Howard Stern Has Revealed Just How Much He Regrets Not Saying Sorry To Robin Williams

Images: Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images / Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty Images

Shock jock Howard Stern has a lot of regrets. So many, in fact, that these days he advises people to burn his old memoirs rather than read them. Times have changed a lot since Stern was in his heyday. And he has mentioned one particular thing he’d love to go back in time and stop himself from doing.

Image: Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Robin Williams was once interviewed by Stern. As a person, Williams seemingly appeared to be the complete opposite of the famous radio host. Williams had fans all over the world, a CV full of beloved children’s movies, and little controversy to his name. Stern, on the other hand, thrived on it.

Image: Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Online USA, Inc./Getty Images

Back in 1986 rumors spread about an aspect of Williams’ personal life. Despite being a big fan of Williams and his comic career, Stern pushed that aside to make fun of him. And now, several years after Williams’ suicide in 2014, Stern has revealed just how terrible he feels about what happened.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When Stern was at his peak in the ’80s and a star of WNBC, there were complaints from many people about his jokes. These were often aimed at specific minority groups or at guests in the studio. Almost everything that came out of Stern’s mouth was crude or designed to horrify. He wasn’t called a “shock jock” for nothing.

Image: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Stern often spoke about his intentions regarding his on-air persona. “If someone’s offended, let them turn to another station,” he told People in 1984. The only thing he wouldn’t mock, he said, were incidents involving an individual tragedy, such as a murder. Everything else was fair game to him. “I can go any way the wind blows as long as it works into a bit,” he declared.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

At around that same time, WNBC promoted Stern with a campaign centered around apologizing to people. Assorted people and groups were named in the advertisement, including the National Organization for Women, the New York Jets and the Queen of the United Kingdom. But the intent was clear. The slogan adopted by the station was, “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The comic career of Robin Williams, on the other hand, took an entirely different trajectory. Williams was funny, but his jokes weren’t usually offensive. His comedy talents took him from being a stand-up to being a popular and sought-after actor. Throughout the ’80s, he appeared in Mork & Mindy and then went on to films.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: HAL GARB/AFP/Getty Images

A lot of Williams’ movies became absolutely beloved. He did family classics such as Jumanji, Aladdin and Mrs Doubtfire, interspersed with serious films like Good Morning, Vietnam and Good Will Hunting. He even took home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1998 for his appearance in the latter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bret Lundberg/Images/Getty Images

Seeing as how he was so popular, Williams’ personal life occasionally made headlines. His first marriage – he had three in total – was to Valerie Velardi, the mother of his son Zak. But in 1986 the media began reporting that Williams was having an affair with Zak’s nanny, a woman named Marsha Garces.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Darlene Hammond/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Williams actually married Garces after his divorce from Velardi – and she was pregnant with the couple’s child by then. In the end they had two children together, Zelda and Cody. The whole incident was something Stern took note of. And he decided it would make great material for jokes.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

This forms the basis of Stern’s biggest regret. He actually mentioned it for the first time on his show the day after Williams died. He had brought up the affair in an interview with Williams during the ’90s and treated the whole incident inappropriately. “I wasn’t rude with Robin Williams, but I asked some questions that perhaps went into areas that he had enough of,” he announced.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Stern went on, “I think my whole demeanor and attitude was just s*****. I wasn’t trying to be mean to Robin Williams.” Instead, it was all about the listenership. “I was just trying to be provocative and interesting for the audience, and doing what it is that I thought had to be done,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The shock jock continued, “And I was an immature a******. And so that always haunted me… and then I kind of filed it away and forgot about it.” Of Williams, Stern said, “This was a guy who should have been celebrated.” At that point in time, the public didn’t know the reason why Williams had taken his own life.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

At first the media speculated that it was hidden mental health problems which had caused the suicide. Blogs and commentators suggested that Williams had been a sufferer of depression or bipolar disorder. The Samaritans charity even released a statement asking journalists to report on Williams’ death in a sensitive manner.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Such was the fame of Williams that even President Obama spoke publicly about his life. “He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets,” he said. “The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

Williams’ wife Susan Schneider also released a statement which encapsulated her sadness, yet also pointed toward the positive impact of Williams and his work. “I am utterly heartbroken,” she said. “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

In the years following Williams’ death, news came out about what exactly had caused the actor to take his own life. It hadn’t, according to Schneider, been depression. It had been a terrible disease named Lewy Body Dementia, also called Dementia with Lewy bodies or D.L.B. The condition is similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

In 2016 Schneider released an essay called “The terrorist inside my husband’s brain.” In it, she detailed how difficult Williams found it to live with the condition. “At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it,” she wrote. “He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth. His loss of basic reasoning just added to his growing confusion.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

The story of Williams’ condition at the point of his death was a distressing revelation. And two years after the publication of Schneider’s essay in 2018, another truth was unearthed about Williams. But this one was less heartrending. In the documentary Come Inside My Mind, which detailed the life of the actor, Valerie Velardi explained everything about the alleged affair.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Williams hadn’t had an affair with Marsha Garces until he and Velardi had separated, Velardi herself claimed. Despite the media presenting the situation as Williams cheating with the nanny, Velardi said that she and Williams had been separated for a year. They had apparently been on friendly terms before Williams began seeing Garces.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s unknown if that specific bit of news ever got back to Howard Stern. But it’s clear that his treatment of Williams always haunted him. In 2017 he invited David Letterman onto his show and shared that specific regret. “Somebody the other night had like a little game we were playing with the dice and they ask you questions, ‘do you have any regrets?’ and I went ‘oh f***,’” Stern said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Philip Ramey/Corbis via Getty Images

