When Jerry O’Connell was still just a young boy, one of America’s most culture-shifting health crises hit very close to home.
In the latest edition of The Jess Cagle Interview with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly‘s Editorial Director Jess Cagle, the former child actor opens up about growing up in Chelsea, New York, during the 1980s’ AIDS epidemic and losing people close to him.
“It got a little sad because a lot of people passed away from AIDS, which happened really quickly,” O’Connell recalls of his childhood. “I was born in , and not to bring everybody down too much, but I was six around 1980 … right when all this was happening.”
“My mother’s boss, a lot of very close friends of the family, all went to St Vincent’s, which was a hospital right downtown,” the 42-year-old continues. “It was a crazy time, but when you’re a kid, you don’t know any different. It’s just life. That’s just what happens.”
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On the other hand, O’Connell also reminisces of happier days from the era.
“When you grow up in Chelsea and you grow up in a very flamboyant neighborhood, Halloween is a pretty crazy time,” he said. “Most kids in the ’70s were putting on plastic outfits and being Spiderman or Batman …. I was [in] drag at the age of 8, going to the Halloween parade back before it was a crap show.”
“It was just one block and the costumes were amazing,” O’Connell adds. “It was like an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race on steroids.”