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Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Bruce Jenner on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," the Internet's permanancy and melding his public and private lives
Outtakes from my "Fitness Icon" interview with Bruce Jenner in Muscle & Body magazine's March 2009 issue. The season premiere of E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians airs Sunday, March 8.
When did you realize you’d become an icon?
Well, I just took the garbage out. I’m doing errands for my wife and running all over town.
It’s hard when you have two lives. You have a public life—when you’re out in the public, you’re doing shows, you’re working, that type of stuff—and then you have your personal life. For me, my personal life dominates everything. And it’s extremely normal. (Laughs.) I have ten children, so my life is full. I have a fabulous wife. And that part of my life dominates most of it. But when you go out in public, it’s like you’re a different person.
Back in the old days, when I was training for the games, people would say, “Oh, you went in it and made money on this and that.” No, my motivation was not that. My motivation was I loved the event, I was extremely challenged by the decathlon. But also, it had a rich history to it.
I thought, “Who’d ever hire me to do something?” But little did I know the power of television. Roone Arledge at ABC was doing the Games, and they focused on me and I came up with a performance on that day. And all of a sudden your life does change overnight ... At that point, the distinction between your public life and your personal life just becomes wider.
So, yeah, I’ll take that if they say, “icon” or “American hero.” You know what, I’ll take it. And it’s nice to know 32-plus years after the fact, that people still respect what you did back then and also the things you do today. That’s kind of the nice part of it. I’m very blessed because of that. That is, if I haven’t screwed it up yet (laughs).
How challenging was it for you in ’76 and beyond to live up to the title “World’s Greatest Athlete”?
Yes, the title “World’s Greatest Athlete” goes to the guy who wins the Olympic decathlon. And I think rightfully so. An athlete should be able to run, jump and throw. That’s the basics of athletics.
You’ve got Michael Phelps, a great athlete and yes, the world’s greatest swimmer. I don’t know if he can run fast or jump. He can swim--boy, can he do that. Even Michael Jordan, what about him being the world’s greatest athlete? I agree they’re great athletes, but basketball is non a standardized test of a person’s athletic ability. I can’t compare him to Oscar Robinson in a specific way.
Before the games, I played a little bit of golf. Not much. And I had a bad slice—the ball was going to the right. So after the Games and being named World’s Greatest Athlete, I went out to play some golf. I hit the ball—still went to the right. The title didn’t help my golf game at all.
Because you have that title, people are always going to challenge you to this and that. But I got over that a long time ago. I had no desire whatsoever to even try to top that (title). To compete at that level requires such an enormous amount of focus, drive, training. You have to live it. Now, I don’t consider that a good, well-rounded lifestyle. There are other things to life than scoring points in the decathlon. I had to give up so much until I was 26 to do that. I had to give up job opportunities, growing up and maturing as an adult. I was a machine, and every day I trained six to eight hours a day scoring points. That’s what I did. I worked for this thing.
I knew for four years prior to 1976 that that would be my last race and that I’d never do this again. That finality, I didn’t feel guilty giving up a lot of my life getting it to this one thing, because I was so curious to see how good I could become at this. But I also knew there was an end, and I could then go on to the more important things in life.
There’s not too many athletes who compete in any sport who can walk away from their sport totally satisfied with everything they’ve done in the sport. I thought, I’m so lucky.
How did having dyslexia as a kid propel you in your adult life?
As time went off, I didn’t really think much about the whole dyslexic problem. It’s not that you get over that, but you learn to cope with it so it doesn’t really affect your life. But as time went on, I guarantee you that little dyslexic kid was in the back of my head. And he was always going to outwork the next guy. He was just part of my makeup.
So that’s why I say to a lot of kid with learning disabilities, “Being dyslexic was my greatest gift.” It made me special. So when my arena came along I took it more seriously. It was important to me than it was the next guy. If I was average like every other kid out there, I wouldn’t have needed sports. For me, it brought a passion to that one little arena I was good in. And the I ran with it—literally.
It made me tough, more determined than the next guy. I always say, “Success is not measured by heights attained but by obstacles overcome.”
And you did overcome some obstacles, then, as a sports commentator and TV host.
Six months to a year after the Games, I was doing a lot of work for Good Morning, America. David (Hartman) was still doing it back in the ‘70s. They said, “David has the week off, do you want to come in for a week and co-host with Joan Lunden?” The first thing that goes through my head: teleprompters. You’re telling me I’ve gotta go out everyday in front of millions of people and for two hours read teleprompters? I panicked a bit. But I said, “I’ll do it.” I never do copy cold; I have to see the copy beforehand and read it through three or four times. So when I read the teleprompter, I may not read every word exactly they put it, but I’m very good at getting through it. I didn’t make any major blunders that week. To me, that was a bigger obstacle to overcome than any of the Games.
Thanks to television, I’ve been able to do a wide variety of things for years. And here today we’re still working. It’s been fun.
What types of advice do you give your kids now that they're TV personalities, too?
One thing I always like to tell them is that in life we have to take calculated risks. So every time you step out of your comfort zone—for instance, Kimberly Kardashian, my step-daughter, they asked her to do Dancing with the Stars. She doesn’t dance, she never competed in anything. I told her before, “Hey, hon, book it. This is how you grow. You’re taking a big chance here. You’re going in front of a million people, dancing isn’t something you do. But you will come out … I said, “Every time you feel nervous and uncomfortable, you’ve gotta feel that as a good feeling. Because you are out of your comfort zone and you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before. But once you pass through that, you’ll come out the other side a better person. It’s part of the growing process. You’ve survived it.”
The first on-camera thing she had to do when she had to read the copy, she was nervous as heck. I said, “This is good. If you stumble, it’s on tape. You can do it twenty times. And the next time you do it, it’ll be easier. And a year from now, it’ll be like nothing.”
I have ten kids; I have plenty of work to do.
What prompted your E! show, and what do you make of its success?
Throughout the years, I’ve done an enormous amount of different things. The idea for the E! show was really my wife’s. She kinda sold it. She saw what family reality television was out there, and said, “We’ve got so many more things going on in our family.” Somebody had a meeting with Ryan Seacrest and said, “Hey, you should look at this Jenner-Kardashian bunch.” We met with Ryan, and his deal’s with E! E! kind of hesitated at first, like all television does, like, “Oh, my God, can we take a chance here?” They ordered six episodes, and then six went to eight then ten in the first season. Second season they ordered ten and we did eleven. And we just finished season three, ten more shows. It’s the number-one show they have. It’s been extremely successful.
What's your favorite part of being a dad to so many kids?
The best part of parenting, especially when you’ve got a lotta kids, is watching the kids grow up. And to watch them have opportunities and go after it—to build business and be entrepreneurs and be out on their own and make it. There’s nothing better from a parent’s standpoint than to see that, especially when some of your kids start to outearn you. You love it.
How is your life different when the camera crew leaves your house?
There really is no difference. They take two or three days of shooting to wind up with 22 minutes of airtime. I have breathers in the middle of all the drama. When I see the show, it’s sometimes exhausting. But they have to put a storyline together, it’s gotta be funny and have a beginning, middle and end. But in real life I actually have breathers between all this drama. And we’ll have lots of drama in season three. When you have all these girls in your family, it’s nothing but drama. The three sisters can go after each other relentlessly, but they’re all so tight that if anybody from the outside comes in it’s like the three of them will jump all over ‘em.
Is there one aspect of today’s reality-tabloid-Internet celebritydom that makes you want to go back to the good old days?
The old days were pretty good. I see today how the media—all forms, television, news, the papers, the rag papers—that stuff has just changed drastically throughout the years. Some for the better and some not for the better.
The ability today with the Internet, I tell to try these kids, the Internet does not go away. People will watch a news program and they’ll see something happened, let’s say with one of the girls. Like my daughter, Chloe, it’s heavily documented that she got a DUI. That DUI will live for the rest of her life on the Internet. Thirty years from now her kids will read about Chloe getting a DUI thirty years earlier. So you have to be extremely careful with not giving the Internet or the media information. In the old days, it’d go away and never be seen again. A newscaster would come on for five minutes and say something and you’d never hear about it again for the rest of your life. Not anymore. It’s just a click of the mouse now.