Encased in the long black limousine that has transported him from Beverly Hills, Calif., to downtown Pasadena, Howard Stern is about to merge with his fans. The car inches along East Colorado Boulevard toward Vroman's, the site of his West Coast book signing in December. Cops line the streets. Wild-eyed devotees — a mob estimated at 10,000 — wave copies of his best seller, Private Parts, shouting, "I love you, man!" and "Howard is God!" Stern has seen it before but still seems a little freaked. "These windows are tinted, right?" he asks the driver. "They can't actually see us?" He reaches up and pulls the black cover over the sunroof glass. Soon the limo doors pop, and the Dark Prince of radio — black jeans, black suede fringe jacket, black shades — braves the screaming throng, stretching his 6-foot-5-inch frame to full height and raising his arms like a conquering hero. One man, overcome by the emotion of the moment, yells out, "HOWARD! Show us your PENIS!"
It's a telling scene: watching HOWARD STERN become Howard Stern! Are they the same guy? The standard Stern "story" goes something like this: Foul-mouthed, pervert shock jock revealed to be smart, mild-mannered family man who meditates in spare time. But it's not quite that simple. He turns down the volume in person, but it's still Howard: a strangely charismatic mixture of arrogance and self-deprecation. He's also very funny. Spend enough time with him, and the line between man and myth becomes a blur of public performance, private neuroses and jokes about his reputedly undersized weenie.
The facts of his life are easier to grasp. Stern was raised on Long Island, N.Y., in a town called Roosevelt, a Jewish kid in a black neighborhood. His father, Ben, a radio engineer, called him a moron. His mother, Ray, was, he claims, so over-protective that she once told him to wear a pair of her panties when he had no undies of his own. Young Howard amused himself by putting on dirty puppet shows. At Boston University, he got into college radio — around the same time he started doing transcendental meditation — and met his wife, Alison, whom he thanks warmly in the book for letting him "finger" her on their first date.
A disc jockey who hated jockeying, he worked his way up: Hartford, Conn., Detroit, Washington and, finally, New York City, where comic transgressions like his Lesbian Dial-a-Date, combined with autobiographical rants and unfiltered riffs on the news, made him No. 1. His syndicated five-hour show grew to an audience of 3 million. Nonfans called him racist and misogynous. The FCC fined him for indecency, while even Time magazine defended Stern's right to anarchic, juvenile free speech.
After a deal with New Line Cinema to make a movie called The Adventures of Fartman died last year, the self-proclaimed King of All Media's crown looked dented. Then came Private Parts, his bull's-eye men's-room manifesto that became the fastest-selling book in Simon and Schuster's 72-year history. Suddenly movie studios were calling again. Rupert Murdoch was talking to him about filling Chevy Chase's vacant late-night chair on Fox. What would Howard do next?
In Pasadena, he signs books and breasts and pregnant bellies for seven hours, pausing only for bathroom breaks. Jessica Hahn, part of Stern's posse of misfitfringe celebrities, shows up and tells me about Howard's "heart of gold," how much he does for charity, "quietly, behind the scenes." I notice that, per Howard's standing request, she is wearing no underwear.
Over two brutal days in Los Angeles, Stern rises at 4 a.m. to phone in to his radio show. He meets with Hollywood people about TV and movie offers. He does The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, taped early so Stern can catch the 4 o'clock back to New York, where there's more work to be done on his pay-per-view special, the Miss Howard Stern New Year's Eve Pageant. At dinner after the book signing, he's fried, barely able to converse. By the next day in his dressing room at The Tonight Show, he's fully stoked again, rehearsing new ways to humiliate Leno.
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