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Life Lessons: Bobby Rivers

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Recognize this guy? Of course you do! It’s Bobby Rivers, who I first became familiar with during his work as a talk show host on VH-1, among other stints on national television. Like a lot of us, Bobby’s on the hunt for his next act and learning and growing in the process. Sit back and read more about Bobby’s life, achievements and hope for the future and remember, if you want to be a part of our Life Lessons exercise, drop us a line; we’ll get the questions out to you STAT!

Are you happy at the moment?

Not completely. I’ve been out of work for two years now. I’m happy when I can pay my bills.

If you could go back and say something to your 16-year-old self now, what would it be?

Take care of yourself first and then you can take care of someone else. Love yourself first too. And don’t be afraid to say “No.”

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

To say “I love you” and to forgive.

What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

To find full-time employment again and to be paid good money for work well done. I love entertaining on TV. To this day, my favorite job was working at VH-1. I entertained as a veejay. I had my own prime-time, celebrity talk show and was lucky enough to interview many greats of film, stage, TV and music. I’m very proud of that work. Films are my big passion, so I also loved the year I got to be a film critic for ABC News. Honestly, I wanted to help break that color barrier.  I started my TV career as a film critic on Milwaukee’s ABC affiliate in the early 80s. But rarely did we see African Americans review movies regularly on network morning news shows. I’d love to do more TV host work. I purposely wanted to do the kind of TV work that black talent didn’t get the opportunity to do when I was a child in the Civil Rights era.

What’s your secret to happiness?

To keep the faith and believe in a Divine Force. Also having family and a few really good, longtime friends who are there through good and bad weather.

What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?

Prayer/meditation three times a day.

What’s your biggest regret?

About six months after I’d moved to New York in 1985 to start my first job there, I had to save my mom from foreclosure mess. I assumed her mortgage. This altered my own career plans and finances.  She never did work again. In fact, she was offered work and turned it down. Lena Horne offered her a job (Yes, THAT Lena Horne). I finally got it paid off in 2000. I think I could’ve gone farther in my career had I not been carrying the financial weight of her house. I was trying to be the good son. My parents’ irresponsibility continues to take a toll on the family.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid?

I’m not a parent or married, but I think children should know about kindness and respect for others. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

What bad habit would you like to change about yourself?

I can hold a grudge for way too long.  It just doesn’t get me anywhere.  I’d see that the person(s) I had grudges against had moved on but I was still talking about what ticked me off years ago.  It keeps you in a negative state and just attracts negativity.  Ultimately, karma will bite the other person in the butt.

What are you most proud of in your life?

I cared for someone through his terminal illness. I got him to a hospital in time. My spirit felt so alive and illuminated in my time with Richard. Even though I was dog-tired and spent many times sleeping sitting up in a chair at his hospital bedside, I felt I was at my best as a person. Here was a young friend, a good man, who thought he had — as his parents called it — his annual Christmastime flu.  It wasn’t. He was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS just two months after being fired from a good job basically for whistle-blowing (He was a white guy of pro-Civil Rights Southern parents. He saw racial injustice on the job and reported it.) I did my best to keep him from being scared and lonely. I gave him the help and attention I would’ve wanted had I been in his situation. That friendship made me feel more spiritually alive than any sacrament I’ve ever received in a Catholic ritual. And it wasn’t easy. I’d go directly from sleeping at his hospital bedside to pre-dawn work at WNBC, where I was new on “Weekend Today in New York.” I’d care for my terminally ill partner and then go to work to try to make folks laugh in “wacky”, assigned remote live shots.  As soon as I got his funeral expenses paid off, I quit that job.

When were you happiest?

When the gentleman who was terminally ill was in my life.

What 10 words best describe you?

Persistent, talented, passionate, kind, spiritual, funny, stocky, under-appreciated, optimistic, huggable.

A child of the Civil Rights era, Bobby Rivers grew up in South Central LA during the turbulent 1960s.  That’s when he made his first TV appearance.  He was the first black contestant and youngest winner on a syndicated show in Hollywood for film buffs called “The Movie Game.” His love for film carried into his broadcast career. On WISN TV, he was the first African American movie critic on Milwaukee television.  In New York, he was a popular VH1 veejay and had his own celebrity talk show in the late 80s.  The New York Times called him “a master interviewer with a gift for banter.” He’s reviewed films for ABC News/LifetimeTV and on Premiere Radio as a regular on Whoopi Goldberg’s morning show.  Bobby hosted “Top 5,” a look at pop culture food trends, on Food Network from 2002-2008.  He’s acted in TV commercials, two episodes of “The Sopranos” and played Prof. Robert Haige, news pundit for The Onion.  He interviewed Paul McCartney in London for VH1 and Lucille Ball once invited him to her home for cocktails. Two major career highlights.  You can find more about him by reading his blog, Bobby Rivers TV, or by viewing his YouTube channel.

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