a TV personality. “The Talk” has been put on hiatus as its co-hosts past and present air grievances on Twitter, and Osbourne is threatening at least one of them with litigation.
But sources say Osbourne has a long history of racist language and bullying and it’s time she owns up to it.
This story is based on conversations with 11 sources who spoke to me in 2018 and again in recent days about remarks Osbourne has made over the years. Almost all of the sources declined to speak on the record because they fear career retribution, signed a nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreement, or aren’t authorized to speak to the press by their current employers. (Some background: In 2018, I began investigating the circumstances behind the unceremonious exits in 2011 of “The Talk” co-hosts Holly Robinson Peete and Remini. It was part of a look into the leadership of CBS chief executive Les Moonves, who in September of that year would be forced to resign following more than a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct.)
Remini recently agreed to talk with me on the record about Osbourne’s past comments after seeing how Osbourne has tried to silence—on Twitter, through her attorneys and on the talk show—her former and current Black colleagues over the past week.
In response to an email containing a lengthy list of details in this story, Osbourne’s publicist Howard Bragman said in a statement:
“The only thing worse than a disgruntled former employee is a disgruntled former talk show host. For 11 years Sharon has been kind, collegial and friendly with her hosts as evidenced by throwing them parties, inviting them to her home in the UK and other gestures of kindness too many to name. Sharon is disappointed but unfazed and hardly surprised by the lies, the recasting of history and the bitterness coming out at this moment. She will survive this, as she always has and her heart will remain open and good, because she refuses to let others take her down. She thanks her family, friends and fans for standing by her and knowing her true nature.”
A spokesperson for CBS declined to comment.
The recent tumult began after the March 7 bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the duchess said life in the royal family and the racism she faced made her suicidal. On March 8, Morgan said he didn’t believe a word the duchess said, prompting a swift backlash, and on March 9, Osbourne jumped into the fray by tweeting her support of the British TV personality and friend. The next day on “The Talk,” Osbourne got into a heated debate with co-host Sheryl Underwood after Underwood calmly questioned why Osbourne would support someone who was “racist in his stance against Meghan Markle.”
“Tell me: What has he uttered that’s racist?” Osbourne replied. “I feel like I’m about to be put in the electric chair because I have a friend who many people think is a racist, so that makes me a racist. … How can I be racist about anybody? How can I be racist about anybody or anything in my life? How can I?”
Osbourne became visibly angry during the segment and at one point ordered Underwood, who is Black, to not cry, saying, “And don’t try and cry, because if anyone should be crying, it should be me.”
In an interview with Variety on Friday night, Osbourne criticized how producers handled the segment.
“I blame the network for it,” she told Variety. “I was blindsided, totally blindsided by the whole situation. In my 11 years, this was the first time I was not involved with the planning of the segment.”
But in the same interview, Osbourne admitted that producers told her that she would be asked about her support of Morgan eight minutes before taping began.
According to two sources, Osbourne angered CBS executives by giving the interview to Variety without first telling the network and for blaming the network for the on-air fracas.
On Sunday, CBS officials announced “The Talk” would go on a short hiatus while an internal review of Wednesday’s episode is held. In a statement, the network said, “We are committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.”
But online, it was getting heated. In a tweet posted Friday regarding the contentious exchange between Osbourne and Underwood, Robinson Peete, who is Black, wrote: “I’m old enough to remember when Sharon complained that I was too ‘ghetto’ for #theTalk … then I was gone. I bring this up now bc I was mortified watching the disrespectful condescending tone she took w/her co host who remained calm & respectful because … she HAD to.”
On Saturday, Osbourne tweeted in response to Robinson Peete’s accusation: “Never in my life did I utter the words that Holly was ‘too ghetto’ to be on the Talk, as well as not having her fired.”
A source familiar with the matter tells me that Osbourne, via her attorney, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Robinson Peete demanding she take down her tweet within 24 hours or face litigation. It currently remains online.
Osbourne told Variety of the accusation: “It’s an absolute lie—a 110 percent lie. I cannot have anyone fired. … And that is not a term I use. That’s not in my vocabulary. I don’t speak like that. The only ghetto I know is the Warsaw Ghetto, and I think that’s the only time I’ve ever referred to something like that.”
But in a Jan. 19, 2011, segment in the first season of “The Talk”—a clip of which I obtained and reviewed—Osbourne referred to Remini’s brash speaking style and Brooklyn accent as “ghetto.”
