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Jeni Stepanek Remembers Her Son, Child Poet Mattie Stepanek; Denise Austin Says You Can Eat Carbs and Lose Weight

Aired October 1, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Jeni Stepanek -- her unforgettable, inspirational son Mattie Stepanek, the best-selling poet and peacemaker, died in her arms last year before he could even turn 14. She's keeping his legacy alive.
Plus, gorgeous exercise guru Denise Austin says you can eat carbs and lose weight. All that and lots more, next on LARRY KING LIVE.


Great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE a good friend, great lady -- Jeni Stepanek, she's the mom of the late Mattie J.T. Stepanek, the bestselling poet, peace activist, who died in June of 2004 at age 13. Mattie's sixth and final volume of "Heartsongs" poetry has just been published: "Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs."

There you see its cover, there you see that wonderful picture of that wonderful young man, who appeared many times on this program. I'm in the book, Oprah Winfrey did the foreword. Mattie gets tributed every year -- he's appeared many times on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

What was the ending like with you and Mattie?

JENI STEPANEK, MOTHER OF MATTIE: It was very tragic. He suffered greatly his last three months of life. He had problems the last year, but the last three months -- he went into cardiac arrest for 45 minutes three months before he died, and when he woke up after that, his body was very ravaged, although his mind and spirit were completely intact.

KING: Did he know he was dying?

STEPANEK: He was very clear. He knew he was dying. From reading the poetry that he wrote the weeks coming up to the cardiac arrest in March, it's clear that he knew the end was approaching. I mean, he knew he was dying.

KING: Did he handle it as bravely as he lived?

STEPANEK: He handled it incredibly bravely. I mean, he was an incredible kid. He literally hung on until I was ready to accept what was going to happen. Whether I accepted it or not, he waited for me to give him permission to die.

KING: He died in your arms?

STEPANEK: Yes, he did. When I realized it...

KING: Was he awake?

STEPANEK: He was wide awake. When I told him "I'll be OK," -- because I had told him for the longest time, "You can't leave me. You just can't leave me. I can't go on without you." And I said, "Can you stay for me?" And he'd say, "Yes." He was a good kid.

And I finally said -- I looked at his body, and he was struggling to breathe, and his bones were breaking, because the neuromuscular disease had just twisted him so much. And I said, "I will be OK. You can rest. Everything will be fine, and you did everything you came to do."

And I said, "You understand what I'm saying?" And he said, "Yes." And I climbed into bed, and he died 10 minutes later in my arms.

KING: Did you know he died? Could you tell?

STEPANEK: I knew. I put my hand on his heart. I wanted to forever feel that last pulse and talk to him the whole time.

KING: How did you get through this?

STEPANEK: I don't know. There's days that I honestly can't stop crying, and I think I'm going crazy with the grief, with regret of everything I might have done differently.

And then there's days that are filled with such beautiful things, with people that were so touched by Mattie's words and the way he lived life. And I get letters constantly from people saying, "I live my life differently because of your son."

KING: Now tell me about the book "Reflections of a Peacemaker." Was this being planned before he died?

STEPANEK: Yes. Mattie wanted to put out one final collection of poetry in the Heartsongs tradition, which was poetry from ages 3 to that point. And then he was going to transition to more mature poetry and books.

When I read the poetry that he had left for this book after he died, I realized this is more than a book of poetry. This is a biography. This is understanding who was Mattie as a person, and how did he see the world, and how was he able to balance the pain of death surrounding him, and facing his own death with nature and hope -- how was he able to balance all that and still find meaning in every moment?

And it's filled with photographs and tributes and introductions. And I just found out that it made the New York Times bestseller list.

KING: It should climb to the top.

STEPANEK: I'm proud on his behalf.

KING: And proceeds are going to?

STEPANEK: A portion of the proceeds go to the MDA Mattie Fund, which is MDA, but it's a specific fund that looks at neuromuscular diseases that affect the lives of children and too often end them early.

KING: We're going to hear some of these poems. How would you describe his talent at such a young age? Where did that come from?

STEPANEK: Mattie -- you know, people say he was an old soul. I don't know a better word. He was very wise. He loved the gift of words -- he loved shaping words, creating words, and he loved sharing thoughts with other people.

