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Howard Stern – Humanizing Mental Illness for Decades

I have been a Howard Stern fan for the last twenty five years.

Howard Logo Thank You SiriusXM
Howard Logo Thank You SiriusXM

I think it was 1991 when I heard him on LA radio, and the first time I heard him he was railing on Jay Thomas.  (Note: I played golf with Jay Thomas at Chester Washington Golf Course in about 1999, and along with Oliver North he was the most down to earth celebrity I ever met.  Evidence?  He was playing on Chester Washington Golf Course). Particularly after about 1998, I found myself becoming a true superfan.  When he moved to Sirius, I bought a lifetime membership.

Howard Stern is more than what a non-listener would think.  Yes, he is all of those things that a non-listener thinks he is.  But he is much more.  He is able to make people comfortable when being interviewed. How many celebrities and politicians have come away from the show surprised at what they talked about?  Howard Stern does more than the soundbite interview.  Indeed, he mentioned in Miss America that he had the opportunity to interview Michael Jackson on his show, so long as he put a positive spin on the interview.  Howard Stern would not do it.

Another thing that Howard Stern has the ability to do is to find people and exploit personality quirks.  JD Harmeyer was an intern who actually may be more socially awkward than me.  Gay Rich?  An intern who was so far out there it made other gay friends a bit more acceptable.

One can look at his regular employees.  Fred Norris?  An awkward guy who is intensely cerebral and talented.  Robin Quivers? How much insight did we gain on Robin when Dr. Drew’s narcissist test results came out?  Scott the Engineer and his famously hot temper (which has burned out a lot in the last fifteen years).   Ronnie the Limo Driver Mund? I’ll quote Steve Langford and say that he could read a phone book and I would be entertained.

Over the decades, we have learned so much about these people.  And what makes them entertaining is their foibles.  Their personalities.  Eric “The Actor/Midget Lynch?” A guy with multiple medical problems and dwarfism that seemed to be a narcissist. Nicole Bass?  A tall female bodybuilder with a case of body dysmorphia?  Crackhead Bob?  The happy go lucky guy who suffered a debilitating stroke from crack use?  Or Suzanne “Underdog Lady” Muldowney, who seems to have a case of Asperger’s? Mark “Bigfoot” Shaw, who is am imposing individual of seeming borderline intellectual function who has found love with a transgender?

Even with show employees, the mental health issues are on full display.  Artie Lange’s addictions and apparent self-loathing were fodder for the show for years.  He discussed his addictions and even suicide attempt as a comedian would.  Despite the laughs, these were serious situations – life and death.  Artie is a person who was vital to the show, and knowing him through the program led to an understanding of the dynamics of addiction that many people might not otherwise be exposed to.  Artie’s temper was when he was getting dope sick. We have an explanation for what happened. Artie became someone I cared about.

Perhaps the most compelling to me is Sal “The Stockbroker” Governale.  Sal was hired because he was a ball breaker – his torment of Gary (perhaps the most stable individual on the show) got him noticed.  He idolized Howard Stern and still does.  Sal is genuinely hurt when Howard Stern berates him.  And Sal’s sincerity in dealing publicly with his marital problems (and how frequently he incurred well-deserved wrath from his wife, Christine) was both a source of immensely entertaining radio and ball busting as well as an intensely personal and heartbreaking matter.  I remember well that Gary, of all people, disclosed when it first broke that he just wanted to hug Sal. And yet Sal will be in tears over Howard being furious over the nature of his joking.  Sal is, to me, an enigma.  Sal is probably the guy I would get along with most (except maybe Gary) because Sal is outgoing and controversial. Yet at the same time he is genuinely sensitive and easily shattered.

Presiding over it all is Howard Stern, who has always referred to his mental health issues without being too specific.  He wrote about having OCD and his struggle to conquer it.  Howard frequently mentions going to a psychiatrist twice a week.  Howard moves on from passion to passion, and he puts down those who think differently from him.  Above all, Howard Stern is powerfully aware of what he is.  A truly nice man with human insecurities who found that putting his issues out on radio for all to see can help him.

Howard Stern himself has changed.  HE made amends with Bon Jovi.  He made amends with Chevy Chase and Rosie O’Donnell.  No, I cannot see him making amends with Jay Leno.  Ever. Some things are not fixable.

The Howard Stern radio show has something for everybody.  Above all, to me, is that it humanizes the stuff we hear about. We listen to people going through mood swings.  We see deep discussion about what makes people either upset or happy.  The whole range of human emotions are handled.  There are people out there who are dealing with these things.

Is the illness a temporary thing?  We see it last for a few days or weeks.  Is the illness permanent?  We know that Eric the Actor was going to be a pain for the rest of his life.  Are narcissists horrible?  Well, Robin has found herself an outlet that allowed her to positively handle whatever happens.  And Robin has survived a lot in this world.

The more we learn about these people, the more we learn to understand them.  They have weaknesses and problems much like our own.  Howard Stern certainly exploits these weaknesses.  On the other hand, this exploitation allows us all to get a glimpse of the lives of others.  They have pain, and it isn’t always caused by themselves.

I hope Howard Stern signs up again.  Howard provides a voice to people.  Strippers and Presidential candidates alike.  We can identify with them.  We can see the people behind the image.  Behind the microphone.

And behind the illness.

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