And in 2012, Remini spoke and tweeted about Osbourne using the word in reference to her and Robinson Peete.
Also on Saturday and in response to Robinson Peete’s accusation, Osbourne tweeted a copy of an email Robinson Peete allegedly sent to her one month after being let go by CBS. In the email, Robinson Peete appeared to blame Chen and Moonves—Chen’s husband—for her dismissal.
What I know from my reporting back in 2018 is that Robinson Peete said that when she later learned that Osbourne was the ringleader behind her firing, she sent Osbourne another email holding her accountable.
Osbourne, in her tweet Saturday and in previous statements over the past 10 years, claims that she doesn’t have the authority to get people fired from “The Talk.” While she may not have the contractual power to terminate someone, Osbourne, at least until recently, has had enormous influence, sources say, as she is seen as the most valuable member of the panel, able to generate attention-grabbing headlines.
According to sources, Osbourne has also been known to threaten to quit the show when she doesn’t get her way and has no problem making her feelings known internally on how she feels about her co-hosts.
A History of Bullying and Making Racist Comments
After facing backlash for her comments on “The Talk,” Osbourne posted a two-page statement Friday on Twitter noting, “Please hear me when I say I do not condone racism, misogyny or bullying.”
But the TV personality—who has also been a judge on “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent” and gained prominence after appearing with her husband, heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne, and family on the MTV reality show “The Osbournes”—has a lengthy history of bullying and making racist statements, according to multiple sources and public comments.
The recent battle over Morgan’s words and Osbourne’s support of them isn’t the first time Osbourne has been tangled up in issues of race regarding the Duchess of Sussex, whose mother is Black.
In a 2018 episode of “The Talk,” Osbourne said of Meghan: “She ain’t Black!” When her co-hosts told Osbourne that she was indeed Black, Osbourne said, “She doesn’t look Black.”
She has also made bigoted comments about the Black people, including remarks to The Daily Beast about the time Justin Bieber was caught on camera urinating in a bucket: “I think he doesn’t realize he’s white and not Black,” she said. “That’s a huge problem.”
Sources say that working with Osbourne is a roller coaster—that Osbourne will one minute attack a co-host or staff member unprovoked, using harsh and inappropriate language, and the next minute buy them lavish gifts accompanied by a self-disparaging note in a half-hearted attempt to apologize.
“The Talk” premiered in 2010 with Osbourne, Gilbert, Chen, Remini and Robinson Peete as co-hosts.
Remini told me that even before its first season began filming, Osbourne took her to lunch and tried to persuade her to join Osbourne in ousting Robinson Peete as a co-host. Osbourne acknowledged that she and Remini had lunch in an August 2010 tweet.
Remini said that Osbourne—who appeared as a contestant on Donald Trump’s reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice 3” with Robinson Peete in 2010—told Remini she learned from the experience that “Holly wasn’t a good person, not to trust her and that we should find ‘another Black person who is funny.’ ”
Osbourne’s attempts to oust Robinson Peete before the show premiered were unsuccessful, but the lunch foreshadowed what would be a deeply toxic work environment. By the end of the first season, Robinson Peete and Remini were both fired—at the direction, according to multiple sources, of Osbourne.
In a December 2011 interview with Howard Stern, Osbourne told the radio host that she had told Chen she didn’t think Remini and Robinson Peete were working out.
From the beginning, Osbourne also objected to Chen having any leadership role on the show and repeatedly tried to rally Remini and Robinson Peete in an effort to marginalize Chen, Remini said. According to Remini, in one exchange during the first season, Osbourne said of Chen: “I mean, who the fuck does slanty eyes think she is? She shouldn’t be pillow-talking with our boss.”
In another exchange, according to Remini, Osbourne said of Gilbert: “Why won’t the pussy licker do anything about the wonton?” and “Why won’t the fish eater be part of this discussion? She’s the fucking executive producer.”
Remini also says that Osbourne would refer to her as a WOP and Guinea which are ethnic slurs used against Italians.
Remini says she deeply regrets not saying anything about Osbourne’s remarks at the time, either in response or afterward in public statements to the press.
“Not only did I do nothing about the racism and bullying I was receiving and witnessing, I was party to it,” Remini said. “I had to own up to my own ugly.”
Remini called the show a “toxic environment” and said she was “easily manipulated into a web of high school vitriol, hatred and bullying.”
Chen left “The Talk” in September 2018 following her husband’s departure from CBS, and Gilbert left in 2019. Of the original co-hosts, only Osbourne remains.