And some of his final words, which are on the last page of the poetry in this book -- if you look at his final words, he talks about -- he's a man of many thoughts, of many words. And it mattered to him to share with other people and hopefully inspire them toward hope and peace.

KING: But when it started, he couldn't write, right? So he just recited, and someone would write it down.

STEPANEK: Yes. It first began after his brother died, and he would play very creatively, coping -- and he would play out his sadness, and his resolution, and how he would come back to being a happy preschooler.

And I was fascinated, because I'm a researcher, and I do presentations on how people cope with the loss of a child. And I would take notes.

And he was reading at age 3, and he looked over my shoulder one day and said, "Why are you writing down what I say"? And I explained to him how I wanted to share it with others. And it was Mattie that remarked at 3 years old, "It sounds like the poetry meditations we read at nighttime together." And that's when it all began.

KING: The end of the book has his final words?


KING: "I am a man of many thoughts, and I am a man of many, many words. Have I done enough? Will it last? Amen, I love you, and yes."

STEPANEK: Those are beautiful final words.

KING: You think he's somewhere now?

STEPANEK: Oh, I know he's somewhere now. His spirit is so present, and the only thing we're missing is his body. Now what I would do to touch that body -- I miss him. He was my best friend.

KING: He was a gas, that kid.

STEPANEK: Oh, he was so funny.

KING: I remember the first time I met him, wheeling around the CNN studios in Washington.

We're going to read some. Let's pick some poems you've picked out. He wrote a lot about you.

STEPANEK: Yes, he did, and I'm very proud of them. I'd like to share one that's really one of my favorites of all time that he wrote.

KING: The book, by the way, is "Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs, the Last Works of Mattie J.T. Stepanek."

STEPANEK: This is a poem called "Purple Moon" that he wrote about a week before his heart stopped.

Sometimes, I think the world Would be lovelier If the moon Glowed purple During the darkness... A gentle glimmering ray Of healing and hope, Illuminating the Earth And the people... The slow pace And contemplation Of lava lamp nights, Peacefully demonstrating A quieter, Gentler way Of passing time. Oh, reflect upon a Purple moon, a Peaceful tune, a Patient light, Pacific rune... But sometimes, When life Gets in the way, Blocking the passage Of night into day, And I realize the pull Of the ebbing tide Is not so far away, For it is coming, Ever and too soon, I don't even know If it matters for now If there is purple, or If there is a moon.

KING: We'll be back with some more moments with Jeni Stepanek right after this.


KING: My guest is Jeni Stepanek. The book is "Reflections of a Peacemaker" -- it's already on the New York Times bestseller list -- "A Portrait Through Heartsongs". Jerry Lewis' tribute is in it, mine is in it, Oprah Winfrey's, lots of pictures.

I'm going to read "Final Thoughts", but -- tell me, you didn't know about this poem?

STEPANEK: No. Right before he died, during his final days, he told me where to find some poems that were in a journal in his bedroom. And evidently, literally hours before he went into cardiac arrest, he had penned this poem.

KING: Is he buried with his siblings?

STEPANEK: Yes, he is.

KING: The poem is called "Final Thoughts."

Have you ever wondered If some people will cry, and cry And sigh after you die? Have you wondered If the people will cry and then Try to move forward as time Fades the wounds and Dries the tears and Gracefully blesses the soul? I have. I have so. Wondered. Have you ever wondered If some people will live, and live And love differently after you pass? Have you wondered If the people will live and then Sift and reflect on the Wisdom of your thought and the Gentleness of your words and the Enduring consequences of your actions? I have. I have so. Wondered. Have you ever wondered If some people will wonder, and wonder And wonder in realization after reality rests? Have you wondered If the people will wonder and then Peacefully ponder the undying Essence of your echo and the Silhouette of your legacy that Spirits the memory after death passes? I have. I have so, so, so Wondered.

STEPANEK: I think that's a beautiful sentiment. And this is a child who knew he was about to die, and his greatest concern was, had he done enough to make a difference while he was given the gift of mortality?

