Steve Wilkos | Interview

Jerry Springer’s former bodyguard would take a bullet for you.
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Linda Shafran THE STEVE WILKOS SHOW -- NBC Universal Television Distribution -- Pictured: Steve Wilkos -- NBC Photograph: Linda Shafran
By Jake Malooley |
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The world of this ex-Marine, former Chicago cop and longtime Jerry Springer Show bodyguard doesn’t include many gray areas. There are good guys—people with strong morals and family values—and there are bad guys: the child abusers and other riffraff he berates on his eponymous WCIU talk show, which begins its sixth season Monday 17 at 10am. We spoke by phone with the imposing 48-year-old North Side native, who relocated three years ago to Stamford, Connecticut, where he, Springer and Maury Povich tape.

What was your childhood in Roscoe Village like? There were white gangs and a lot of drunks and hillbillies. I was a pretty skinny kid and got picked on. I went home one night and told my Dad that an older kid was picking on me. My Dad, a Korean War vet and a Chicago cop for 30 years, told me, “You better pick up a brick and hit him in the head.” That’s when I thought, Wow, I’m going to have to start dealing with things in a different way.

Your talk show is similarly confrontational. The thing is, other hosts just won’t call out the guests on their bad behavior! What I get a kick out of is the hundreds of e-mails we get that say I’m being too hard on someone: [In a whiny voice] “Oh, Steve was yelling at the very small child molester. If that guy was six-foot-eight, Steve wouldn’t yell at him.” I’m like, What difference does size make? Between being a Marine, being a cop, being on the Springer show—I’m a human punching bag! I’m not scared of being hit by a child molester.

Is Chicago police work good preparation for TV? I couldn’t do my show without spending 12 years on the streets of Humboldt Park. It made me a better interrogator. Still, if they had taken me out of my squad car and gave me a show, I would’ve been terrible. But on Springer, the spotlight was on Jerry and I got to grow up within the show.

Do you and Jerry still hang? He flies in from Chicago to do his show, so a couple times a month we’ll go out to dinner. Jerry is a great friend. He would do anything for me, as I would for him.

Would you take a bullet for him? I’d take a bullet for just about anyone! If someone pulled out a gun, I’d step in front of you even though I’ve never met you.

Are you 100 percent hard-ass, or do you have a soft side, too? It’s me with my wife and kids. My wife gets asked all the time, “Ugh, how can you be married to that guy?” She’s like, “Hey, he’s not yelling and screaming at me!”

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