Tragic Details About These Talk Show Hosts

The primary goal of a talk show host is to entertain the audience. Whether they appear on daytime TV or are the last show you tune into at night before you hit the sheets, talk show hosts entertain with their amusing anecdotes and celebrity interviews. Talk shows are popular because these men and women often reveal insights about themselves when they're interviewing other people. It often feels like you're really getting to know them through the television. Many fans tune into these programs on a daily basis; however, these same fans may not realize the difficulties some of these people have had behind the scenes.

Whether it's a debilitating health problem, a terrible personal loss, or trouble with fans who have taken their obsession to a troubling level, entertainers such as Conan O'Brien, Oprah Winfrey, and David Letterman have had their share of tragedies over the years. They and others in the industry have dealt with sexual abuse, alcoholism, and mental health issues. Most of them have been open about their struggles, demonstrating that even though they're in the spotlight, they too have problems like the rest of us, making them even more relatable. 

Conan O'Brien

When you're in the public eye, some people think they know you or want to know you. In 2007, police arrested David Ajemian, a Boston priest, for stalking and harrassing Conan O'Brien. Law enforcement officers apprehended Ajemian and ordered a psychiatric evaluation after he attempted to attend a taping of Conan's late-night program in New York City, according to the New York Times. Over the course of a year, Ajemian sent O'Brien several postcards and letters with alarming content. Some of the correspondence was written on parish letterhead. He did not stop trying to contact O'Brien even when he was asked to discontinue the practice.

In one of his letters, Ajemian called himself the talk show host's "most dangerous fan" and appeared angry that his program was overbooked. In another letter, the priest made references to Virginia Tech gunman Seung Cho and said O'Brien had the ability to dodge a bullet like mobster Frank Costello did in the late '50s. In 2008, the priest pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Despite being charged with a crime, the priest didn't change his ways. That same year, he disobeyed a restraining order filed by the co-host of "Chronicle" on Boston's WCVB-TV.

Jimmy Fallon

In 2015, Jimmy Fallon nearly lost one of his fingers in a horrific incident. He was forced to take two weeks off from hosting "The Tonight Show" after he slipped on a rug in his kitchen at home, according to the Los Angeles Times. While he caught himself, his finger ended up sideways. Fallon thought he just broke the digit, but it turned out to be much worse. The injury required surgery and 10 days in intensive care. What exactly happened? He caught his wedding ring on the countertop, and when he fell down, he pulled his finger off. After the shocking incident, Fallon wrapped his hand in a towel and called a cab to take him to the hospital.

Fortunately, doctors had the ability to reattach his finger, but that's not always the case. According to Fallon, the situation is not as uncommon as you'd think, but typically people lose their finger and wind up with four instead of five. The surgery took six hours, and doctors took a vein from his foot and implanted it into his hand. In retrospect, Fallon said, "I should say the fall was funny. I'm a comedian so I have to fall funny," and he would have laughed had he been able to see it happen to himself.

Stephen Colbert

Talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert seem so confident when they're speaking in front of an audience. However, he and others have struggled in ways that you can't plainly see. During a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Colbert opened up about his issues with anxiety. As a young man, he required medication to function, and he revealed that in the '90s he had a nervous breakdown. He was prescribed Xanax, which took the edge off but didn't completely get rid of his anxiety. While he no longer paced around his living room, he still was unable to calm his nerves completely. When Colbert got married, he worked at night while his wife worked during the day, and he experienced panic attacks where he would literally walk circles around the couch.

His solution to overcome his anxiety was by performing. While he was nervous backstage, he had the ability to shut off his overactive brain once he was on stage. However, he'd be a ball of anxiety the minute he finished and was off stage. Colbert stopped taking Xanax because he wanted to work through his issues and is convinced that performing helped squash the uneasy feelings he was experiencing.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Ellen Degeneres

While Ellen DeGeneres is one of Hollywood's gay pioneers, paving the way for other entertainers to come out, her decision to be open about her sexuality came at a cost. In 1997, she revealed during a visit with Oprah Winfrey that she was gay, and instead of feeling elated after admitting her truth, she became very depressed. She opened up about her experience on Dax Shepard's podcast Armchair Expert (via Marie Claire) in 2018. Essentially, DeGeneres became the subject of insensitive jokes by late-show hosts, people mocked her, and she couldn't find any more acting jobs. That would be difficult for anyone to handle. 