KING: About you, he has said, "My mother is my greatest teacher in life, about life. For life, I love you, my mother. Your ways shape my being in future. In a poem about my mommy I know that no matter what, we will always be together. The dynamic duo forever."

STEPANEK: I miss him.

KING: Boy, I'll bet you do. The concept of muscular dystrophy -- you're not going to have a shorter life because of it? Yours is different from theirs?

STEPANEK: I will have a shortened lifespan, but it won't be drastically shortened. I was diagnosed after all four of my children were born. I was very athletic prior to that.

Being diagnosed as an adult means a different progression. My muscles are getting weaker, I do have some cardiac problems, some vision problems.

I mean, clearly, I'm affected, and it will shorten my lifespan. When you're diagnosed during infancy and childhood, it's devastating, and these children do not grow up. Mattie was miraculous in that he lived to be just short of his 14th birthday, which is just unheard of.

KING: His siblings died at what ages?

STEPANEK: My daughter Katie died around 2 years old, my son Stevie died at 6 months, and Jamie, the brother that Mattie knew so well, died just about 4 years old.

KING: So he outlived them all by a considerable...

STEPANEK: Yes, he did.

KING: They all had the same disease?

STEPANEK: They had the same. I guess one of the greatest things Mattie had going for him was that he was the youngest, so he had the benefit of hindsight.

He also had the benefit of advances in neuromuscular research done by MDA. It's not that mitochondrial myopathies weren't around in the 1980s when I had my children -- they weren't as well recognized and understood.

KING: Micah the dog is here?

STEPANEK: Yes, Micah's here. He's Mattie's dog, is now my dog, and he grieves terribly. KING: When Mattie died?

STEPANEK: Yes, I remember when he was here, and you said, "Bring the puppy out." And out walks the 50-pound 4-month-old dog, and he said, "Well, where's the puppy?" And I was like...

KING: The dog grieved?

STEPANEK: Terribly. He didn't eat for more than a month. He lost 20, 30 pounds. I took him to the vet repeatedly.

He's doing much better now, but he clearly missed his daddy, and knew that his daddy died. He was at the hospital, and was well aware of what happened.

KING: Do you continue attending the telethons, and...

STEPANEK: Oh, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm so proud of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

I'm so proud of their response to the hurricane relief in pledging at least $1 million for hurricane relief out of the money that could be going to our kids. I just think it's a phenomenal organization, and until the day I die, they have my heart there.

KING: Do another poem.

STEPANEK: I'll do a short one.

KING: This is "Reflections of a Peacemaker."

STEPANEK: I'm going to do one called "Morning Crunch" that he wrote when he was 7 years old.

The cold melon skies of morning Slowly streak through milky clouds As the orange juice sun rises Behind coffee and burnt toast branches. I would like to stop and share Magic-star cereal with The few winter birds, But the hands on the clock Keep pointing to the day saying, "Hurry up, or you'll miss the bus!"

KING: What a talent he had. I mean, this was not an ordinary talent. This was an incredible talent.

STEPANEK: It was. You know, at first glance, you see a poem comparing the morning with breakfast foods, but if you read deeper, you see this urgency to not miss out on all the beautiful details of life. You know, we're always pressured to do something, do something, do something -- and all the things that we miss because we're always in a hurry to do something else that also may matter.

KING: He never lost his faith, right? STEPANEK: Never, never lost his faith. I want to say he clearly knew -- and you can see it in the last chapter. The eighth chapter is called "Final Heartsongs," and it's the poetry from his last year of life only.

It's just those months, and it's clear that he was not real happy about dying, because he loved living. But it's also clear that he was very excited about whatever comes next, and he fully believed there's something bigger and better than the here and now. But he loved the here and now very much, and wasn't anxious to leave.

KING: And peace was his big thing, right?

STEPANEK: Absolutely. And his big concerns right before he died -- other than leaving me -- was that he had done enough on this book, and the book that he was working on with the support of Jimmy Carter that comes out next March. And he said, "Have I done enough?"

KING: He and Jimmy Carter have done a book together?

STEPANEK: Yes. And that comes out next March.

KING: Comes out next March?

STEPANEK: Yes. That's the last manuscript that he left intact enough to be published. And that's called "Just Peace."

