Howard Stern on apologizing to Robin Williams, turning down Trump, grilling Weinstein

Howard Stern, a former "America's Got Talent" judge at a Season 10 taping, on Aug. 11, 2015 in New York City, is releasing a new book. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Howard Stern is revealing why he’s altered his shock-jock persona.

It’s been more than two decades since his last book, “Miss America,” a USA TODAY best-seller. “Howard Stern Comes Again” (available Tuesday) is a compilation of interviews over the years with famous guests. It also reveals, for the first time, a health scare. In 2017, Stern underwent an operation to remove a cyst on his kidney thought likely cancerous. It turned out to be benign.

The book also delves into regrets from interviews past with stars like Gilda Radner, George Michael and Will Ferrell.

The 65-year-old tells USA TODAY some of the changes to his persona stemmed from switching from terrestrial radio to SiriusXM (with a 2006 debut) and psychotherapy, which he entered in the late 90s .

Stern says part of being “a good interviewer” means “you have to be willing to let somebody else shine and you have to be willing to give them the spotlight, and that wasn’t so easy for me.”

He says he felt listened to by his psychotherapist “in a way that I’ve never been listened to before,” describing his day job as “a performance.”

“This was a real conversation that felt like being fed,” he says. “It was so nourishing that I thought, ‘Well, not only is this good, but maybe I gotta rethink my whole approach. It might be really nice to let other people be heard and take a step back and not be the star of the show and put the show in their hands.’” 

His health scare also influenced his decision to write “Comes Again.”

“I freaked out, and, so, it did cause me to reflect on what it is I was most proud of in my career, what is it I might want,” he says, predicting those who aren’t fans might still enjoy the book.

In it, Stern identifies an early-90s interview with Robin Williams as “possibly my biggest regret.” Stern writes that he was trying to get the “Mrs. Doubtfire” star’s phone number to apologize when he died by suicide in 2014.

The host tells USA TODAY he didn’t have his mea culpa fully mapped out, but had an idea of how his apology would go.

“I would say to him, ‘I’m sorry, because I am such a huge fan, and you didn’t even know that,’” Stern says, “‘and I didn’t allow myself to be a fan of yours, and I didn’t allow you to have the microphone and entertain my audience, and I learned nothing about you in the interview I did.

“’I was just an attacking maniac, and I want to tell you it is one of the biggest regrets of my life because I hold you near and dear to my heart,’” he goes on, “’But I was in such a bad place I couldn’t allow myself to be a fan of somebody. I was so crazed about ratings and keeping the audience’s attention, I had no business conducting an interview with you like that. So, I just want to apologize.”

The cover for the radio personality's third book, "Howard Stern Comes Again." (Photo: Andrew Eccles/AUGUST)

From an interview that didn’t go as desired to an interview that didn’t happen at all: Stern writes about an unsuccessful quest to have Hillary Clinton on the show, his pick for the 2016 election.

“I began to think that Hillary Clinton wasn’t connecting the way Donald Trump was with his audience,” Stern says, describing Trump as “a good communicator.” 

“He knows how to turn on an audience. You might not like him, but he knows how to speak, and I felt Trump was in a very strong position, and I happen to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, and I was like, ‘I’d like to give her an opportunity to do something a little bit out of her comfort zone but assure her that my intentions were good.’”

Stern says he penned that part of the book “with a lot of heartbreak.”

“She’s the one that got away, and I’m not gonna tell you that she would’ve won the election, but if you think about it, we’re on across the country. Maybe, maybe it would’ve helped,” he says. “I don’t know. I somehow think it would’ve.”

Snippets of Trump’s appearances on Stern’s show are scattered throughout the book, though the radio personality declined to replay their interviews in October 2016, a choice he stands by today.

“I stand by the decision, because in my mind it was sort of weird that he had come on the show to – he wasn’t a politician at the time – but he’d come on the show and in the spirit of fun and kind of lettin’ his hair down,” Stern says. “A lot of his comments were taken out of context like they were serious comments.”

But Stern finds the interviews relevant.  

“He’s the president of the United States, so it was worthwhile to go back and take a look at some of the things he’d done on my show.”

While Stern says Trump would be asked to return to his program, he predicts the president would turn the opportunity down. Stern declined an invitation to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention, and he says he hasn’t heard from Trump since.

“Donald was a great guest on our show, and I’ll always say he was one of the best, because anyone who’s honest and candid is interesting,” Stern says, adding Trump would “call me quite often from the campaign.”

“I had to tell him no, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do,” Stern says, “because I, listen, I think as a human being he was hurt, but I was honest with him. I said, I’ve been a big Clinton supporter for a long time.”

Stern feels his book is “a really good commentary” on culture. It also includes a 2014 interview with film producer Harvey Weinstein, who has since been accused of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault, and in 2018 was charged with rape and other crimes. Thinking of Weinstein’s alleged victims, the decision to include him caused Stern to lose sleep.

“I kept going back and forth like, ‘Oh, well maybe I shouldn’t put him in, maybe it’s irrelevant to put that in,'” Stern says, “and then I saw the relevancy in it and I put it in.”

During their conversation, Stern asked Weinstein if he ever attempted to abuse his power or hook up with actresses. Weinstein denied he ever did. 

“I found it to be quite profound that, for some reason, I asked Harvey about the casting couch and then there he is – talk about hypocrisy – saying all of the right things,” Stern says, “which means he knows what’s right and wrong. He’s telling you there’s no place for that in Hollywood.”

“I had so many good interviews, there’s so much good material,” he adds, “but ultimately it was the hypocrisy, the idea that somebody knows all the right things to say and still is living a different life behind the scenes.”

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