Morning Becomes Meredith Vieira

The "Today Show’ host on aging gracefully, dealing with illness, and why she wouldn’t interview Paris Hilton.

By Amy Larocca
Meredith Vieira on MORE’s December 2008/January 2009 cover
Photograph: Photo by: Matthew Rolston

Over the years, Cohen’s health has deteriorated; he is nearly blind and has suffered two bouts of colon cancer. It keeps their family life off-center, but neither he nor Vieira expects — or wants — special sympathy. In 2004, in a brutally honest book entitled Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness, a Reluctant Memoir, Cohen documented the toll disease has taken on his family; he also blasted the media’s tendency to paint the couple as "Meredith the Martyr and Richard the Wretched." Vieira agrees that that picture is far from the truth. "When you’re on the outside looking in," she says, "things seem more dramatic. I’ve been around enough people with illness to know that we’re lucky and that to complain is pointless." Instead, Behar notes, "They handle adversity with humor. The main thing to understand about that couple is that they’re not morbid."

"We’ve had times where Richard can’t walk, and we’ll just sit on the floor and laugh, because what are you going to do?" Vieira says. "It diminishes him when a big deal is made about me [being a martyr], and it diminishes me too. That’s not how I see myself, it’s not how I see him, and it’s not how he sees me. And besides," she adds with a laugh, "he’s way too big a jerk for me to have tremendous sympathy."

Her signature sarcasm aside, Vieira’s family, and the life they share in their six-bedroom house in Westchester County, New York, are never far from her mind. "Meredith will be looking at her cell phone saying, ‘I’m beside myself,’" Lauer says. "‘Gabe is driving to the Cape and I haven’t heard from him in 15 minutes.’ She’s a worrier, but in a good way." Her concerns this summer morning are Lily’s mononucleosis, which has kept her home from camp, and the shocking number of socks the boys leave on the floor. "Slobs!" Vieira says, laughing. "I mean, hello!?"

When she says that Lily’s mono is her daughter’s first major roadblock, I wonder if Cohen’s illness might have had that dubious distinction.

"That’s so incorporated into my life that I don’t even think of it as adversity," Vieira says. "It’s just our life."

On Katie Couric, Feminism, and "The View"

In 1991, Vieira famously quit her job as a 60 Minutes correspondent because she wasn’t allowed to continue the lighter schedule she’d negotiated when Ben was an infant. Although she says the parting wasn’t acrimonious, Cohen has described the episode as impossibly tense, and Vieira admits it was hurtful. "Don [Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes] was saying, ‘What did she ever do, anyhow?’" she recalls. "Nobody had been critical of my work, and I won an Emmy, so I felt like I was delivering. But it was a schmoozy place, and I like to do my work and go home." When she decided to quit, she says, "I slept so well that night."

Some feminists, however, found her decision more of a nightmare. "At a party I was cornered by a woman who said, ‘You cannot do this! You’re going to set us back so far!’ And I thought, I’m not the standard-bearer here; I’ve got a life to live. For me the message is, get in touch with who you are, with what you want, and try to shape everything else around that."

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