Almost immediately after she came out, her career took a nose dive. ABC cancelled her show about a year later, and DeGeneres felt like a failure. Her face and her story was plastered everywhere in the media, and even other LGBTQ stars such as Elton John were slamming her for being featured in the media so much. DeGeneres was also put under a lot of pressure to represent the gay community, which was a role she didn't ask for, and it was a very difficult time for her. "I was looked at as the new leader, and I didn't want to be a leader and I didn't want to be political," she said. Years later she became the host of a successful daytime talk show and has since become an advocate for the gay community. 

Jimmy Kimmel

Many people would say having a debilitating illness is terrible, but it's worse if it happens to one's child. Jimmy Kimmel experienced heartbreak after he learned that his son Billy was born with a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot. His son's heart had a hole in the wall that prevented the correct amount of oxygen from getting to his blood, according to Today. Billy was put into a neonatal intensive-care unit just hours after his birth. Three days later he had his first of several heart surgeries.

During a 2020 interview, Kimmel and his wife showed a video montage of their infant son in the hospital with multiple wires connected to his tiny body. The image had the caption: "This is what it looks like to have a 'pre-existing' condition." Kimmel gave the interview to draw attention to the Affordable Care Act, which was designed to give financial coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. He warned that if the protection was taken away from the bill that millions of people would suffer the consequences, including death, because they cannot afford to pay for healthcare. In 2017, Kimmel opened up about his son's health during the monologue of his show, saying in part: "If your baby is going to die — and it doesn't have to — it shouldn't matter how much money you make."

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey first revealed back in 1986 on her talk show that she had been sexually abused as a child. She said, according to USA Today, "You see there really is no darker secret than sexual abuse. I am telling you about myself so that maybe the closet where so many sexual abuse victims and their abusers hide might swing open just a crack today, and let some light in." She wound up producing over 200 episodes about sexual abuse.

In 2021, Winfrey talked about it again in her series "The Me You Can't See," When she was just 9 years old, her cousin raped her. What made the abuse even more devastating was that Oprah didn't even know what sex was or what was happening to her. Like many victims of abuse, she didn't tell anyone what happened. She revealed that she "accepted" what had happened to her, and it made her believe that girls were unsafe with men around. She credits her teachers and school with helping her get through that dark period because that was the only place where she felt loved.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson hosted the CBS "Late Late Show" for nine years until he handed the reins to James Corden in 2014. The Scottish native made headlines in 2007 when his monologue about Britney Spears' incident resulted in a confession of his own. He noted that while the pop star was seeking help in rehab, shaving her head and getting tattoos, he was celebrating his 15th year of sobriety, reports the Guardian. In 2019, he published his memoir, "Riding the Elephant," and explained how being an alcoholic nearly cost him his career.

He explained in his memoir, via WBUR, that during a particularly dark period when he couldn't stop drinking (and didn't necessarily want to), he knew that he couldn't go on living the way he was. He considered suicide and wound up having a drink with a friend, which distracted him from his thought process. "The paradox and the conundrum of alcoholism is not that people drink because they're trying to destroy themselves, they're trying to save themselves," he explained. Ferguson stopped drinking in 1992 and moved to the United States, which gave him an opportunity to start over.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Trevor Noah

"The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah has been open about his struggles growing up during Apartheid in South Africa. His mother was a Black South African woman, while his father was a white man from Switzerland, and he grew up in poverty. During an interview with People and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle, he talked about a particularly terrifying time when he was a young adult and he learned that his stepfather had shot his mother in the head.

