Kelly Osbourne grew up in the spotlight. As the middle child of legendary rocker and Black Sabbath front man Ozzy Osbourne and his wife, Sharon, Kelly was accustomed to having a dad who jet-setted around the world, entrancing audiences with his heavy metal sound and genre-defining music festival, Ozzfest. Kelly’s family life was put on an even wider public display when MTV cameras stepped inside the Osbourne mansion for four seasons of its hit reality show The Osbournes.
These days Kelly Osbourne shines in the spotlight of her own accord. Kelly and her professional dance partner took third place in the 2009 season of Dancing With the Stars, and since 2010 she’s served as a panelist and presenter on E!’s Fashion Police. The 28-year-old appeared on the July cover of Cosmopolitan, sporting lavender hair, a broad smile, and a barrage of polka dots in several different iterations.
But the cause closest to Osbourne’s heart is also one of her most recent endeavors. In May, Osbourne officially became the celebrity ambassador for generationCURE, a new campaign aimed at grooming the final generation of AIDS activists, coordinated by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. Launched in 2011, generationCURE arose from a small group of young professionals who formed a committee of fellow 20-somethings dedicated to helping amfAR speed up its search for a cure for HIV and AIDS. Last year generationCURE raised more than $50,000 toward its lofty goal to fund a new cure-focused research project that will cost $120,000.
The central premise of generationCURE is that a cure for HIV and AIDS is in sight, and could be ready for commercial distribution within the lifetime of the millennial generation, the millions of people born between 1982 and 2004. Indeed, with perhaps 15 to 20 people already functionally cured of HIV, a commercially viable cure seems closer than it ever has before.
And Osbourne is committed to being one of the young people helping to make that happen.
“I have family that suffer from HIV and best friends that suffer from HIV,” Osbourne tells HIV Plus at a Los Angeles kickoff reception for generationCURE. “It’s been a part of my life since I can remember.”
Even as a child, Osbourne knew that HIV and AIDS don’t discriminate. When the disease now known as AIDS first surfaced in the 1980s, scientists, doctors, and media outlets often referred to the it as the “gay flu.”
“I used to say to my mum, ‘There’s no such thing as the gay flu, you know that,’ ” recounts Osbourne. “And she’d be like, ‘What do you mean?’ And I would say, ‘Mum…why would something only infect gay people? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.’ ”
Of course, Osbourne’s observations were spot-on, and the world soon learned that HIV can happen to anyone. That’s a message Osbourne also hopes to impart to younger activists, many of whom didn’t experience the mass deaths of loved ones in the early years of the epidemic.
“The generation after me kind of missed that and are less careful,” explains Osbourne. “They think, Oh, it will never happen to me. But guess what, asshole? It can.”
While she’s never been one to mince words or play nice on serious issues like health care and protection, it’s clear that Osbourne has a big heart and is both passionate and compassionate about the fight against HIV and AIDS. “I’d be a hypocrite if I wasn’t,” she quips.
Osbourne speaks earnestly about sitting at friends’ bedsides as their bodies adjusted to harsh but medically necessary antiretroviral therapy.
“I’ve actually watched somebody who had to take antivirals, and be there to wipe up their puke and pull their hair back and see the night sweats they go through and how much weight they lose or gain,” says Osbourne. “So to anybody that stands up and says, ‘Yes, I have it,’ my heart belongs to them. Because they’re sending a clear message, and they’re owning it.”
Osbourne says that ownership inspires her, and she credits openly HIV-positive people for standing up, speaking out, and being counted.
“Don’t look at yourself as a victim, look at yourself as a preacher,” suggests Osbourne. “Say, ‘I got this. I’m going to preach to you, and tell you how I got it. I wasn’t smart—don’t do the same thing I did.’ Don’t turn yourself into a victim, because then you are becoming what people say you are.”
But Osbourne recognizes that since she’s HIV-negative, her advice might be seen as speaking out of turn. Of the expectation that positive people will speak out, though, “it’s easier said than done,” she says. “I don’t have it, but some of my family members and best friends do, so I give the best advice I can. Unless you really are suffering from this, it’s ignorant for me to even say that.”
She’s also not oblivious to the discrimination and public shaming HIV-positive people face on a daily basis. Herself the victim of relentless bullying for her weight, her punky appearance, and her unapologetic snark, Osbourne argues that HIV has moved from being incorrectly labeled a “gay disease” to mistakenly connected to sexual promiscuity.
“It’s not about if you’re a slut or not,” says Osbourne. “You can be slutty. It’s about being stupid or not stupid.”
Not that Osbourne thinks HIV-positive people are stupid. In fact, she has long felt a sense of solidarity with them.
“I remember putting on a garage sale when I was about 10 years old for my mum’s best friend’s neighbor, who was HIV-positive,” she says. “I call it Philadelphia-ing, when you get fired [for being positive]; they totally Philadelphia-ed him.… We got rid of everything in the house we didn’t need—my mum’s furniture and clothes—and we made enough money for him to stay in his apartment until, unfortunately, he lost his life.”
Stories like that are part of why Osbourne has committed to generationCURE, for the promise to keep fighting for medical advances that will find a cure for HIV within her lifetime.
GenerationCURE, she says, is “so adamant about that, and that message is so clear and precise that it was something that I wanted to be a part of, to make sure that message does come across,” explains Osbourne about signing on as the campaign’s first celebrity ambassador. “With the technology that we have today and the fact that they cured an adult and a young person of HIV, it gives me so much hope that there really is a real cure out there. And with enough money and enough support from the world, that [researchers will] be like, ‘OK! Shut the fuck up; let’s get your cure.’ ”