Legacies take years, even decades, to establish. Tearing them down, by contrast, can be far easier.
The most obvious example in recent years? Bill Cosby.
One of comedy’s living legends saw his career collapse as allegations of sexual assault began piling up in 2014.
Now? Try finding someone praising Bill Cosby, considered by many as the best family-friendly comic of his generation. A new Showtime documentary, “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” could crush the last remnants of his Hollywood saga.
Even those able to separate the art from the artist might wince at a single rerun of “The Cosby Show.”
Howard Stern never behaved like the aging frat boy he played behind the mic. It was all an act, a way for the monogamous star to unleash his Id from the confines of a radio studio.
Still, his new persona is dismantling a legacy that took decades to forge, one unlike any other in broadcast history.
It all starts with the so-called kinder, gentler Stern. The reformed shock jock said he nudged his anger aside thanks to years of therapy.
No more DJ funerals of his competitors, thank you.
He grew up, too, abandoning the conga line of strippers and porn stars in his spacious studio. His interviews, loping chats that separated stars from their PR talking points, were always his show’s secret weapon.
Now, they’ve gained cultural heft as the media, which loathed him for decades, warmed to his interview skill set. Reporters greeted the release of 2019’s “Howard Stern Comes Again,” like an extended apology for underestimating him for so long.
The new Stern still lost something profound in the transition.
He started pulling his cultural punches, for starters. The man who once raged at phonies often sounded like one himself. He even kissed up to deeply flawed pols like Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in ways even “Morning Joe” might mock.
He also refused to taunt his Hollywood chums like Jimmy Kimmel, giddy to be inside the cool kids club at last. Stern once took pride in being an outsider.
Stern made nice with arch enemies like Kathie Lee Gifford and Rosie O’Donnell while banning show stalwart Gilbert Gottfried from the show. And when Artie Lange vacated the “Jackie Chair” as the official comic sidekick, Stern left the seat empty.
“The Howard Stern Show” slowly dropped off the cultural radar as his wit, and influence, waned.
He kept cashing those gargantuan SiriusXM checks, though, while ramping up his vacation schedule. He took the summer of 2021 off. Summer school hours … for the King of All Media?
The worst was yet to come.
COVID-19 broke what remained of the old Howard Stern. He no longer broadcasts from his studio, preferring to work from home like so many blue state teachers. The lean, and healthy, talker sounds deathly afraid of the pandemic, despite taking all the available inoculations to stave off hospitalization or death.
He isn’t taking kindly to those who put the virus’ risks in perspective.
He rages against athletes who question vaccine mandates, ignoring science suggesting they’d get the virus anyway and would be good as new within days.
He shrieks at anyone who runs afoul of the Fauci-imposed narrative – think Aaron Rodgers, Tennis player Novak Djokovic and Joe Rogan. The latter target matters the most to Stern, since Rogan’s “Experience” is the audio sensation his own show once was.
The ultra-competitive Stern finally met his broadcasting match.
The “evolved” Stern still has plenty of anger issues, even after all that therapy. He recently raged against unvaccinated Americans, saying they should be left to die rather than treated by area hospitals.
For that, Tucker Carlson slammed Stern on his signature Fox News showcase, calling him a “coward.” You could tell by the tenor of the attack that Carlson wasn’t happy to see the giant tumble.
“There’s something sad about this. Really sad.” Carlson lamented.
Howard Stern used to be incredibly brave and courageous. But now, he’s become a coward. pic.twitter.com/HL3E0wMx9S
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) January 21, 2022
Stern’s COVID mania conjures an aging Howard Hughes, shuffling around his million-dollar home rather than enjoying all that life has to offer. Or, even worse, a hectoring Karen caught in a viral video without a scrap of self-awareness.
The timing, for the radio superstar and his loyal fans, couldn’t be worse.
Stern is clinging to his personal fear factor when even liberal shows like “Real Time with Bill Maher” delight fans with talk of leaving the pandemic behind.
Fear promoters like CNN are finally admitting some truths most Americans knew about the virus all along, but Stern sounds like it’s still March 2020, a time of massive fear and little knowledge.
Add it all up, and the Stern legacy wanes with every broadcast. And yet the one factor that could hurt his legend the most ties directly to his glory radio days.
Stern collided with the FCC over and again in his early years. The conservative Right targeted him for his bawdy banter back then. He returned fire, early and often, from his radio perch.
His 1991 “Crucified by the FCC” release captured that battle.
Stern’s voice is mostly missing from the current Cancel Culture conversation, one far more sinister now that the Left is the censorial force.
Why isn’t he on the front lines defending Dave Chappelle against the woke mob? Did he shred Cancel Culture scolds who erased classic sitcom episodes or punished comedians for blackface bits performed decades ago?
Stern donned blackface himself earlier in his career. He played offense against his problematic past by attacking then-President Donald Trump prior to the 2020 election.
“I’m against any kind of censorship, really, you know, I really am. I don’t like censorship, but when you’re talking about life and death.”
Brave. Bold. Utterly disconnected to the Howard Stern we once knew.
Stern’s radio career is the stuff of legends, despite what frantic journalists told us for most of his career. Few performers impacted the profession like he did.
Rush Limbaugh was the only contemporary voice to match Stern’s broadcasting reign. The late talker’s bravery in the face of terminal cancer, and his battles to remain on the air despite his faltering condition, only enhanced his legacy.
Stern’s career deserves the respect media outlets refused to give him for far too long. Had he simply phoned in his current work assignments, fans old and new would have forgiven the decline.
No one stays on top forever.
Instead, Stern is betraying his past in ways that may make us view his legacy in a new, less flattering light.