Stern said he had “only one thing he wanted to admit to them,” and it was about Williams. “I did an interview with Robin Williams a hundred years ago… I was such an a******,” he said. He then explained that he had wanted to call Williams to apologize. But before he got the chance, Williams passed away.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Pat Sullivan/Photoshot/Getty Images

Stern told the story with his trademark profanity. “I didn’t know he was dying or that he was going to kill himself. I said ‘I want to call him and apologize to him because I was such a f***ing moron and I love Robin Williams. And then, of course, that happened. And there’s only a couple of people I really feel this way about,” he explained.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Brian ZAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

By 2019 it had started to seem like Stern was serious about his apology and that it wasn’t just another bit. In interviews he appeared regretful about not only the Williams incident, but lots of other things. “I needed to take a good, hard look at myself,” he told CBS in May 2019 while promoting his new book.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Carmen Valdes/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Stern revealed he had contacted several people to apologize for things he’d said on his show. “Writing this book was painful, because I did go all the way back to see what I was doing, and I had to go through thousands and thousands of hours of interviews, which is insane,” he said. “It made me crazy, because I didn’t wanna sit and listen to a lot of this stuff. It was a difficult task.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Mario Magnani/Liaison/Getty Images

In the book, titled Howard Stern Comes Again, Stern mentioned the conversations he had had with those he apologized to. “Some were gracious,” he said. “A radio guy I had been awful to said, “You know what, man? I’m so glad you called. I actually felt bad for you that you were carrying around so much bitterness and ugliness inside, and I’m happy you don’t have that anymore.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Steve Azzara/Corbis via Getty Images

Other people were much less forgiving when Stern called them up. “A famous comedian I had bashed said to me, ‘I appreciate that you called, but I don’t know if I could ever forgive you. I had to go through a lot of misery, because your fans were brutal,’” Stern noted in his book. That person’s identity is unknown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Some people Stern did name. He had apologized to Will Ferrell, Carly Simon, Eminem and George Michael, among others. Many of the incidents involving celebrities were about Stern asking them hugely inappropriate sexual questions live on air. “My narcissism was so strong that I was incapable of appreciating what somebody else might be feeling,” he wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: snapshot-photography/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Of Williams himself, Stern wrote, “Possibly my biggest regret was my interview with Robin Williams. When Robin came on the show in the early nineties, I spent the entire time badgering him about how he had divorced his first wife and remarried his son’s former nanny. I was attacking the guy, and he was justifiably furious with me.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Brian ZAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Eventually Stern saw the error of his ways. “Years later, I realized I finally needed to apologize,” he wrote in his book. I didn’t know what Robin’s reaction would be. He could have hung up on me. He could have cursed me out. I had to do it. It took me twenty years to work up the nerve. I was in the midst of tracking down his phone number, and the next day he died.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Brian ZAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Stern said he was “still filled with sadness over his loss and remorse for my failure to reach out sooner.” But that wasn’t all he was sad about. “Telling Carly Simon how hot she was for a half-hour or spewing sex questions to Wilmer Valderrama – this ultimately led to nothing. It wasn’t good radio. It was meaningless,” he wrote in his book.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Stern elaborated on his feelings towards Williams. “The audience won’t sit still for anything that’s more than 30 seconds long,” he said. “All they want is to be shocked and outraged… I was so angry at the world. I love Robin Williams, and yet if he came into my studio, I had to act like I didn’t love him.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: snapshot-photography/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Stern said his thought at the time was that he didn’t want to be upstaged by Williams. “You’re not going to be funnier than me. You’re not going to come into my studio and steal the moment from me,” he said. “This is who I was. Rather than say to Robin Williams, ‘My God, you’re here,’ and celebrate an amazing talent and the beauty of that guy’s career, he walks in and I start in, ‘Hey, you’re f***ing your nanny.’”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

Stern also said he ended up seeking professional help. “I have gone and done psychotherapy,” he said. “I’ve learned there was a way to talk about what was going on in Robin Williams’ personal life. I could’ve expressed to him the beauty of Robin Williams. Who knows what he would have revealed? Who knows what impressions he would have broken into?”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Williams and his career had meant a lot to Stern. “I want to tell him what he did for me when I was lonely and couldn’t find a friend,” he told Rolling Stone. “If I saw him in a movie or even Mork & Mindy, he just brought some goddamn pleasure into my life, which is the whole reason I got into radio. I wanted to bring people pleasure.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The psychotherapy seemed to have helped Stern. “I’ve learned something in therapy. You can’t have 100 percent of the audience. I was under the delusion that I could pull that off,” he told Rolling Stone. “Literally, I used to get insulted when I’d see the ratings say one out of every four cars on Long Island riding into Manhattan, they’re listening to you. I’d go, ‘What about the other three?’”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

Stern also shared with USA Today that same month exactly how the apology to Williams would have gone if he’d had a chance to make it. “I would say to him, ‘I’m sorry, because I am such a huge fan,” he said. “You didn’t even know that and I didn’t allow myself to be a fan of yours.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Stern went on, “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.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

Stern finished with, “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.” Who knows what Williams would have said?

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The exact interview between Stern and Williams has never surfaced on the internet – and some even doubt its existence. Others have claimed that Stern always used to mock Williams and his alleged infidelity on-air, and that may be where his guilt stems from. Either way, his new book contains a telling quote. “You take a good hard look at yourself, and sometimes you don’t like what you find.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT