Bill Clinton photo

Interview With Larry King

April 28, 1994

Virginia Kelley

Mr. King. We're with Dick Kelley and James Morgan. And joining us now by phone from Washington is the son of Virginia Kelley, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Are you there, Mr. President?

The President. Hi, Larry.

Mr. King. How are you?

The President. I'll tell you what, are those two guys telling you the truth tonight?

Mr. King. They are telling the truth——

Dick Kelley. You know if I didn't, I'd really get hell from you. [Laughter]

Mr. King. Have you read the full book, Mr. President?

The President. I have read it. I read it twice, as a matter of fact.

Mr. King. And?

The President. I think she did a terrific job. I want to thank Jim for all the work he did on it. And after Mother died, I had to do a little work just checking some of the facts, but I was amazed at how candid and forthright she was. And she turned out to be a right good storyteller. It's a terrific book. I think a lot of folks will really enjoy reading it, and we'll see a portrait of a remarkable person during an important time in our country's life. I was really proud of her for doing it.

Mr. King. Last time we were together, we spoke about your loss. Wasn't it difficult to read it?

The President. It was. Or the first time, before it was actually published in book form, it kind of helped me deal with the loss. But I tell you, it still makes me a little sad. Last week when I finished reading it the second time, I found myself fighting back the tears a little bit, but that's one of the things that makes the book so wonderful. I've even had total strangers come up to me and say that they cried when they read it, too.

James Morgan. The lawyer at Simon and Schuster, who's going over the legal checking with me, told me that she cried. And I figured if you can make a New Yorker cry, it's some book.

Mr. King. What was her most, Mr. President, remarkable aspect to you?

The President. I think her resilience. You know, she was just a person driven by love and loyalty and an incredible desire to keep living. And she couldn't be beaten down. I mean, she was widowed three times. When Dick asked her to marry him, she reminded him that she'd been widowed three times and asked him if he had considered odds of what he was trying to get into.

But no matter what happened to her, she just bounced back. And I think that's probably the most important lesson she imparted to me and to my brother, just don't give up.

Mr. King. They've discussed the difficulty of when Roger had his troubles and how she held up during that time, during your only defeat, how she held up during that time. Was she a strength source, was she a place—most people figure their mothers as a safe place to go.

The President. Well, I think she really plainly was not only a safe place to go, but she really did always convince us that we could do better tomorrow. When I lost that race in 1980, I had the distinguished record of being at that time the youngest former Governor in the history of the entire United States. I was out of a job; I didn't know where my next nickel was coming from. And within 3 or 4 days she decided that I could be reelected Governor. And when my brother had his drug problem, it was awful for her, much tougher, of course, than any election loss. And she, as she says in the book, had a lot to learn about drug addiction, about what those of us who were in the same family had done by not confronting my brother. And she finally came to understand, as Dick said earlier, that getting arrested and actually being forced to go to prison may well have saved my brother's life. And he's come back; he's made a good life; he's made a wonderful marriage; he's about to become a father. And I think a lot of that happened because my mother never quit believing in him and was brave enough to face the truth about what happened and then, at her age, was willing to learn whatever it took to learn to help get him over it and working him through it and do her part.

Mr. King. And she sure would have had a good time touring for this book, wouldn't she?

The President. Yes. I was thinking about that today. This thing would be a stomp-down bestseller if she'd lived, because she'd have had so much fun promoting it. She had a good time doing everything she did. She learned to be a politician rather late in life. You know, before I got in politics, she voted, but that was about it. And then by the time I'd been through a campaign or two, she was the best organized person I knew. She had 300 to 400 names on a file card in our hometown, and all the local politicians were half afraid of her. She just got into things, and her enthusiasm took over. I really regret that she's not stomping around the country selling this book and not on your program and not answering questions.

Mr. King. Do you remember the night when you were running for office and you and Al Gore were on, and she called in from Vegas?

The President. Yes, I do.

Mr. King. You asked her, "Where are you?" "Vegas."

The President. Where she belonged. She loved Las Vegas, and she loved those race tracks.

Richard Nixon's Funeral

Mr. King. I know. One other thing, Mr. President. Everyone is complimenting you today on the eloquence yesterday at another tragic day in the lives of all Americans, the death of a President. Was that a difficult moment for you? Funerals are never easy. Was that particularly difficult?

The President. It was in some sense because, you know, the other people who were speaking, Secretary Kissinger and Senator Dole and Governor Wilson, they'd all played an important role in President Nixon's life. They'd been a part of his successes; they'd been part of his difficult times. And funerals are really a time for family and friends. But he was, after all, the President of this country. I am now—and it was an appropriate thing, I think, for me to do my best at his funeral. And I was deeply honored that his family asked me to speak. And it was difficult, but I hope I did right by him. I'm very grateful to him for the incredibly wise counsel he gave me in the last 16 months. And frankly, just today I had a problem, and I said to the person who was working with me, "I wish I could pick up the phone and call Richard Nixon and ask him what he thinks we ought to do about this."

Virginia Kelley

Mr. King. I bet there are times you wish you could call Virginia Kelley, too.

The President. Amazing number of times. When I came in from the trip I took to Europe and to Russia, right after she died, it was a Sunday evening, and almost without thinking I went right into the kitchen and got halfway to the phone before I realized that I couldn't call her on Sunday night. That's when I used to call and check in with Mother and Dick, see how they were doing. And it was almost like a shock. And a lot of people who lose a mother or a father or a husband or a wife will tell you that they find themselves almost talking out loud. I do that a lot. Just looking at your films here of Mother mean a lot to me.

Mr. King. Thanks, Mr. President. Thanks for joining us.

The President. You guys have a good night. Thanks again, Jim, for all the wonderful work you did on this book. And tell the truth, Dick. [Laughter]

NOTE: The telephone interview began at 9:20 p.m. The President spoke from the Residence at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Dick Kelley, his mother's husband, and James

Morgan, coauthor of her autobiography, "Leading With My Heart."

William J. Clinton, Interview With Larry King Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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