The accusations, however, go beyond Osbourne’s time on “The Talk.”
Renee Tab, who now runs her own management and production company, was a 26-year-old literary agent at ICM, the powerhouse talent and literary agency, in 2003 when she became a target of Osbourne.
That year, Tab attended a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Osbourne and her husband that doubled as a ceremony to renew their vows and was being filmed for their reality show. Tab attended the party as the guest of an invited guest. At the party, mock credit cards were handed out to attendees, who could accrue points by playing casino games and be entered for a prize: a necklace and earrings set worth $15,000 (though some reports claim it was worth $40,000). Tab won the raffle.
The next day, Tab learned that Sharon Osbourne was accusing her of stealing the jewelry because she wasn’t a guest directly invited by Osbourne but instead attended with a guest invited by her son Jack Osbourne.
Osbourne called Tab on Jan. 1, 2003, in the evening and, according to Tab, called her a “Persian carpet cunt.” (Tab is Iranian American.)
At the time, Tab was headed to New York, and she said that Osbourne threatened to have her “yanked off the plane” and told her “I could have you fired if I wanted to.”
Days later, Osbourne issued a press release through her publicist with the headline “ICM Agent Steals Diamond Necklace from Osbournes at New Year’s Eve Party.” She also filed a police report for theft with the Beverly Hills Police Department. Investigators later labeled it a civil matter, not a criminal one.
Tab’s employer released a statement standing by her and said that the Osbourne family owed Tab and ICM an apology: “We’ve investigated the matter and determined that: (a) Renee Tab was invited to the Osbourne party; (b) she won the raffle in a legitimate manner; and (c) there is no basis for the claims that are being made by the Osbournes. Accordingly, ICM believes the Osbournes owe both Ms. Tab and ICM an apology.”
Even though the Osbournes weren’t ICM clients, for a major agency to publicly go against the famous family, who had a highly rated reality show on MTV at the time, did not go unnoticed.
Three months later, Osbourne and Tab encountered each other at the popular West Hollywood Japanese restaurant Koi. Tab said that Osbourne confronted her, again calling her a “Persian carpet cunt” and spitting at her three times.
Tab says she asked Osbourne why she was spewing ethnic slurs and that Osbourne responded, “You want to know why? Because I’ve worked so hard to get where I am.”
Police were called to the scene at Koi, where Tab told authorities that in addition to Osbourne spitting at her, she repeatedly kicked Tab’s sister in the leg. Osbourne told police that Tab hit her in the face. Tab said she got physical only when Osbourne started attacking her sister. No charges were filed.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Tab described the months-long experience with Osbourne as traumatizing. At the time, what was a relatively simple dispute (one that Osbourne never got authorities to confirm as criminal and never led to litigation) was turned into a spectacle, with hundreds of stories written across the globe after Osbourne repeatedly ginned up the media against the young agent.
In another instance that could only be described as bullying, Osbourne in 2019 bragged about firing her husband’s assistant after he didn’t find humor in being told to run into the Osbournes’ burning house to save their dogs, only to have Sharon Osbourne give an oxygen mask offered to him by firefighters to her dog and then order the assistant back inside the burning house to retrieve their paintings.
While recounting the story, Osbourne said that she and her husband were laughing later that night and the assistant said he didn’t find the situation funny, as he was concerned he may have suffered lung damage.
Osbourne, in a gleeful tone, said she fired him on the spot.
For years, Osbourne has spoken unfiltered publicly with little to no consequence. Her comments have often been celebrated, or in some cases waved off, as the musings of a bold and brash woman who “talks just like the boys do,” according to one source.
But for the first time in her career as a TV personality, Osbourne may be facing accountability for her language and behavior.
It’s unclear what will happen with Osbourne when it comes to her role as co-host of “The Talk” and her contract with CBS, but what is clear is that the woman who has threatened her enemies and colleagues with ruin for decades—unabashedly sharing stories of her vengeful approach—may end up on the receiving end of the sort of accountability that has eluded her in the past.
Remini, for her part, said she is glad she left the show and that her subsequent reckoning made her a better person. Osbourne, however, still has work to do on her own biases, Remini said.
“Although being fired was devastating at that time, in part because someone we considered a friend turned on us for a show we helped to create, I am grateful for the time away to do the work I needed to do,” Remini said. “Coming from Scientology, where racism, bullying and bigotry is taught, I had to unlearn a lot. I’m still learning and hopefully evolving. I can’t say that Sharon has focused on the work she needs to do.”
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