Paula Deen Breaks Down on Today Show: "I Is What I Is"

Celebrity News Jun. 26, 2013 AT 8:30AM

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Matt Lauer grilled an emotional, tearful Paula Deen on the Today Show Wednesday June 26 over the racial slur scandal that threatens to end her career as a celebrity chef. In a nearly 14-minute interview, the 66-year-old TV personality, already fired by Food Network and sponsor Smithfield, insisted to Lauer that the sitdown, rescheduled after last Friday's sudden cancellation, was way more than damage control.

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"There's been some hurtful lies told about me," the Georgia native said after she admitted to previously using the N-word in a court deposition. "The main reason I am here today, Matt," she began. "It's important to me that I tell you and everyone out there what I believe and how I live my life. I believe that every creature on this earth  . . .  was created equal. No matter who you choose to go to bed at night with. No matter what church you go to pray.  Everyone should be treated equal. That's the way I was raised. That's the way I live my life."

Paula Deen visited the TODAY Show
Paula Deen visited the TODAY Show
Credit: Timothy Hiatt/Getty

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When a skeptical Lauer asked if Deen was mostly concerned with stopping the "financial bleeding" as sponsors like QVC and others consider following Food Network's lead, she continued: "I am here today because I want people to know who I am. People that have worked beside me. Have walked beside me. Know what kind of person I am." Tearing up for the first of many times during the chat, she admitted of her harshest critics, "I am so distressed that people I've  never heard of are all of the sudden experts on who I am  . . .their words are being given weight."

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The Paula's Best Dishes hostess told Lauer that, if the shoe were on the other foot, she would not have fired herself. "Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No."

Lauer then asked the million dollar question: "Are you a racist?"  "No, no I'm not," she said. "As a child I was raised in a home that my father tolerated bad grades, he would tolerate maybe me breaking a curfew. He told me, he said, 'Girl, if I ever found out that you have behaved in a way where you think you're better than others, or have been unkind, your butt is gonna be mine.'"

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As for the past incident in which she used N-word -- when an African-American man, an employee, held her at gunpoint -- she said: "The day I used that word it was a world ago. It was 30 years ago. I had had a gun put to my head."

But it was the one and only time she eve used the hurtful slur, she insisted. "[Lawyers] asked me in all my 66 years on earth had I ever used it. That man was so frightened that day he put the gun to my head . . . I had gone out on a limb for him and gotten him a loan."

Despite all the blowback, Deen does not regret telling the truth on the stand. "No. There's a couple people I don't like that I am prejudiced against: And that's thieves and liars." She then went on to tell a story about her 7-year-old grandson, who got his grandmother into some trouble by admitting to his parents that his "Gammy" allowed him to stay up past his bedtime.

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Breaking down in tears, she related her grandson's explanation: "He said 'Gammy, I don't tell lies.  That's how I raised my children. I know how I treat people, I know I love the people," she said, choking back sobs. "I'm not gonna sit here and tell everything that I have done for people of color. I'm not gonna do it. Somebody else can tell that."

"I have never with any intention hurt anybody on purpose and I never would," she continued.

As Lauer asked whether she was putting on act -- or whether there's a darker side to her personality not seen on-camera -- she rebutted: "What you see is what you get. I'm not an actress. I'm heartbroken . . . I've had to hold friends in my arms while they've sobbed because they know what's been said about me is not true. And I'm gonna have to comfort them."

In the last moments of the sitdown, Deen directly addressed the camera: "If there's anyone out there that have never said something that they wish they could take back. If you're out there please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please, I want to meet you. I is what I is, and I'm not changing."

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