A few years ago, Donny Osmond was mowing the lawn at his Provo Riverbottoms home when one of the neighbor kids yelled over to him.
Much to his delight, Donny says many neighbor kids call him that.
“I saw ‘Mulan’ last night, and I really liked your song in it,” the neighbor kid said. “You should do more stuff like that and you might be a star someday!”
Donny gets a great laugh out of that story.
“I’m just a neighbor to these people,” he says, gratefully.
And Donny can’t think of a neighborhood anywhere else in the world he’d rather live. Provo is home to this 43-year-old, who is no stranger to large metro areas, airplanes, hotels and worldwide audiences.
Utah is the place
“In the crazy world of entertainment, it is so comforting to live with my family in an area where we can just be a family,” Donny says, seriously. “I know some people recognize me, but they are extremely polite.”
In fact, Donny enjoys leisurely trips to the nearby Albertson’s, where employees treat him like a friend.
Talk to many in Utah County, and they can cite a “Donny sighting” or two. They saw him at the city council meeting, or at his son’s high school activity, or perhaps their cousin is in the Osmonds’ LDS ward. Or maybe they saw Donny in the Tree Room at Sundance, which is one of his favorite places to take his wife, Debbie.
Or, maybe they’ve pulled Donny over for speeding.
“I know the police force well,” Donny chuckles. So does he get a ticket? “Well, I have gotten out of a few,” he admits.
In fact, one of Donny’s only complaints about Provo is that his commute to the east and west coasts is complicated by the lack of a local airport.
“I hope Provo gets an airport soon,” Donny says. “I make that drive to the Salt Lake City airport all the time, and it would be nice to cut that travel time.”
But the airport situation doesn’t outweigh the benefits of Happy Valley for this Osmond family.
Born in Ogden, Donny moved to California when he was 3.
“Even though we lived in California, I always felt that Utah was my home,” Donny remembers.
And he’s glad he always had a home base, because his career has taken him around the world.
Donny and Debbie married in 1978 and lived in Provo up until 1985, when they moved to Irvine, Calif. They then transplanted to places such as Toronto and Chicago, while he was doing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“Then when Don, our oldest, started high school, we knew it was time to settle down,” Donny says. “We decided that I would do the commuting, and we rooted down in Provo.”
Family — at least on the Osmond side — wasn’t the reason for picking Provo. The only member of Donny’s immediate family here now is Marie. But Debbie’s parents live just five minutes from Donny’s home. “And they help us with a lot of things,” Donny says, appreciatively.
The Osmonds have been back in Provo for about five years, and Utah County will “absolutely be my home base for years to come,” Donny says confidently.
And it’s obvious the Osmonds feel at home. In fact, on New Year’s Eve, the Osmonds bang pots and pans around the neighborhood at midnight. “Our neighbors hate us!” Donny jokes. “We are so noisy.”
But it’s obvious the neighbors don’t hate them. And the Osmonds don’t dislike their neighbors.
It is reassuring not to worry about neighbors violating privacy or having ‘paparazzi’ climbing over the fence to photograph a leisurely pool party, Donny says.
No, Donny is able, for the most part, to be the family man he’s proud of being.
His family enjoys the ease of the 15-minute drive to Sundance. In fact, Debbie bought Donny snowblades. “I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to traditional skiis,” Donny says. “It’s my new sport.”
Sundance, privacy and family are just three of the reasons Provo is home for the Osmonds.
“We’ve lived in so many different places,” Donny says. “And in addition to being a great influence for my children, I like Provo because even though it’s a smaller community than Los Angeles, for example, you get the feeling of a nice metropolitan area. And I love it.
“I appreciate the fact that I’m just a neighbor and can enjoy being a member of the community,” Donny says.
Performing in Utah
Although Utah has always felt like home, Donny has been hesitant to bring his on-stage talents here.
In 1993, he started getting asked to do “Joseph” in Salt Lake City, but he kept turning it down.
“I’ve always felt weird about performing for my neighbors,” Donny says with a concerned laugh. “After you perform, you can’t just leave town and not hear the reviews.”
But his worries proved unfounded. His short run of “Joseph” in Salt Lake City was extremely well-received.
Donny’s reluctance to perform in Utah also got broken down during the second run of the “Donny and Marie show.”
“TV goes everywhere — I couldn’t keep it out of my home state, and I’ve learned that that’s OK.”
“Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have performed here earlier,” Donny says. And his future performances will “definitely” have tour stops in Salt Lake City and possibly Provo.
