Rosie O’Donnell is opening up, for the first time, about the 2006 incident with Kelly Ripa and Clay Aiken. In Us Weekly’s exclusive excerpt of Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View, O’Donnell, 57, details what happened behind the scenes.
In November 2006, Aiken joined Ripa as a cohost on Live With Regis and Kelly, and the two did not hit it off. At one point, he put his hand over her mouth and she said, “I don’t know where that’s been, honey!” O’Donnell responded to Ripa’s comment the next day on The View, saying it was “a homophobic remark.” She added, “If that was a straight man, if that was a cute man, if that was a guy that she didn’t question his sexuality, she would’ve said a different thing.”
In the new tell-all book, written by Ramin Setoodeh, O’Donnell explains why she defended Aiken:
A few days before he went on Live he had been a guest on The View. “He had come into my dressing room, crying about whether or not to come out. And I sat down with him and I talked to him. He was inching his way out in the way so many born-again Southern Christians have to. I hugged him. Not only do I feel the twenty-years-older mother thing, I feel the twenty-years-old younger-gay thing.” When she saw Ripa on TV that day, Rosie couldn’t bottle her anger.
“So I had just held a crying boy and then watched him be gay bashed by Kelly Ripa,” Rosie said.
After the show, Rosie heard from Aiken. First, she said that he thanked her for defending him. And second: “I didn’t know how to come out, so you just did it.”
However, Setoodeh also spoke with the former American Idol star, who explained what happened from his end:
Aiken’s recollection of these events is slightly different from Rosie’s. “I have a horrible memory, but I know exactly how this s–t went down,” he told me. Aiken said he’d been worried about his interview on The View, because a prominent news anchor had warned him the cohosts might ask him about his sexuality on TV. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Rosie invited Aiken to her dressing room to talk privately before the show, kicking out her makeup team and his bodyguard. “She said, ‘You need to find yourself a boyfriend in North Carolina — not in New York or Los Angeles — and just live peacefully there.’ I said, ‘You’re very presumptuous, Rosie.’ She took my hand, looked me dead in the eye and with more warmth than I think people would imagine she has, she said, ‘Listen, I’m your sister.’ I teared up. It was the very first time a stranger had ever gotten me to come out to them.”
As he left her dressing room, Rosie promised Aiken a shield of protection. “Nobody is going to ask you about this on the show,” she said. “And if they do, just let this d-ke take care of it.”
But Aiken had no idea that Rosie would make his sexual orientation a talking point after the Ripa incident. “I didn’t see it the same way that she did,” he said. “The truth is she outed me in a way, because I had not been out yet. When she said the words, ‘If that was a straight man,’ she was confirming that she knew that I wasn’t. That was the worst day of my life. I don’t think I’d had a moment more devastating to me. I remember feeling like shit that day and totally defeated. But I definitely wasn’t mad at her.” Aiken said that Rosie later helped him officially come out on the cover of People in 2008, by introducing him to her publicist.
After O’Donnell spoke out about Ripa on air, the former soap opera star called into The View to respond, calling the claims she was homophobic “downright outrageous.” Now, even so many years later, O’Donnell states she and Ripa still are not friendly.
To me, Rosie didn’t mince her words about Ripa: “I think Kelly Ripa is mean and she doesn’t like me, and she has never wanted to discuss what happened. She wanted to have this weird feud.” Rosie said that under normal circumstances, she would have bonded with Ripa through her All My Children lineage. “She’s the girl from Pine Valley. She and her husband met on the show. That’s my f–king sweet spot. I would have loved her my whole life.” The two never mended fences after the View incident. “I see her at concerts sometimes,” Rosie said. “She just looks away.”
In the end, Rosie was most upset with The View executive producer for connecting the call. The show hadn’t done that before. “Bill Geddie thinks that makes good TV—two women fighting.” Rosie confronted them about it. “I said, ‘Excuse me Bill, that would be the first time that you sabotaged me live on the air. It will not happen again. If it does happen again, I will not be on the show.” Rosie paused for dramatic effect. “When it happened again, I left.”
Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View will be released on Tuesday, April 2.
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