Kelly Osbourne—daughter of Ozzy and Sharon—and singer, reality TV pioneer, style icon, and star of Fashion Police and Dancing With the Stars, has released a new book product (which is my preferred term for when these kind of brand extensions, however well-produced and entertaining, enter the publishing space). It’s called There Is NO F*ing Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch, and serves as a sort of epistolary memoir, in which Osbourne writes to many of the most important people in her life and what she’s learned from them, which in turn is meant to be passed on to her readership in a kind of oppositional Socratic method in which answers receive more answers.
Some of these letters, for example to her parents and her brother Jack, can feel a little emotionally rote, as she tells them how much she loves them, how terrified she was when it appeared at various times that they were dying from cancer or drug addiction or ATV accidents, and how they’ve taught her about unconditional love and how to be strong fighter who never gives up on her dreams. But she’s also impressively candid about her own history with drug abuse and addiction, her numerous public humiliations, and struggles with her own weight. She tells one particularly heartbreaking story about how, at the height of her teenage fame on The Osbournes, she rolled down her car window to say “hi” to a cute boy who seemed to be a besotted fan, only for him to hurl a Subway sandwich at her head and call her a “fat bitch” before he sped off. The book is filled with the kind of humor and heart that is seldom seen in the ghostwritten world of glossy celebrity memoirs. Osbourne, it seems, is the rare reality television personality who is also a kind, sensitive human being, and who recognizes and appreciates similar qualities in others.
Which may be why the most compelling letter in the book is her paean to the late, great Joan Rivers, whom Osbourne first met in 1991 at the age of 6 when her family appeared, via satellite, to be interviewed for a Father’s Day special of The Joan Rivers Show during which Osbourne “proceeded to stick [her] tongue out, yawn, and scratch [her] vagina” on television. This, naturally, delighted Rivers, and was an auspicious beginning to a 25-year-long friendship between the two. Osbourne shares delicious details about her friend and mentor, such as her habit of sterilizing airplane bathrooms by pouring miniature bottles of vodka over every exposed surface, or occasionally, covering public toilet seats with paper seat covers, which she would then light on fire, to kill any errant germs. (Did anyone really think that Joan Rivers wasn’t, deep down, the kind of bubbe with plastic on the couch cushions and a box of paper surgical slippers by the door for guests? Me neither.)
But what emerges over all is a portrait of kindred spirits: intelligent, sensitive women deeply affected by the beauty standards that each saw the hypocritical absurdity in, while still buying into them completely. Joan dealt with her insecurities through her spiky, merciless sense of humor; Kelly by beating herself up, abusing her body, and ultimately, coming clean about these issues (while still being far from humorless about them.) Still, they come from the same place and it’s not impossible to see in Joan’s later, greater comfort with vulnerability (see her touching frankness in A Piece of Work, the excellent 2010 documentary about her life and work) and influence on our confessional culture, that her influence may have toughened Kelly up enough to begin to find her own acerbic and sometimes hilarious take on her various travails. (Kelly did in fact get a tattoo to remember her friend.) It’ll be interesting to see how Osbourne develops as she continues to grow and age in the public eye. Could Kelly Osbourne someday be the Joan Rivers of her generation? Too early to say, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely. I’m pretty sure Joan would think it was a fitting tribute.