Howard Stern is an assh**e.
He has attempted to clean up his act over the year and has made claims of serious personal growth. And maybe he’s had some success in rebranding as a major critic of soon-to-be-former-president Donald Trump.
Howard Stern Addresses Offending Fans | The View
But as he’s just received a five-year extension of his contract with satellite radio giant SiriusXM, it’s worth looking back at what got him to this point — decades of being a cruel and spiteful dick. There are way too many examples to mention, but these 7 disgusting moments (that would have ended anyone else’s career) are some of his finest work.
Baby Spice Interview – 2005
Back in 2005, Emma Bunton — AKA Baby Spice of the Spice Girls — appeared on Howard Stern’s show and seemed to be prepared for some discomfort, as she remained a good sport throughout. Nonetheless, she was visibly uncomfortable as Howard made comments about her body, announced that he was turned on by the thought that she might have come to his studio without a bra or underwear, “just for me.”
While Bunton did her best to brush off these comments — as well as endless questions about her sex life that rose to a level just shy of propositioning her on air — the whole situation was horribly degrading. Stern and his crew even played loud, graphic sex noises until Bunton was compelled to take off her headphones.
It was part of Bunton’s job as a singer and actor to participate in this kind of interview and promote her work. There is an implicit pressure to play along, but she made it clear that she didn’t want to participate. Howard Stern responded by leaning into it, treating her like a sex object, dismissing her objections, and making her about as uncomfortable as he possibly could.
Carnie Wilson Fat-Shaming – 1999
In 1999, Carnie Wilson of the iconic trio Wilson Phillips went on Howard Stern just a few months after getting gastric bypass surgery to help her control her weight. At that time Stern’s radio antics were filmed for a TV show on E!, so there were cameras set up to film in and around the studio.
When Wilson arrived, she was directed by a producer to stand in a particular spot to “wait for Howard.” Little did she know, they had set her up for embarrassment, and the “Hold On” singer was actually standing on a scale, with her weight being displayed in big red numbers.
Though she had already lost more than 50 pounds following her surgery, it was obviously mortifying, but that was just the beginning. Once in the studio, Howard grilled Wilson about why she didn’t date overweight men, and even bringing on her boyfriend — now-husband Rob Bonfiglio — to suggest that he was either gay, or only interested in Wilson for her money, and that their relationship wouldn’t last.
When Wilson pushed back and called stood up to Sterns bullying, he seemed to be impressed and said, “I adore you.” Meanwhile, Wilson was inwardly concealing how much he had hurt her. On an appearance on The View she noted that immediately after the interview, Bonfiglio bought her flowers at their hotel to cheer her up, but said, “I literally crawled in bed.”
Gabourey Sidibe Fat-Shaming – 2010
In another instance of egregious fat-shaming, when Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the 2009 movie Precious, Howard Stern couldn’t handle the fact that people were praising an obese woman. He repeatedly referred to her as “the enormous fat black chick,” impugned her acting abilities, and joked that the only future she could have in acting would be as “the football player” in Blindside 2.
On top of it all, Stern couldn’t even be bothered to learn Sidibe’s name, calling her “Gabrielle Siday” and, when corrected, joking that she was named “Gabaret” after the movie Cabaret. Stern attempts to justify his fat-shaming by talking about a time in his life when he was badly overweight and his parents supposedly shamed him into changing his habits.
It’s hard to say to what extent there’s any truth to that story. But his attempts to frame it as a form of compassion, looking out for her health, were somewhat undermined by his comparing her to a planet…
Of course it’s possible that Howard Stern really does attack other people’s bodies as a projection of some internalized shame about his own struggle with weight. If that’s the case, he should take note that his predictions about Sidibe’s acting prospects were wrong. She has continued to have an active career, with major roles in the Showtime series The Big C and in FX’s American Horror Story.
Dolly Parton Audio – 2008
In 2008 Howard Stern played a series of clips cut together from the audiobook of Dolly Parton’s memoir, My Life and Other Unfinished Business. The clips made it sound as though the “9 to 5” singer was making hurtful and disgusting remarks about fellow musical icons Linda Ronstadt and Kenny Rogers — as well as some other celebrities. They even cut the audio together to have Dolly talking about her love of “n****r c**k.”
Cutting together bits of celebrity audiobooks is a favorite bit of Stern’s. As recently as 2017 he cut together pieces of Caitlyn Jenner’s audiobook to have her talking about having a “huge c*nt.” But while a frequent Stern guest like George Takei may take this kind of “joke” in stride, Dolly did not appreciate it.