Donny has done other local events, such as the Freedom Festival’s Stadium of Fire. “Those are a different deal because it’s not MY show,” he says. “I’m just part of the program, so I’m OK with that.”
Although Donny is perhaps the biggest celebrity Utah County has, he never thinks about that.
“I’m just another person here,” he says. “I’ll always be a celebrity and people will always recognize me, but I enjoy being a citizen of the community.”
Donny likes being involved in his sons’ activities. “I’m careful not to involve myself too much,” he says, “because the activities should be all about my children — not me.”
But Donny laughs as he remembers going to a Timpview football game, and when he walked in, the crowd starting chanting “Donny! Donny!”
But Donny also loves to be introduced as Brandon’s dad or Jeremy’s dad, for example.
Donny says he wants more than anything for his sons to have a normal, positive growing up experience.
“It was tough for them in Chicago, because I was in the newspaper every day either in advertisements for ‘Joseph,’ or reviews or articles,” Donny says. “The boys became a shadow of me.”
Things improved once the family moved to Provo.
The Osmonds’ oldest son came home from school the first day with a big grin and said, “I’m just another Osmond here!” He’d had kids at school say things like, “Are you Nathan’s cousin?” And he’d been used to being “Donny’s son.”
Donny on Donny
Family: Married to Debbie, five sons
Favorite Utah County spot: Sundance
Least favorite thing about Utah County: Inversions and lack of airport
Neighborhood nickname: Uncle Donny
Greatest personal achievement: Being a dad
Highlights for 2001:
• February: release “This is the Moment” CD
• March: PBS Special airs
• Summer: Tour United States
Donny and Debbie
Donny is quick to point out that his family is his top priority, and having a “silent giant” for a wife makes this possible.
“Show biz can be a very crazy life, but I’ve found a wonderful stability in her, and it has made a world of difference.”
Although Donny attributes much of his success to his wife and love of family, he is eager to protect their privacy, asking that a family photo not be included with this article. They are, afterall, just trying to be a family. And they are succeeding in that respect.
“Debbie and I are equal, and we make every decision together because our decisions impact everyone,” Donny says. “She does respect the fact that I’m the head of the household, but we joke that she’s the neck that turns the head!”
Debbie travels with Donny on occasion, but mostly she wants to be at home and be a mom.
The Osmonds had hoped they could be a mom and dad to a little girl, but Donny says he’s heard girls are harder to raise than boys, so he couldn’t be happier with the boys he’s got.
Debbie has an overflowing hope chest in the basement full of girlie things, and now the family calls it the “Hopeless Chest.”
“When we get a granddaughter, she’ll be so spoiled!” Donny laughs.
Family is important to this celebrity. Afterall, his involvement with the Osmond family name gave birth to his career. But now those family ties are left for Thanksgiving and weddings, and Donny’s career is separate from the large Osmond family image.
His career has included many chapters, with a new one opening in 2001, with the release of his album “This is the Moment.”
“With this album, I feel this is the moment that opens up the whole next phase of my career,” Donny says.
The album, which was released in February 2001, includes broadway tunes done in a contemporary way. A PBS special in March will launch a year-long tour of this new collection, produced by the “Pope of Pop,” Phil Ramone, who has produced albums for Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion, Billy Joel and Elton John.
Donny believes this next chapter takes him into a more classy area. He plans to perform with symphonies, such as the Utah Symphony, and at performing arts centers.
The million-dollar show will take to the road across the United States and around the world.
“This is nowhere near what ‘Soldier of Love’ was,” Donny says. “The approach is completely different, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Donny also taped a pilot for a revival of “The $100,000 Pyramid.”
Yes, Donny’s life has included many chapters. The only sure thing is that there always will be a next chapter. His enthusiasm for life, his talents and people combine to make nearly every moment feel like “This is the Moment.”
As Donny looks over his life, he has a hard time picking his most satisfying moment. Some highlights include his first record, “One bad apple,” “Joseph,” and the original “Donny and Marie show.” He also loved singing “Puppy love.”
“We’ve always poked fun at ‘Puppy Love,’ and so has everybody else,” he laughs. “But I would really like to do that song legit for once in my life. It’s been 30 years, it’s time we revisit that song and do it legit.”
But, above all else, his greatest accomplishment is “being a dad,” he says. And the best place for him to do that is Provo, Utah.
And who knows. If all goes well, he might even be a star someday, as his neighbor suggests.