KING: Thank you, Jeni.

STEPANEK: Thank you very much, Larry.

KING: Jeni Stepanek -- she edited it, Mattie T.J. Stepanek, "Reflections of a Peacemaker". Available everywhere; on the New York Times bestseller list.


We'll be back with more after this.



[Movie clip from "The Greatest Game Ever Played"]



KING: We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE one of my favorite people, Bill Paxton -- great actor, and director of a great new movie, "The Greatest Game Ever Played." You've seen him in "Titanic" and "Twister" and "Apollo 13." I don't know if you've ever seen a movie like "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the real, true life story -- a fairytale story -- of the only amateur ever to win the U.S. Open.

How did you come upon this book?

BILL PAXTON, DIRECTOR, "THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED": I met Mark Frost through Disney. Disney was looking for a director. I had made a film called "Frailty" that had gotten some nice notices, and I went in just as a gun for hire. They were looking for someone, and I got on very well with Mark.

Weirdly enough, I'd done a movie with his sister Lindsay several years ago. And I went in there, and I said, "If you're going to make a period golf film, this is a great story. You've got to light it up. You've got to light this sport up." You can't be afraid to do some great stuff with the camera, where..,

KING: Boy, did you.

PAXTON: I did, yeah,

KING: You went to town with it.

PAXTON: I threw in everything but the kitchen sink.

KING: And an all-unknown cast?

PAXTON: Pretty much so. Disney's had a recent run of success with these sports films, and they've kind of come with a formula that'll get essential star, and they'll build a great ensemble. And they really sell the story and the star, like Kurt Russell in "Miracle" or Denzel Washington in...

KING: For this there's no major star.

PAXTON: Well, Shia LaBoeuf is kind of on for the younger generation, he's definitely on the come, and he was in "Holes," and he was in a series of theirs. He does a great job as Francis Ouimet.

But I was very lucky that the studio -- I've got to say, Walt Disney was great. They really gave me a vote of confidence, let me cast the picture, and I was able to get some great people.

The guy who plays Harry Vardon, for example, is a great British actor named Stephen Dillane. I'd done a movie with him down in Grand Cayman Island, and we went out and played golf one day.

I play occasionally; I grew up around the game. And he said he hadn't played in a long time, but I could see he had played at one time. And I thought, "This guy could be great." And he is sensational.

KING: Where did you shoot it at?

PAXTON: We shot the picture in Montreal with a French-Canadian crew. We went up there not so much for budgetary reasons, but I had to find something that could double for old Boston, and London. And we found a great old golf club up there called Kahnawake, from 1914.

KING: The extras are great. Everything about it is great. The pinpoint -- the dress, the costumes, the way they look, the way the game was played.

PAXTON: The movie has had a charmed life. I think it's because it's a charmed story. It's a Cinderella story -- here's this son of immigrants, Francis Ouimet. His family moves next door to the country club, GCC in Brookline, in 1900.

He's 8 years old. He starts working as a caddie. The old pro there kind of takes a liking to the kid, gives him a brass.

Him and his brother go in a little hole behind their house in a field. They start playing. And at age 20, this kid qualifies to play in the 1913 U.S. Open. But the real kicker is, I don't think he could have won that tournament -- I mean, I don't want to -- oops, I guess I'm kind of giving it away here.

KING: Well, it is the story...

PAXTON: It is like an Apollo 13, it...

KING: You know Seabiscuit wins the race...

PAXTON: Yes, exactly. But how it happens is unbelievable. Now, he was supposed to have a 16-year-old caddie named Jack Lowery. Well, Jack gets caught by a truant officer, and his 10-year-old brother Eddie shows up and says. "I'll caddy for you." And he's the cowboy going into a gunfight that is going to end up being the OK Corral.

KING: People will love this little character, you love him. And I like the way you did the romance -- you didn't play it through, you didn't -- it was there...

PAXTON: It was there, yes.

KING: ...but not there.

PAXTON: Exactly, yes.

KING: You never did that run together, the march into the sunset.

PAXTON: Exactly. The romance is really between the 10-year-old caddy and Francis. And I believe Francis, because he was the knight who had never been in battle.

