A television personality for more than 40 years, Geraldo Rivera has been an investigative reporter, a war correspondent and a talk show host. The 71-year-old can now be seen on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, airing at 8 p.m. Mondays. The son of a Puerto Rican father and Russian mother, he found his way to fortune and fame and, eventually, Fox News. He has been married five times and has five children. Rivera recently spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Each season of “Celebrity Apprentice” has arch rivals. With you it’s Ian Ziering. Is it real or just theatrics for television?
Not for me anyway. There is no theatricality involved. It’s totally spontaneous. He and Lorenzo Lamas and Kevin Jonas conspired even before the series began to try to get me out. They correctly perceived me to be a formidable competitor. From the get-go they tried to undermine me in the very first episode, even through I raised over $100,000 by myself. It was far more then either of them, or anyone else for that matter. They were very bitchy and backstabbing in the board room with Mr. Trump. So what you see — that hostility, controlled though it is, professional though it is — is definitely real, unscripted and sincere.
How do you think being in the public eye for so long has changed you?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve been made fun of in five decades of Saturday Night Live. That’s how long I’ve been around. I was 26 when I started in television, and I’m 71 now, so almost my entire adult life has been played out in the public eye. People have seen me go through all of my anguish, my triumphs, my ups, my downs. Certainly being on television gave me more money than I might ordinarily have had. My dad was a cab driver. His family were sugar cane cutters. My mom and dad met in a kitchen of a cafeteria. I have a very humble family in every other regard, so having money and being famous certainly helped influence some of the good and bad choices I’ve made.
What’s interesting is you come from a humble background, but you took up lacrosse and rowing in college at State University of New York.
WASPy sports! (Laughing) The lacrosse was just an available violent sport when I got into college so it suited my personality. I was a goalie. The same thing with rowing. It was a way to get extra liberty and stay up late. I’ve lived at every ladder on the social economic scale of things. I’ve been very poor, eating cereal with water because I couldn’t afford the milk, to living in relative mansions in country estates. I’ve lost a fortune or given away a fortune to various charities. I feel that as a result of everything I’ve gone through, I have an ability to relate to people. I can walk around any neighborhood in any city in the nation, and I feel totally at home. I am one of the most recognizable people you will ever see, which is good and bad. People joke about my nose being broken or how many times I’ve been divorced or whatever the story du jour is. Now a lot of people are having fun taking this Celebrity Apprentice ride with me.
You got a lot of flak about the selfies, but you dive right into that controversy on “Celebrity Apprentice.” You don’t seem to carry around any wounds from the criticism.
I thought here was [the assignment]: an ad spread, exercise spread for Cosmo. Cosmo is … the most egotistical magazine you could possibly have for the ladies. It’s all about you and what you look like and what you’re wearing, so the selfie idea just seemed a natural. I had the idea very spontaneously. There is absolutely, I swear to you, there is nothing premeditated here. Once the bullet leaves the barrel, there is no guiding which way it is going to hit, who it’s going to hit or how people are getting along. All this is happening right before your eyes. It’s interesting and nerve-wracking.
Do you worry about making errors in judgment or do you just go with it?
That’s an interesting question, too. I have certainly made errors in judgment. I’ve been divorced four times. I mean, I have had errors in judgment along the way, some missteps. I opened Al Capone’s vault after all. Generally speaking, I regard life as your book, your holy grail. You can’t walk away from chapter three because you like chapter two or four better. It’s all part of the story. I’m like a volcano of ideas sometimes. I sit around and think, this is what I’m going to do now, and I think that has stood me in good stead.
Have you ever considered shaving the mustache?
(Laughing) I did, I did. I said that if Michael Jackson was convicted, I would shave off my mustache. That is how certain I was that the jury would see what I was seeing, that he was being framed on that molestation charge in Santa Barbara in 2005. I said I would shave it off, and I would do it on live television. He was acquitted so my mustache was saved.