After growing up in full view of the public thanks to reality TV show The Osbournes, it’s fair to say that Jack Osbourne’s childhood wasn’t exactly conventional. Highly privileged, sure. But being raised the son of heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne and rock manager Sharon Osbourne must have come with its challenges.
A battle with drug addiction in the 2000s saw Jack come out on top but, cruelly, his toughest challenge was yet to come. In May 2012, he was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Now 32, Jack isn’t the type to easily throw in the towel, and he is facing the disease head-on, in real life and online as well.
“I was filming a show at the time and we were in Utah, in the middle of nowhere,” Osbourne tells L.A. Weekly. “I’d just gone to see a movie, and on the way home from the theater I was at a gas station and this little black dot appeared in the middle of my vision. I thought it must be a migraine or something. I took some Advil and went to bed, and the next morning, the dot was bigger. The next day it got even bigger, to the point where I completely lost vision in my right eye. I had about 10 percent of my peripheral vision left. I came back, and I went to the doctor. They took me to the hospital, and I had an MRI, and that’s when the notion that it could be MS first came up. It was about two weeks later when all the results came back that I was given the full confirmation.”
Viewers of shows like Adrenaline Junkie and Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour know that Osbourne is charismatic on-screen. So it makes sense that he would use those skills to educate the public about MS, a disease that is still widely misunderstood, with his brilliantly titled web series called You Don’t Know Jack About MS. Importantly, Osbourne himself knew very little about the disease when he was initially diagnosed.
“I knew about Richard Pryor having it, and Montel Williams,” he says. “My parents had gone to a couple of MS fundraiser events, but I didn’t know anything about the disease. I didn’t know what it did, I didn’t know what it affected, so it was kind of a shock to me.”
Richard Pryor is probably the most high-profile celebrity to have been diagnosed with MS, and that was in the mid-1980s. Yet still very little is known about it.
“It was a thing where I didn’t really plan on telling anyone about it for a while, and then I had an incident where I got let go from a job because they said that I wasn’t physically able to do it, and it really pissed me off because, ‘How dare you tell me what I can and cannot do, based on an ailment you know nothing about,’” Osbourne says. “It just proved to me that people don’t understand what it is. That’s why I decided to be vocal about it. During this time period, I was spending a lot of time on the internet researching things, and I didn’t really ever come across that one website that gave me all the info I needed in a really easy-to-digest way. That was the inspiration behind You Don’t Know Jack About MS.”
It’s a fascinating, important project. The webisodes, covering everything from symptoms to exercise, myths and, most recently, parenting, clock in at around five minutes each, and the 17th one has just landed online.
“I think the biggest thing to me is growing it to a place of where we’re constantly reaching out to other people and having them weigh in on things or tell their story,” Osbourne says. “Talk to different doctors and scientists in the field. Because it’s an ever-evolving landscape. Every couple of months, there’s some new and interesting breakthrough as it pertains to MS. The way I look at it, until this is a curable disease, there’s always going to be a desire to have information around it.”
MS is a particularly cruel disease, not least because it can be invisible. Those diagnosed with it can have good days and bad days, which leads to uncomfortable situations with an ill-informed public.
“I’m pretty good in the sense that those around me — if I say, ‘Hey, I’m not doing good right now,’ people will say ‘OK,’” Osbourne says. “It’s almost like people are overly aware of things. If I’m squinting my eye because my contact is dry, my mom’s like, ‘It’s the MS.' No, it’s a dry contact lens. People in my life are so overly concerned that anything is MS. But it’s such a diverse disease and all the things it affects, it can be confusing to people.”
MS is also exacerbated by stress, which can make the trials of everyday life difficult to deal with, even when you’re not living in the public eye. Osbourne has been going through a much-publicized divorce, naturally a very stressful time. He has his own ways of dealing with it all.
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“I love going to the gym, I love surfing, spending time outdoors, spending time with the kids — to me, that’s the best stress reliever,” he says. “I try and surf at least once a week, go to the gym at least three times a week, and so that to me is my little outlet. It’s my way of unwinding. When I post stuff about being physically active, some people are like, ‘That’s good but I can’t do that.’ But for me, right now I can and so I absolutely will take advantage of every opportunity that I can do right now.”
Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour, season 3, is airing now on A&E, and Osbourne has more You Don’t Know Jack About MS webisodes on the way.
“I’m just busy right now, which is good,” he says. “Getting tired and being a father, I just have to go to bed when I put the kids to bed, because if I’m up late and have to get up early, it just rocks me.”
To watch the webisodes, visit youdontknowjackaboutms.com.