Noting that she was “completely devastated,” the icon of Dollywood released a statement saying, “I have never been so shocked, hurt and humiliated in all my life. I cannot believe what Howard Stern has done to me. In a blue million years, I would never have such vulgar things come out of my mouth … If there was ever going to be a lawsuit, it’s going to be over this.”
Dolly didn’t end up suing, but it should go without saying that anyone who gets on Dolly Parton’s side is pretty much trash.
Selena’s Funeral – 1995
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was a talented young Mexican-American singer-songwriter who had a thriving fanbase in the ’90s and is still beloved to this day. In 1995 she was just 23 years old when she was murdered by an obsessive fan who had insinuated herself into Selena’s life — until she was caught embezzling money from the singer’s fan club. Millions mourned for her.
Her life story was turned into a 1997 movie starring a young Jennifer Lopez and is the subject of a miniseries that just started airing on Netflix. The one person who didn’t seem to understand the gravity of this tragic story when it actually took place was Howard Stern…
As her fans mourned, Stern responded to Selena’s death by insulting her music, playing sound effects over it, and performing a racist caricature of a Mexican Selena fan.
Dana Plato Interview – 1999
In May of 1999 Dana Plato, former star of the classic ’80s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, was nervous to go on the Howard Stern Show. Like many child stars, she had struggled with the temptations and pitfalls that life presents.
She had struggled with addiction, lost custody of her son, had most of her money stolen from her by a trusted accountant, and — in a moment of desperation in 1991 — resorted to robbing a Las Vegas video store with a pellet gun.
Following rumors that she was once again abusing drugs and near death, she gave an interview with Howard Stern. She had reason to expect some unpleasant questions from the infamous shock jock, but the interview started out well enough. Stern and co-host Robin Quivers complimented her looks — contradicting some of the rumors. It was only when Stern started fielding abusive calls that things got bad.
Stern may not be to blame for the content of these calls — though given his well-known history of having employees call in, even that is uncertain — but he chose how to respond to them. Rather than cutting off callers who were speculating that Plato sounded high, Stern encouraged it — along with abusive comments about her sex life — and surveyed the studio for opinions, pushing Plato to deny it and encouraging her to take a drug test.
The calls created a clear sense of public animosity and suspicion, making Plato defensive and even more nervous. Just one supportive caller was enough to bring Plato to tears.
The next day Plato took a combination of painkillers and muscle relaxants that killed her. Initially thought to be an accidental overdose, her death was later ruled an intentional suicide.
Rather than taking the sad news as a reason to reflect and to consider how his own actions may have affected Plato’s mental health, Stern took the opportunity to tell his audience that Plato had tried to avoid being drug tested.
“Battle of the Wits”
Of course it’s important to note that Howard Stern doesn’t only go after celebrities. He also directs his bullying at his employees (particularly Gary Dell’Abate, AKA Bababooey) and at ordinary people whom he deems worthy of his and his audience’s derision.
Over the years this has resulted in a cast of recurring characters termed “The Wack Pack”. Referred to by nicknames like “Gary the Retard” (Gary Loudermilk, who has Down syndrome),”Eric the Midget” (Eric Shaun Lynch, who suffered from Ehlers Danlos syndrome), and “Beetlejuice” (Lester Green, whose microcephaly lent him a supposed resemblance to a character from Tim Burton’s 1988 Beetlejuice) — every segment featuring one of these guests is disgusting exploitation — something approaching a modern take on the freak show.
While members of the Wack Pack generally enjoyed the notoriety and the opportunities the show provided them, that was never even close to the main purpose of these segments. Howard Stern plays the part of the kid in middle school who would “befriend” a special education student in order to amuse his real friends.
Stern fakes innocence while asking questions designed to elicit a response that he and his crew can mock. Perhaps the most blatant and upsetting example of this behavior came in 1994 with the “Battle of the Wits”.
Stern pitted “Gary the Retard” against “Beetlejuice,” in a trivia contest in order to laugh as they failed to correctly answer questions like “how do you spell ‘red’?” There are clips of the contest available on YouTube, but it’s honestly too cruel and exploitative to share any of them here.
So as Howard Stern’s career continues, and he works to sell himself as a changed man, we should keep in mind how he got to where he is. For decades he has commodified being an assh**e.
His greatest talent has always been a willingness to be the cruelest most unpleasant man in broadcasting. And he has never properly apologized for any of it.
So congratulation on your new contract, dick.