Sad Details About Howard Stern's Life

Time was, Howard Stern's name wouldn't appear without the qualifier "shock jock." Stern, born in 1954, took audio entertainment, i.e. radio — first, terrestrial, then satellite — to new heights. Or new depths, depending on your point of view.

The audio part ran in the family — Stern's father was a partner in a recording studio, says Biography, and he used to record his children, especially at the holidays. As a youngster, Howard would visit the studio, listening to actors lay down voice tracks for cartoons and commercials. He started performing in the family's basement, creating puppet shows with marionettes for his childhood friends, but it was in college at Boston University that the radio bug bit, and hard. He volunteered at the campus station and was canceled after his first show, which featured a "racially charged" skit titled "Godzilla Goes to Harlem."

It didn't stop him. By his own admission, Stern was ravenous for attention, ratings, and success. He didn't simply push the boundaries of taste; he eradicated the boundaries. Like a lot of on-air radio personalities in those days, Stern hopped from station to station — from Briarcliff Manor, New York, to Hartford, Connecticut, to Detroit, to Washington, D.C., then to New York City itself. The boundaries kept getting broken wide open.

He's driven himself to be a radio ratings champion

Stern picked up a national following by syndicating his show in the mid-1980s, which meant exposure in more of the nation's major radio markets. He was outrageous. He was profane. He was obscene. Or so the Federal Communications Commission decided after Stern interviewed Rick Salomon, Paris Hilton's partner in a notorious sex tape, leveling millions of dollars worth of fines on stations carrying Stern's program — a penalty that was then a record, according to a 2004 The Guardian article. 

"I was obsessive about the ratings," Stern told Rolling Stone in 2018. "I wanted to continue being number one. I didn't want to be the guy just spinning records. I wanted to be as big as the music I was playing. I wanted it to be about me." Call it devotion, call it obsession, call it giving the public what it wants: It cost Stern his first marriage. And his personal happiness.

Howard Stern's first marriage fell apart

Howard Stern married his college girlfriend, the psychoanalyst Alison Berns, in 1978, according to Hollywood Life. Together, the pair had three children — now adults — and were married for just over 20 years. Stern portrayed her as the love of his life in his first book, "Private Parts," and she was a big part of the movie adaptation (also starring Stern) as well. As the critic Roger Ebert noted in his positive review of the film, "[it] asks as its underlying subplot, 'How much will this woman put up with before she dumps him?'" In 1999, Stern got the answer when the pair separated. Their divorce was finalized in 2001.

"I lived in a delusional world. I thought I was the best parent. I thought I was like Ward Cleaver, living the "Leave It to Beaver" life. I didn't realize everything was crumbling around me," he later told The Hollywood Reporter. "I mean, I didn't even know what it meant to be a grown man with a family. I didn't know anything. I was a child."

He's regretted some of his interviews

Howard Stern has long been known for his aggressive, crude, and sometimes combative style. He went after "anyone and everyone whose career was prospering," he said in The Hollywood Reporter, including, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and Rosie O'Donnell. According to O'Donnell, after Stern began taunting her, crazed fans of his started digging through her trash and even threatened her son's life.

One of Stern's biggest regrets is his hostile interview with Robin Williams from the early '90s. "I loved Robin Williams, but there I am beating him over the head with, like, 'Hey, I hear you're f***ing your nanny?' I could have had a great conversation, but I'm playing to the audience," he said. "They want to hear outrageousness, and that's my arrogance thinking that Robin Williams can't entertain my audience. How stupid am I?"

He never apologized to Williams before the actor's death. But Stern did patch things up with O'Donnell — and now, in fact, they're close friends.

He's gone through several health scares

If Stern, today 68 years old, sounds more reflective, it may be because he's had to confront his own mortality in recent years. First, his doctor discovered that Stern's white blood cell count was astronomically high, leading them to suspect cancer (via Rolling Stone). Just before beginning chemotherapy, they learned that he was eating too much fish and suffering from mercury poisoning as a result.

Later, in 2010, a full-body scan — he's a self-admitted hypochondriac — showed a spot on his kidney. Doctors estimated a 95% chance it was cancer, according to Rolling Stone. "And now all I'm thinking is, 'I'm going to die,'" Stern told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I'm scared s**tless."

He was called in for surgery, missing his show for the first time in years on May 10 (the next time he was on air, he told fans he had been sick with the flu). In fact, doctors discovered, the spot wasn't cancer. Surgery showed that it had been simply a cyst that had burst. But, it seems, his brush with death changed him.

He's worked hard to become a better human being, too

Howard Stern readily admits he's no longer the guy who abused guests on the air, who ridiculed women, minorities, and  people with developmental disabilities. He speaks harshly of that Other Howard. The change is the result of years of psychotherapy. "I was like, 'Man, I can't satisfy the audience.' The only thing I've learned is I have to satisfy myself."

He remarried in 2008 and speaks with pride of his adult daughters. He won't even re-read "Private Parts." That Howard was "selfish," he says. He's been on satellite radio since 2005 and still commands a strong following.

Is there a "new" Howard Stern? He seems to think so — maybe even hopes so. Nowadays he paints; he enjoys time with his wife, with his daughters. "I don't know how much time I have left," he told Rolling Stone. "There's a part of me that thinks I never acknowledge how much I truly love doing radio. If you ask me, I think I hate doing the radio show every day. Even in therapy, 'What part of you acknowledges that you really enjoy this, that this has been a great ride?' I'm trying to figure that out. I don't know."