Compared to his early shock jock persona, Howard Stern has become much more tame.
The self-proclaimed "king of all media" rose to prominence in the '90s with his boundary-pushing radio interviews that were often disrespectful and sexual in nature. Though this approach proved to be very lucrative, the 65-year-old now admits he may have taken the shtick too far. "In my mind, I knew all the answers. The audience won’t sit still for anything that’s more than 30 seconds long," he told Rolling Stone, while promoting his new book, Howard Stern Comes Again. "All they want is to be shocked and outraged. That’s where I was at in my life."
But there is one particular interview that has haunted Stern for years: his sit-down with Robin Williams in the early 1990s. "I was so angry at the world. I love Robin Williams, and yet if he came into my studio, I had to act like I didn’t love him. I’d be, 'Fuck you. Fuck you. I need all the attention,'" he recalled. "I was a baby. I want every listener. I want everyone focused on me. You’re not going to be funnier than me. You’re not going to come into my studio and steal the moment from me. This is who I was. Rather than say to Robin Williams, 'My God, you’re here,' and celebrate an amazing talent and the beauty of that guy’s career, he walks in and I start in, 'Hey, you’re fucking your nanny.' Bam, sledgehammer. Sock him right in the fucking head. Asshole. Me, not him. And my audience is cheering me on because who does that? There’s a lunatic loose from the mental asylum."
Stern said he wished the interview played out differently, and that the result was so unsettling that he contemplated calling Williams to apologize. "I could’ve expressed to him the beauty of Robin Williams. Who knows what he would have revealed? ... It brings me to tears to imagine what that moment could have been like," Stern explained. "Some people in my audience would say, 'Man, you don’t kiss anyone’s ass.' It ain’t about kissing anyone’s ass. It’s about 'Shit, I love this guy.' I want to tell him what he did for me when I was lonely and couldn’t find a friend. ... I had this idea that I gotta call him and apologize. I started to put it in process and see if he would take my call, but he killed himself. I get chills when I tell you."
Williams died by suicide in 2014 at the age of 63. Though he didn't get the chance to make amends with the late comedian, Stern did get the chance to apologize to Wendy Williams. During a March episode of the Wendy Williams Show, titular host called Stern "so Hollywood" and "predictable." Stern fired back in a 30-minute profanity-laden rant that referenced Williams' marital issues.
"I really got caught up in the moment. I didn’t think it was my finest hour. Some of my fans might think so," he told Rolling Stone. "But I was reacting to someone who was accusing me of…I don’t even know. I just didn’t like her fucking attitude. But afterward, it just left me with a queasy feeling."
You can read Stern's full Rolling Stone cover story right here.