Fortunately, the bullet didn't hit his mother's brain or arteries, so she survived. While his stepfather was convicted of attempted murder, he only received probation. As you can imagine, the incident enraged Noah. But his mother told him to pity his stepfather because he was a victim of toxic masculinity. She didn't want her son to carry hatred in his heart over the crime. It was difficult for Noah to temper his emotions, but eventually, he saw how his mother became stronger after the shooting and her ability to bravely move on. Noah saw her strength as an example that he now tries to follow on a daily basis.

Wendy Williams

Over the years, Wendy Williams talked about her drug addiction, and in 2019 she revealed that she had been living in a sober house as part of her recovery. She said on her program, "The Wendy Williams Show," that she had struggled with cocaine, reported People. Williams was honest with her audience and explained that substance abusers have to struggle with their addictions for the rest of their lives. Referring to one period of her life, she said, "I was a mess, functioning, killing myself," and she considered it a miracle that she was able to stop abusing drugs at the age of 29. She spent 10 years as a cocaine addict and wanted to tell her fans how she was able to overcome her problems.

The talk show host was also diagnosed with Graves Disease, an autoimmune medical condition that can cause hyperthyroidism, according to NBC News. It can also cause a person's eyes to bulge and features symptoms such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness, hair loss, and many other issues. As she was open about her substance abuse, Williams also talked about her health condition on her talk show. She's also had other issues over the years, including famously fainting on air in 2017, which she attributed to being low on electrolytes while wearing a Statue of Liberty costume for a segment she was doing.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Montel Williams

Montel Williams hosted a talkshow between 1991 and 2008. During that time, he was struggling with Multiple Sclerosis. Williams was in the Naval Academy in 1980 when he experienced the first onset of symptoms he explained in a WebMD Live interview (via MedicineNet). He lost the majority of his vision in one of his eyes. He was just 22 years old, and doctors weren't sure what the diagnosis was. It took the medical community 19 years before they determined he had MS.

During an interview with Dr. Oz, Williams said that few people knew how much burning pain he was experiencing while he hosted his show. He would interview his guests and then go backstage and cry because he was suffering so badly. It was a daily occurrence. He revealed, "My primary symptom is pain. I've got pain from my shins to my feet, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it's been there for the last 10 years." He also feels pain in his face and has a difficult time functioning in high temperatures. To cope with the chronic condition, Williams has used psychiatric and psychological techniques to distract himself.

David Letterman

Police arrested a woman named Margaret Mary Ray in 1988 after she was caught driving David Letterman's Porsche in New York City. She was stopped near the Lincoln Tunnel because she was unable to pay the toll. She claimed she was the talk show host's wife and that her son was named David Jr., according to The Buffalo News. Over the years she was arrested on numerous occasions for trespassing and other crimes. At one point, she was discovered sleeping on Letterman's Connecticut property near his tennis courts and told the media she left cookies and alcohol at the talk show host's house.

As a result of her actions, she served 10 months in jail and over one year in a mental health facility after being convicted of trespassing. She was aggressive with authorities, and due to her mental health issues was often considered incompetent, which kept her from going to trial. Letterman, who called the woman "insane," said he did everything he could to stop Ray from stalking him. In 1998, she killed herself by kneeling in front of a train.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Graham Norton

U.K. talk show host Graham Norton nearly died in 1989 when he was in his mid-20s after he was violently attacked. He opened up about the event in 2021 with CBC Radio's Q (via CBC). One night while he was walking home from drama school, he was stabbed and lost a significant amount of blood. Only later did he realize that he could have died. The incident was life changing, and Norton said that it led him to take more risks because it gave him a different perspective. When faced with a decision, he often asks himself what's the worst that could happen, and nothing is worse than almost dying.

And it wasn't the only time someone came at him with a knife. A few years later, it happened again outside a club, though he told the Mirror, "There were people around and it was fine." And he insisted that he isn't triggered by knife violence because it's not that uncommon. He said that the scariest thing about it is that people without any hope may resort to that type of violence because they have nothing to lose.