Donny Osmond knows all too well the price of childhood fame.
At age 14, he became a global phenomenon with “Puppy Love,” sending legions of teenage girls swooning.
Little did he realize that 50 years later, he would still be singing it and still reducing now-grown women to tears.
“There was a time, where I didn’t want to sing ‘Puppy Love,’” Osmond, now 63, told The Post.
“There was an article that came out in Rolling Stone magazine when I was a teenager, they said ‘The worst day in rock and roll history was the day Donny Osmond was born!’” he recalled. “And do you know how devastating that was to me? I mean, today, now I can laugh about it because I’ve pretty much embraced everything, but as a teenager that can wreck you. And it really ruined me for a little bit.”
So he decided to lash out, just once, by trashing a hotel room in Kentucky.
“I messed it up big time,” Osmond said, laughing. “My dad was mad because he had to pay the bill. But it was one of those rock ’n’ roll moments where I was this teenybopper and everybody thought, ‘Donny Osmond’s not a rock ’n’ roller.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am. Aaaaarrrgggghhhh!’”
As a Utah kid in the 1960s, he and four of his seven brothers, performing as the Osmond Brothers, were regulars on “The Andy Williams Show,” later hitting it big with songs like “One Bad Apple” and “Yo-Yo.” Donny broke out as a solo star — and teen heartthrob — and then teamed up with sister Marie for an ABC variety show. Raised in the Mormon faith, they were viewed as being as squeaky-clean and wholesome as you could get, making them a regular punchline.
Growing up in the spotlight wasn’t easy — nor was it easy when that spotlight went away — and Osmond has sympathy for former teen stars, like Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, who have struggled.
“It’s probably worse now than it used to be, especially with social media. But I think what happens is that you become a puppet to your image,” he said. “And there is a certain road or certain path that everybody thinks that you should be on. And it gets very difficult. Everybody is telling you what you should be like. It’s really taxing … when you want to do something and you can’t.”
It got to a point where he had to fight just to have a say in his own decision-making.
“I remember someone in management saying, ‘Well, Donny Osmond wouldn’t do that,’ and I looked at him and said, ‘Well, Donny Osmond just did.’”
He credits his survival to his family and his Mormon faith, but said that even that couldn’t completely protect him.
“I feel sorry for these people who just don’t have that kind of a foundational structure to their life, because [fame] is a rocky road,” he said. “And it wasn’t like I was able to avoid all of those psychological pitfalls. “There were times when I just crawled up in a ball and cried my head off because of the same dynamic that Britney and Justin and all these guys [have had to deal with]. I’m not immune.”
It helped that he had a friend going through the same thing — although things turned out much worse for his pal, Michael Jackson.
They first met as kids, performing with their brothers, at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1971.
“I remember seeing Michael peeking out the side of the curtain watching me during the show. In hindsight that was a pretty amazing moment, but at the moment it was like, ‘There’s my buddy looking at me stage right,’” Osmond recalled, adding how earlier in the day they had played backstage like two normal 13-year-olds. “It’s really difficult talking about … these two little teenagers who are just selling amazing amounts of records and having number-one records and very powerful recording artists, and all they want to do is just be kids.
“Those were the innocent, wonderful moments before life got difficult and complicated.”
A decade later, when they went to see the movie “The Dark Crystal,” Jackson insisted they wear disguises — and the pair turned up in trench coats, wigs and sunglasses. “We were just trying to be normal,” Osmond said. Still, everyone knew it was them.
That same year, Jackson’s massive hit album “Thriller” came out (Osmond was one of the first to hear it), but Osmond’s own career had crashed and burned. “I couldn’t get a record deal. I couldn’t get arrested,” he remembered.
His then-publicist half-joked that he should get himself arrested for drug possession to get attention and look edgy and grown-up.
Jackson, however, had other advice.
“I said, ‘Mike, how do I get back on the charts? How do I get back out there?’ And he said, ‘Well, you got to change your name. Your name is poison!’”
“And it was quite offensive,” Osmond admitted. “But what’s interesting is that he told me that in ’83, and it wasn’t until 1989, that ‘Soldier of Love’ became a hit without my name. So Michael was right.”
Radio DJs had refused to spin anything by Osmond, but the song was good. So they played it, but didn’t say who the singer was — until it was a hit.
“The greatest thing that ever happened to me was I lost my career,” Osmond mused, taking stock in the fact that failure makes you more grateful when you succeed. “And it’s so strange for me to hear me say that because the ’80s were the worst decade of my life because I didn’t have a career.”
Years later, Osmond and Jackson had plans to record a cover duet of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” but Jackson had to postpone as he faced charges of child molestation. (Jackson was acquitted.)
The last time they spoke was when Jackson called about a year before his 2009 death from cardiac arrest caused by an overdose.
“I said, ‘Mike, where are you?’ He says, ‘I can’t tell you.’ I said, ‘Mike, come on. You’re talking to me. Where are you?’ He said, ‘Please don’t tell anybody, but I’m in Phoenix. I rented a tour bus and I got my kids and we drove to Phoenix and I’m in hiding right now.’
“I said, ‘It’s a nine-hour drive to my home in Utah. I want your kids to go swimming with my kids. You’re going to have a wonderful conversation with my wife and myself. And I’m going to bring some normalcy into your life.’
“And he said, ‘I really need that right now.’ But he never took me up on it.”
Osmond admits that the Jackson he knew, though, was gone long before his death.
“We lost a genius and not just upon his passing, but upon the changes in his life,” Osmond said. “It’s those roads that people keep you on — it forces you to be someone that you aren’t in reality. But the Mike that I hold onto in my mind is the kid I met in Toronto.”
At the time of Jackson’s death, the singer was mid-rehearsal for a series of enormous gigs at London’s O2 Arena.
“His life was so messed up at the end … with the pressure of doing all the shows that he ought not to have signed up to do,” Osmond said. But he understands the pressure to perform.
“It’s not only that you can’t say no, but you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of investors on your back. And they say, ‘You can’t say no, because we’re telling you what to do, because it’s our money.’”
Lack of touring pressure is why, Osmond said, he enjoys doing a residency in Las Vegas. After 11 years entertaining fans on the strip with his sister, Marie, he is now starring in a solo show at Harrah’s.
“It’s a small room … and yes, the bottom line isn’t as big, it takes much longer to recoup your investment,” admitted Osmond who has five sons, 12 grandchildren and has been married to his wife, Debbie, for. more than 40 years. “”I don’t care at this point in my career. It’s about enjoying what you do.”
That includes competing on — and winning — “Dancing With the Stars” in 2009. The show was filmed at a studio in Los Angeles next to the one where he recorded “Puppy Love” all those years ago.
“Maybe it’s just human nature, where we all grow up and we realize, ‘That was a pretty good time in my life.’ And I’ve embraced that time,” he said of his early fame, admitting, “I loved the fact that all these girls [were] screaming my name.
“It was a tough transition, don’t get me wrong, but when I sing ‘Puppy Love’ every night, I don’t make fun of it, I do it legitimately with a beautiful orchestration.”
He learned the importance of that the hard way.
“I had experiences where people said, ‘Why are you making fun of [“Puppy Love”]? It’s such an important part of my memory in my childhood.’ And I realized, they’re right. It just doesn’t belong to me. For the past 50 years, it’s been a part of the fabric of other people’s lives as well.
“And now it’s so interesting when I look out in the audience — they have their cameras on, they’re videoing it. And they’re reliving those moments with me.”