Book review: Life, death and Donald Trump

Howard Stern has turned over a new leaf – and a new page – in his latest memoir

June 6, 2019 08:30
Book review: Life, death and Donald Trump

HOWARD STERN and his wife, Beth Ostrosky Stern, at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, last year.. (photo credit: REUTERS/AARON JOSEFCZYK)

Howard Stern speaks, which comes as no surprise to the millions of people who listen to him. Last weekend he was speaking to me, saying, “Twenty years ago I had so much more energy and my narcissism was so strong that I really enjoyed talking about myself. But now I realize that I don’t like talking about myself so much and that there is great value in listening to other people.”

The most successful and influential radio personality of his generation and arguably in the history of the medium, Stern has been talking into microphones for most of his life, which is now in its 65th year. He shows no signs of shutting up.

So, there he was on the telephone from the large Long Island, New York home he shares with his wife, Beth, and a large number of cats, saying, “I now have a chance and the freedom to explore my own curiosity and allow my guests to be heard.”

The next day, he would be talking with correspondent Tracy Smith on CBS News Sunday Morning, telling her, “Donald Trump asked me to endorse him, but I couldn’t.”

The day after, he said to his close friend George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, “George, I never think of you as a sex fiend.”

All of this talking – on television, radio and for print – is part of the promotional blitz for his third book. Howard Stern Comes Again is a gathering of 50-some lengthy and dozens of shorter portions of the hundreds of interviews he has conducted on his radio shows.
A lot of the media attention has focused on the president of the United States, whose interviews with Stern from 1995 to 2015 pepper the book in 11 short “And Now a Word from Our President ... “ chapters.

Trump is so prominent because, as the Jewish radio legend says, “Donald is one of the best radio guests ever. Why? Because he says whatever pops into his head.”

That’s not exactly news. But vastly more interesting, entertaining, self-revelatory, shocking, honest, provocative, surprising and sometimes sad is what comes out of the mouths of the others in the book, a vast panorama of famous and talented people such as Bradley Cooper, Billy Joel, Ringo Starr, Sharon Osbourne, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Barbara Walters, Tina Fey, Robert Downey Jr., Kid Rock, Lady Gaga, Rachel Maddow, Hugh Hefner, Paul McCartney, Courtney Love, Bill Murray, Madonna, Amy Schumer... the list is long.

“Some people I didn’t even remember interviewing, let alone remember what was said,” Stern commented, “but in rereading the transcripts, I saw a lot of wisdom and humor that I had missed.”

STERN PUBLISHED his first book back in 1993, the raunchy memoir titled Private Parts, and in the 26 years since, a whole lot has changed. 

Stern’s lengthy marriage to college sweetheart Alison Berns and the mother of their three now-grown daughters began to disintegrate in the late 1990s. The pair divorced amicably in 2001 and in 2008 he married longtime girlfriend Beth Ostrosky, about whom he writes in this book, “We’ve been together for 19 years, and every day I thank God she wanted to be with me... I call her ‘Sweet Love’... Howard Stern, me – I call my wife ‘Sweet Love.’ She is a saint. Mother Teresa... well, like Mother Teresa in a bikini.”
In 2005, he left terrestrial radio for Sirius XM, the then-new subscription-based satellite radio service. He signed a five-year deal worth $500 million. There are now two live channels, Howard 100 and Howard 102, as well as an new app featuring his interviews. His latest contract will expire in 2020.

He served as a judge on NBC’s America’s Got Talent from 2012 to 2015. The job paid $15 million a season, but, Stern writes, “My principal motivation for joining the show was to shift the American public’s perception of me. In just one summer, I went from being America’s nightmare to being Santa Claus.”

The cumulative effects of these events has been transformative.

“The hard-ass pose I’ve tried to maintain just doesn’t work for me anymore,” he writes. “It was a safe world but a lonely one – a kind of prison.”

His first two books are not on the shelves of any of the homes he owns (yes, more than one).

“It’s like looking at old photographs. I don’t like the way I looked,” he said. “I don’t listen to myself on old radio shows. I don’t like the way my voice sounds. I almost don’t recognize myself in the previous book. I am not proud of them. But I love this new book so much.”

It is, on a number of levels, a terrific book. Only two of its interviews (one with Trump and another with Ozzy Osbourne) are from the pre-Sirius era, when his obsession with ratings combined with his self-absorption “didn’t lend itself to doing serious interviews.”

They are, as you will read, serious now. He deeply researches all of his guests and he is able to get honest emotions and genuine insights from most of them. Yes, his radio shows can still dip into tawdry territory and he remains wildly funny and provocative. His interviews sparkle. There is a great freedom in being able to talk for an hour or more with no commercial interruptions and he has come to realize that interviews are not inquisitions intended merely for a saucy sound-bite or “gotcha” moment. At their best, interviews are conversations.

His wife is an author and animal right activist. Over the last six years, the couple has opened their homes to nearly 1,000 foster cats and found families to adopt each.

“This has really been a passion and pleasure for my wife,” he said. “We have fostered so many cats here in our house and I have gotten way, way into it.”

You can often see and hear Howard talking to cats on his wife’s Instagram feeds. Earlier this week she posted on the latter a photo of a cute cat named Yoda, paws resting on a photo of Howard in The New York Times Magazine.

This was the caption: “Yoda Stern is so proud of his dad.” (Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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