I made the film -- I did "Tombstone" a few years ago, and I kind of used it as a motif. There's a lot of Western motifs in the thing. And also, it is a Camelot story -- the peasant kid who grew up outside the castle.

KING: And the drawing line between him and the British champion, the similarities. Both for...

PAXTON: Both from very modest circumstances. You come to have great empathy for the guy he's trying to be. It was his hero as a boy -- he got to meet his hero. It's almost like a Joseph Campbell story, in terms of the classic hero's journey. KING: You like directing?

PAXTON: I love it, yes. I was consumed by this whole project.

KING: As much as acting?

PAXTON: Oh, easily.

KING: Because you control it?

PAXTON: No, I think my heroes as a boy were guys like Buster Keaton. And then, as I was growing up, I was a huge fan of Clint Eastwood's.

I've never really gotten to know Clint; I've met him a couple of times, but he has no idea what a mentor he's been to me, from his early films with Sergio Leone. I, like him, I started out with a horror film. His first film was "Play Misty for Me;" mine was "Frailty."

He did a lot of interesting films back in the day, and he's still doing great movies. I loved "Million Dollar Baby." So in a way, I've kind of modeled myself as a filmmaker-actor. That was always my dream, to make films.

KING: Well, this movie's fantastic. I mean, I can't say enough about it. I will extoll its virtues. It's not only "The Greatest Game Ever Played," great title -- it's a great movie. How did you get all those shots of the golf ball moving through trees?

PAXTON: We wanted to light this thing up. I think anyone who's ever played the game is -- when you hit that ball, it's kind of your aspiration. It's almost like astral-projecting, and I just thought...

KING: You felt like you were traveling on the ball...

PAXTON: Exactly. In "Frailty," I never called attention to the camera. But this one -- I had a great character story, but I wanted to light up the golf.

We also used a lot of different techniques. There's a great montage in the rain -- these guys had to play their second day in the rain -- so we shot it kind of all like "Private Ryan," with a 45- degree shutter in kind of a combat style. There must be 400 shots in that sequence, and you really get the feeling -- these guys are fighting for their lives out there.

KING: They played in the rain then, right? Now they would have postponed another day.

PAXTON: Oh yes, and 36 holes a day. And back in the '60s, when Ken Venturi was out here at the LA Open, and he had heat prostration, and they decided to just play 18 a day.

And this was a time when giants walked the earth. These men, like Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet -- they were big people. KING: And I love that Francis Ouimet never turned pro.

PAXTON: No, he never did. He won two amateurs. A guy named Bobby Jones came along, kind of stole some of his thunder there in the '20s.

And he went on to be a great mentor and ambassador to the game. He started this thing called the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, to put caddies through college -- underprivileged kids. It's put about 4,100 kids through college already...

KING: I should tell the audience that you don't have to like golf to love this movie. This is great drama.

PAXTON: It is great drama, absolutely.

KING: I give you a lot of credit, Bill.

PAXTON: Thanks, Larry. I sure appreciate it.

KING: Absolutely. It's a great movie. It's "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the director is Bill Paxton.


More after this.



KING: It's an extraordinary new film out, "The Constant Gardener." I got a chance to see it. It's based on the John Le Carre book. And the co-star is Rachel Weisz, and Rachel joins us now from New York. She is lovely and talented. She plays a brilliant, passionate activist married to Justin Quayle, who is played by Ralph Fiennes.

What was it like doing this film? A very unusual film for you.

RACHEL WEISZ, ACTRESS, "THE CONSTANT GARDENER": Oh, it was extraordinary. I mean, we filmed in all these different countries. We filmed in England, we filmed in Germany.

And for the main part, we were in Kenya, filming in Nairobi, and in a slum outside Nairobi called Kabira. And then we were filming in Loiyangalani, in the north.

And we were using the real Africa, and we were using real locations, so there were no sets being built -- there were no extras. So there was a kind of feeling of documentary reportage as we were filming, and it was a very, very magical experience.

KING: Had you read the book?

WEISZ: Well, we all read the book in preparation for the film -- myself and Ralph, and Fernando, the director. We all had a very battered copy of the novel on set with us, and we'd refer to it before we'd shoot a scene. It was very helpful to have the novel there.

