Glenn Beck’s media empire is worth $23 million a year, according to Forbes.
Beck’s early radio days included an on-air stint with “scandalous” church secretary Jessica Hahn.
“I still don’t consider myself a political commentator. I’m a pop culture commentator at heart.”
Surprise! Glenn Beck’s house is energy-efficient.
At a glance
Family details: Beck and his wife, Tania, live in New Canaan, Conn., with their children, Raphe, 5, and Cheyenne, 3. He has two children from a previous marriage: Mary, 21, and Hannah, 18.
Current gigs: Host of the daily TV show Glenn Beck (Fox News, 5 p.m. ET); host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Glenn Beck Program; author of best sellers such as Arguing With Idiots and An Inconvenient Book (both non-fiction) and The Christmas Sweater (a fictional holiday story); publisher of the magazine Fusion.
Influences: Orson Welles, Walt Disney, George Washington, Paul Harvey
The Glenn Beck most people know is the human equivalent of TNT — notoriously biting and combustible. The conservative commentator has compared President Obama to Hitler and campaigned (successfully) to get one of Obama’s White House appointees fired. He even slammed volunteerism, for goodness’ sake!
“Outrage is his No. 1 tool,” says Robert Thompson, a TV/pop culture professor at Syracuse University. “He’s obviously not taking the serious pundit approach. He’ll take a position solely to push people’s buttons. He’s not interested in nuanced, rational debate. It’s not political discourse. It’s entertainment.”
High up in his Manhattan office, which takes an entire skyscraper floor to house his TV/book/magazine/radio/digital media company, Beck surprises you in person as an approachable and fun-to-hang-out-with kinda guy. He’s relaxed and inviting, comfy on his office couch in jeans, an “I "Heart" Capitalism” T-shirt and sneakers that, for some reason, don’t have any laces. Over the course of a pleasant (really!) conversation with USA WEEKEND Magazine, Beck, 46, sheds light on the lesser-known sides of his personality. He comes across as, well, fairly human — and eager to reveal these 10 things that we bet you didn’t know about him.
He bonds with George Clooney
One day, both of them ended up in the same radio studio building and had an extended conversation about genocide in Darfur. “We came to an immediate, completely wholehearted agreement about the situation,” Beck says. “That is, to put aside the politics and give troops what they need to protect people over there. He’s a good, honest man who believes passionately about doing something about it.”
He has many liberal pals
Yes, it’s true. Beck’s personal publicist, Matt Hiltzik, is a Democratic power player who helped get Hillary Rodham Clinton elected to the U.S. Senate. “And let me tell you about Liz Julis, the editor of my magazine, Fusion,” he says. “Every year, I match charitable donations that my employees make. She ends up giving her money away to some hippie hemp farm somewhere, and she loves to rub it in that I’m writing a check for something like that. She’s one of my favorite people because we hardly agree on anything, but we challenge each other.”
He has battled drugs and booze
In the 1980s, Beck was a DJ, living in an apartment in Louisville, bingeing on cocaine until he quit cold turkey. But alcohol remained a constant in his life, even after he had a family of his own. He wasn’t a mean drunk, but he was forgetful. One morning, his daughters asked him to repeat a bedtime story that he had made up the night before. “Something about three mice named Inky, Blinky and Stinky who had adventures on an island of cheese,” Beck says. “They asked me to tell it again, and I lied to them for the first time in my life. I said, ‘Well, how about if you tell it to me? Let’s test you on how much you remembered.’ The truth was that I had no recollection of telling the story and couldn’t begin to recall how it went. I asked myself what was I doing with my life. After my 30th birthday, I joined AA.”
He says he had his last drink Nov. 22, 1994.
He once went religion shopping
Raised Catholic, Beck wasn’t a practicing anything when he proposed to his current wife, Tania. She insisted that they find a church to join, concluding that God needed to be a part of their future family’s life. “We tried ’em all,” Beck says. “Unitarian, Episcopalian, Baptist, even a synagogue. We ended up with the Church of Latter-day Saints because I took my daughters from my first marriage there, and they said, ‘Dad, this place makes us feel warm and welcome inside. Can we come back?’ ”
He feels fat
“Have you seen me on TV?!” Beck asks, exasperated. “I’m turning into Jabba the Hutt!” He’s 6 feet, 2 inches and 225 pounds, which isn’t bad. But he’s convinced that he very well may not be carrying an ounce of muscle on his body. “I have a very bad back,” he says. “My doctor checked me out and said, ‘I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with less muscle tone than you.’ It’s true. I’m made of pudding.”
Britney Spears "made" his career
Beck was your classic “morning zoo”-style DJ, the one who made prank calls on the air to unsuspecting citizens to tell them their car was being repossessed. He got into the business as a teen in 1979, when radio was all about Floyd, Zep and the Who. He left music radio two decades later, when pop divas ruled the airwaves. “I’d be spinning Britney Spears records, and I knew this was no longer what I was about,” he says. “The easiest thing I ever did was walk away. I still don’t consider myself a political commentator. I’m a pop culture commentator at heart.”
He believes in global warming
“You’d be an idiot not to notice the temperature change,” he says. He also says there’s a legit case that global warming has, at least in part, been caused by mankind. He has tried to do his part by buying a home with a “green” design and using energy-saving products. “I’m willing to do anything but use the CFLs,” he says of compact fluorescent light bulbs. “I put them in once and couldn’t stand the way they lit up the room.”
He's ticked off at Republicans
He’s not a registered member of that party, either. The Grand Old Party has made him angry in recent years because the deficit has soared under its watch. An influential cheerleader for the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement, he’s even willing to take a shot at the GOP’s patron saint of modern presidents, Ronald Reagan, who was no slouch in driving up a deficit. “Republicans sold the American people out,” Beck says. “I’ve always said I was a Reagan-style conservative. But I don’t think Reagan was a real Republican. He just maintained some shared values.”
He's a patron of the arts
The name of Beck’s business, Mercury Radio Arts, is a tribute to one of his greatest influences, Orson Welles. (“A total out-of-the-box genius,” he says.) With an office view of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, Beck retells, with admiration, the historical details of their architecture. He’s a fiction writer; he penned The Christmas Sweater, about a boy and a magical sweater. “It’s not that writing literature fills some kind of void,” says Beck, sipping a Coke Zero. “It’s just that I have attention-deficit disorder. It gives me something to do with my energy.”
He knows he can be a jerk
Beck often regrets what he says on air and dreads the resulting stink will make him look like a bad guy. One particular diatribe that appeared to mock the concept of volunteerism was met with horrified reactions. But Beck stresses that he wasn’t dismissing volunteerism, but rather the notion that it should be forced upon citizens by government. “Because if the government is making you do it, it’s not volunteering, is it?” says Beck, who volunteers by running New York regional addiction recovery programs for his church.
Another recent incident occurred when someone asked former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin about running for the White House in 2012 with Beck as her running mate. On his show, Beck scoffed at the notion, insisting that he’d be the presidential candidate, given that Palin is a woman. “Once I said it, I knew that wasn’t going to go over well,” Beck says. “We do comedy on the show, but I knew there would be an uproar. So I sent Sarah a quick e-mail to say, ‘Hey, y’know I didn’t mean anything by that.’ She laughed it off.”
Cover and cover story photos of Glenn Beck by George Lange for USA WEEKEND