Johnny Knoxville Doesn’t Blame the ‘Jackass’ for Exacerbating His Friends’ Substance Abuse

Jackass‘ 2000 debut on MTV helped define the decade — an era of reality TV and daring pranks. Celebrity Johnny Knoxville, both a creator and star of the show, pushed the boundaries of stunts and dared audiences to look away. The tremendous success of the franchise, which has since produced many movies and spin-offs, shows viewers couldn’t look away even if they wanted to.

Over the years, the show has seen a rotating cast of characters, all people unafraid to test their bodies’ limits. Unfortunately for some, this dare-devil attitude extended far beyond the screen, and manifested in dangerous — and sometimes deadly — substance use

Johnny Knoxville smiling in front of a crowd of people
Johnny Knoxville | Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

The cast has a history of substance abuse

The members of the Jackass crew indisputably had a rockier route to fame than most. They laughed in the face of danger for a living. And, though the show was fairly controversial and included plenty of warnings, the participants were quickly rocketed into even higher levels of fame than they had previously known individually. This fast ascension, combined with their penchant for danger, led to some struggling with substance abuse.

While some overcome their vices, others saw their careers or even lives ended. The heartbreaking trend has caused some sources like E! Online to dub it the “Jackass curse.” Their article documents stuntmen Steve-O and Chris Raab’s experience with alcoholism and cocaine use. While Steve-O has since celebrated over a decade of sobriety, others did not find a reprieve. 

Ryan Dunn, a longtime member of the Jackass gang and childhood friend of Margera, died in a 2011 drunk driving accident. He had long been struggling with depression and alcohol abuse, and the devastating crash instantly killed both him and his passenger, a Jackass Number Two production assistant. 

Knoxville took protective measures for ‘Jackass 4’ 

Although the Jackass men achieved fame through their casual approach to life, Knoxville made clear in an interview with GQ that the losses and struggles of his friends deeply affect him. And while he doesn’t believe that the show directly contributed to the cast members’ substance use problems, asserting that “each of us was responsible for his own actions,” he is taking measures to protect them moving forward. 

It was recently revealed that Bam Margera would not play a role in the upcoming Jackass 4 film. Margera characterized it as a betrayal, but Knoxville implied in his interview that the decision was made in response to Margera’s non-commitment to rehab and sobriety. Responding to Margera’s online outrage, Steve-O expressed his enduring love for Margera and credited Knoxville and Tremaine’s tough love for his own sobriety, according to Rock Feed. 

‘Jackass’ is famous for stunts and slapstick pranks

In the late ’90s, Johnny Knoxville was desperate. According to his own account to Maxim, his need to provide for his young infant made him willing to do anything for money. It was this attitude to led him to test defense equipment on himself, going as far as shooting himself while wearing a bulletproof vest. He hoped to write up the experience as an article for a popular skating magazine, but Big Brother realized it would have a much better effect on video. 

Though Knoxville hadn’t previously been interested in the medium, he agreed. When Jeff Tremaine, the future co-creator of Jackass, saw the clip, he knew that Knoxville was something special. Soon, the pair had crafted the Jackass concept and began searching for other quirky characters crazy enough to support Knoxville’s energy and dream. 

The original crew featured such iconic figures as Steve-O, Ryan Dunn, and Bam Margera. Nine men in total, they faced incredible physical challenges — and maybe even a curse — together. 

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