KING: It's a thriller, a romance, and it also deals with a lot of current issues.

WEISZ: Exactly. It is first and foremost a thriller, but it's a very beautiful love story. And my character -- I'm not giving anything away, because you find out in the first minute -- is murdered. And my husband, Ralph Fiennes, goes to investigate who it was and how it was that I came to be murdered.

And he discovers that I'm an activist, and I found out some serious malpractice of some European pharmaceutical companies, and I've been killed. And he becomes a kind of a detective -- even though he's an ordinary man, he starts to find out the truth about my death, and in doing so falls more and more deeply in love with me. So it's a very unusual love story.

KING: Very. The pharmaceutical companies won't like it.

WEISZ: They probably won't. I have to say that it is a work of fiction, but John Le Carre wrote a disclaimer at the end of his novel, and he said, "Thank goodness none of these characters are real and none of these events are real, but as I did my research, I began to realize that reality makes this piece of fiction look like a picture postcard."

KING: Are you an activist yourself, Rachel?

WEISZ: I'm not an activist, Larry. I'm a storyteller. I'm an entertainer, hopefully entertaining people along the way. But I have incredible admiration for people who devote their life to helping other people.

And that was my responsibility, really, playing this part -- what is it that makes these people tick? What is it that makes them get up in the morning and for no glory, for no money, devote their life to helping people and putting their life in harm's way? They're extraordinary people; they're the unsung heroes of our age. They should be on the cover of magazines, I think.

KING: What did you think of Kenya?

WEISZ: Kenya is extraordinary. I mean, physically, the nature, the bush, the animals, the sky, the landscape -- it's like nowhere I've ever been before. There's something magical about it.

When we went filming out in the bush, we were filming in a slum called Kabira, which is just outside Nairobi, where there are a million people living in a shanty town with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation. There's a very high level of disease and HIV.

And we were filming in the midst of this community, and it was a deeply humbling experience. Because I think when we went there, we felt that we were going to feel pity, and feel very sorry for these people. And there is no question there is a tragedy going on there.

But the spirit and the life of the place, and the generosity of the people, and their warmth, and their hospitality, and their pubs and restaurants and dance and song and -- it was very humbling to see people with such a great spirit who had less than nothing when we come from a culture where -- I'll speak for myself -- one goes shopping to feel better. You know, it was a very humbling experience.

KING: What was it like to work with the Brazilian director?

WEISZ: Fernando Meirelles is an extraordinary director. He directed "City of God," which of course you know. So he was used to working with non-actors.

So he worked in a way that was very unusual, in that he was very low-tech -- there weren't big lights and cranes, like on a big Hollywood set. He would have a very small film camera, and film more in a kind of documentary way, so that the actors -- there's a scene where I'm walking around the slums, where I'm actually leading the camera.

And I'm just walking, and this little camera is following me, and I'm just interacting with the people of the slum. And none of the lines are scripted. It was all improvisation. And it's a very unusual and very interesting way of working.

KING: Now, you did films like "The Mummy," and "The Mummy Returns," and you did "Runaway Jury" and "About a Boy." What's next?

WEISZ: I've just completed a film called "The Fountain," which was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, who made "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream." And I star opposite Hugh Jackman, and it's a very big metaphysical love story. It's set in three time zones: it's set in 16th-century Spain, present-day America, distant-future deep space.

KING: He's quite a talent, isn't he?

WEISZ: Yes, he's very talented, he is.

KING: How did you like working with Mr. Fiennes?

WEISZ: Ralph Fiennes is just such a great actor, and an extraordinary acting partner. I mean, I think it's true to say you're only ever as good as the person you're opposite, and he just -- he's right there with you, and he's very passionate and very committed. And it was an honor to work with him. I hope I get the chance to work with him again; he's a wonderful actor.

KING: And you are sensational.

WEISZ: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

KING: Best of luck.

WEISZ: Thank you so much, Larry. KING: Rachel Weisz, the acclaimed actress who stars in the critically acclaimed -- and well-deserved critical acclaim -- "The Constant Gardener." She's terrific, and so's the movie.


