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My Life with Kathy Griffin

No longer shocked by her comedian daughter's antics, Maggie Griffin is comfortable in her role as a Hollywood mom.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Griffin.jpg
Photo by Peter H. Chang
From left, Kathy Griffin, her mom Maggie and ELDR Editor-in-Chief Dave Bunnell.

At age 88, Maggie Griffin is stunningly attractive and obviously fit. And she is one of the most recognized people in her West Hollywood neighborhood. A regular on her daughter's reality TV show, Maggie is an avid walker who can hardly go to the corner, much less the local library or grocery store, without someone approaching her and asking, "Aren't you Kathy Griffin's mom?"

"Kathy has a large gay audience," Maggie tells me, "and the fellows come up to me to say how much they love Kathy and the show, and how they go see her all the time."

For those of you over 50 (it seems everyone under 50 knows who she is), Kathy Griffin is a wildly popular, eccentric, and oftentimes outrageous comedian, actress, and star of her own Emmy-awarding-winning reality TV show, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. She is also the 2008 recipient of the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program.

Incredulous as it may seem, I recently interviewed Maggie and her famous daughter as part of a segment of the reality show, which typically draws more than a million viewers to the Bravo cable network. It seemed kind of nutty—but there I was, sitting with the two of them on a sofa under the hot TV lights, in Kathy's sprawling Los Angeles hillside home, explaining to Maggie that she was going to be one of our Inspiring ELDRs.

"I wish you'd quit looking at her rack," Kathy exclaims, the first of many such wisecracks.

"I'm not really," I protest.

Realizing Kathy's father, John Patrick Griffin, Maggie's husband of 65 years, had passed away just over a year ago, I asked Maggie as gently as I could, "I know it's probably too soon, but do you have a boyfriend?"

"It is too soon," Maggie replies. "I had the best though; I was lucky."

"My mom does have a boyfriend," Kathy insists. "His name is Jack Daniels."

"I imagine he's a very steady guy," I add.

"Very strong and dependable," Kathy answers.

By now I'm a bit flustered trying to outwit a master comedian. I ask, "What has it been like growing up with Kathy?"

"She's still trying to grow up, Dave. That's the problem," Kathy answers.

"I know a lot of people will be surprised, but Kathy was a wonderful, easy-to-raise teenager," Maggie volunteers. "I'd say she's more of a problem as a grownup, which is odd."

"My mom gave birth to me when she was 70 years old," Kathy claims. "It was a miracle birth."

"She didn't go out drinking, smoking dope, and hanging out with older guys?" I want to know.

"No, no, she was in the drama club and was in all these plays and musicals. She was always funny. As a little girl she did a performance in our basement called ‘The Kathy Griffin Show.'"

"My biggest challenge was dealing with a mother who was so old at the time," Kathy says.

Photo by Peter H. Chang
Photo by Peter H. Chang

By now I try to ignore Kathy and do my best to focus on her mom. I want to know, "How old was Kathy when she first ran away from home?"

"Oh my gosh, she was just a little thing, about four or five. We were at a big family gathering. All of a sudden, when we were ready to go, we couldn't find Kathy. Pandemonium broke out. We called the police, and everyone was looking for her. I was crying in the back of a police car when we got a call that she was in a little café on Oak Park Boulevard. She had a bottle of soda with her that she carried from the picnic."

"Carrying a bottle, just like mom," Kathy interjects. "Are you sure I'm your daughter, Mom? You might have picked up the wrong girl."

"Well, this kid had the same outfit on, so ..."

"That's when I had to start wearing a leash," Kathy says.

"You mentioned that Kathy is more troublesome as an adult. Does she shock you sometimes?"

"No so much anymore. I accept her shtick. Everybody asks me this, and that is usually what I say."

"Who's everybody?" Kathy wants to know.

"Well, people my age, you know, they are shocked sometimes."

"What about her Emmy acceptance speech," I ask, "the one where she said Jesus had nothing to do with her award?"

"I showed it to her ahead of time, and she said it was funny," Kathy claims.

"No, I didn't. I told her, ‘You are going to offend a lot of people,'" Maggie retorts.

"You said it was shocking but funny."

"So, Maggie, do you still go to church?" I ask.

"Yes, yes, I do."

"Your daughter doesn't go to church."

"I know, but she's spiritual."

"I believe in the separation of church and state," Kathy interrupts. "But, apparently you'd like to join the Taliban." Whether this barb is aimed at me or her mom, I'm not sure.

"But I was thrilled she won the award anyway," Maggie says.

"You've already told me you like to do a lot of walking and that is one of the secrets of your longevity," I continue.

"I also love being around my family," Maggie adds. "They all have a great sense of humor, and all my kids are funny. My husband was funny and, of course, Kathy. I think that helps an awful lot."

"What about diet?" I wonder.

"She eats like a 19-year-old frat guy," Kathy jumps in. "If I could hold her upside down, all the jelly beans would fall out. She eats Nacho cheese dip and only the stuff that comes in cans, burritos from the 7-11, Sara Lee frozen dinners. Oh my god, I wish we could raid her kitchen right now-there'd be bags and bags of tortilla chips, Oreos, Twinkies, and cinnamon buns."

"That's not true," Maggies says. "I eat very well, lots of fresh veggies, lots of fruit."

"Frozen candy."

"No, I don't."

"What about supplements?" I ask.

"I recommend omega-3, CoQ10, calcium, and a multivitamin. And then I also have an extra vitamin B with B2 and folic acid-and that's about it."

"You live by yourself; you don't live with Kathy, right?"

"I just want to go on record that I offered that she could live here, and she declined," Kathy says.

"She probably doesn't want to be around all the wild parties," I speculate.

"Yeah, that's right," Maggie agrees.

"I've got to get to bed, and I can't have her here drinking all night," Kathy says.

"What's your fondest wish?" I want to know.

"My wish is just to keep healthy and close to my family and not be a pain in the neck to anyone ... and not worry."

"She's still fun," Kathy says.

"I totally agree, Maggie, you are definitely an ‘Inspiring ELDR.'"

"Thank you very much, Dave."

"Dave," Kathy has to get in the last word, "I told you to quit looking at her rack. She's too young for you!"


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