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Geraldo’s 40 Years In TV: Not All Trash Talk

It’s hard to imagine that Geraldo Rivera, 67, is celebrating 40 years in the news business. Geraldo is up there with one-name personalities like Oprah, Cher, and Madonna—according to himself. He has hosted several namesake shows, including Geraldo, The Geraldo Rivera Show, and Rivera Live. He currently hosts Geraldo at Large on Fox News.

Contrary to urban legend, his real name is not Jerry Rivers. It is, however, Gerald Michael Riviera. His surname was changed from Rivera on his birth certificate by his parents he believes to shield him from a life of discrimination; his mother was Jewish and his father was Puerto Rican. Geraldo (the Spanish pronunciation) was adopted to make him more identifiably Latino when the storefront lawyer became a reporter for WABC-TV in 1970 when he was 27. He was a member of the original cast of ABC’s Good Morning America and served eight years as an investigative reporter for 20/20 (later developing an infatuation for Barbara Walters).

Geraldo is one of those people whom you sometimes agree with his viewpoint while other times his melodrama annoys you. One might argue this is the case with most TV hosts. But Bill O’Reilly annoys me most of the time and Glenn Beck annoys me all of the time.  Still, you have to respect Geraldo for all that he has accomplished in 40 years, especially his early days as an investigative reporter. I am reminded of this fact after watching a program which recently aired on Fox looking back at Geraldo’s career.

It was Geraldo’s appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show” as the legal spokesperson for the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords which first attracted the attention of news producers. It was his coverage on the neglect and abuse of mentally disabled patients at Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School that won him an Emmy and a Peabody Award. It was a benefit concert given by friends John Lennon and Yoko Ono that helped finance the purchase of a home in 1977; he named it the Geraldo Rivera Children’s Residence and moved in some of the patients from Willowbrook. He also has paid for eleven youth from Spanish Harlem New York to attend college.

I was drawn in: Watching Geraldo go undercover to expose drug trafficking in urban communities; and seeing a then young senator Joe Biden’s inability to address the government’s failure to stop the flow of heroine coming in from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. There were memorable moments like Geraldo bouncing in the ring with Heavyweight boxing great Muhammad Ali and interviewing mass murderer Charles Manson.

Usually when I think of Geraldo, I recall the trash TV or sensationalist journalism of the late 80s and 90s. I remember the Al Capone Vault fiasco of 1986; the live broadcast came up short—no treasure trove just broken bottles.  I remember seeing Geraldo’s nose get broken during his talk show in 1988 when someone threw a chair as a fight broke among Klansmen, skinheads, CORE’s Roy Innis and Jewish activists. Geraldo has covered stories on cross-dressers, nudists and Satanists. In recent years, controversy surrounded him as Fox News war correspondent in Iraq (the line in the sand incident) and the release of his book on immigration titled His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.

I tend to think of Geraldo’s brashness, long wavy hair, and broad mustache, all of which have been the butt of many jokes and television spoofs. His personal life has played out in public too. He has been married, divorced, and remarried five times—his current spouse is 32 years his junior. He has five children, the oldest is 31 and the youngest is 5. He makes Tiger Woods look like a cub, having admitted to affairs with Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler among hundreds of flings in his autobiography, Exposing Myself (a book he now refers to as “the colossal error of my adult life”).

The footage narrated by Geraldo (who pokes fun at himself) showed his highs, lows, regrets and proud accomplishments. He is quick to point out a major fete: He’s the only person to ever appear on both the covers of Newsweek and Playgirl. That perhaps says it all.

So, kudos goes out to Geraldo Rivera for still standing strong and still talking loud—trash or not—in this business after 40 years.       –Carolyn M. Brown

We have no right to complain about any condition affecting the quality of our lives, unless we are doing something about it. –Geraldo Rivera

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