And we'll be right back.



KING: Great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League.

Hockey's back. We all feel great after a long, long hiatus -- a 310-day lockout, the longest in professional sports history. Is this a relief?

GARY BETTMAN, COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE: It's a tremendous relief. We had some issues. They had to be addressed. Unfortunately, we went through a long work stoppage, but we think we're now back better than ever.

KING: Work stoppages are supposed to produce a win-win. Was this a win-lose? Did you win and the players lost?

BETTMAN: You know, a lot of people speculate that, but frankly, we think it's a win-win, because we now have a partnership with our players. We can now work together to grow the game. And I think in the long term, everybody will look at this point in time and say, "This was a pivotal moment in the growth of our game."

KING: How do we sell it back? The game we both love?

BETTMAN: What's interesting is, our fans -- as you know, because you're one of them -- our fans are the most passionate about our sport. And our ticket sales are actually ahead of where they were for the '03-'04 season.

Our fans understood what we were doing this year, they understood why, and the thing that they wouldn't have forgiven would have been if we went through all this and we didn't fix it. But everybody believes it's been fixed the right way. We've made a lot of rule changes. Coupled with the right economic system and competitive balance, we're poised to have a great season.

KING: And the rule changes, by removing the red line, reducing the equipment size that a goal tender -- standard offensive zone, of course, with that red line -- shoot out the side game if you're going to have higher scoring. And obviously, without a red line, more excitement. It's obvious.

BETTMAN: You know, it's interesting. A lot of people think that you could get -- with our skill level of players -- even more defense if you will allow the two-line pass, because the defensive players may give up the zone and back up a little bit.

I think on balance, everybody thinks that all of the rule changes in combination -- particularly with the new standard of enforcement on interference, hooking, and holding -- that the game will open up, and that the skilled players will be able to show their skills. So, we think we'll get better flow, better scoring chances, more scoring chances, and perhaps more goals.

KING: Participate in the Olympics again too, right?


KING: The Olympics have a red line, don't they?


KING: They don't?

BETTMAN: They don't. Well, we all have a red line. It'll still be in the ice for icing, but the two-line pass will be allowed, and the Olympics is played the same way.

KING: How about new fans?

BETTMAN: We think that we have the best athletes; we have the best in-person product. Television has been a work in progress for us, and with our new relationship with OLN -- and our new relationship with NBC, because we didn't get to work with them last season -- that our game can get better coverage, better storytelling, more in-depth coverage so that our fans can connect better on television. And we think with high-def television, more of the inner-arena experience will be produced over television.

KING: High-def is extraordinary in all sports, but it may be the best for hockey. Why?

BETTMAN: Probably because of the wide aspect ratio. Instead of seeing this much of the action, where you don't see all the players and you can't see plays develop on television, you really have to visualize them in your head on conventional television. High-def gives you clarity to see the puck -- if you want to see the puck, you don't have to -- and it gives you a full zone, so you can see what all the players are doing and you can see plays develop.

KING: Sidney Crosby -- I guess he's the most exciting player to come since Lemieux.

BETTMAN: Probably right. At least that's the hype.

KING: Have you seen him play?

BETTMAN: I've seen him play.

KING: And?

BETTMAN: And he's really good. I was up at the Memorial Cup, which is for major junior hockey's championship. He is an extraordinary talent.

People are saying he's the next "Great One" -- I don't think there will ever be a next "Great One," Wayne Gretzky's in a class by himself -- but he is going to be a terrific player. The only issue will be how long it takes him to develop.

KING: The decision to reinstate Bertuzzi -- committed that kind of heinous -- was that tough for you?

BETTMAN: It was a tough decision, because everybody associated with hockey thinks the act was reprehensible. There was no question -- it had to be punished, and it had to be punished severely, and it was.

We had a unique circumstance. Todd Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely. He missed the end of the '03-'04 season, he missed the playoffs. Speculation is that the Vancouver Canucks, with him, might have made it to the Stanley Cup finals.

So we had a situation where he was suspended when I reinstated him for 17 months. He missed two world championships, he missed the World Cup, and he wasn't allowed to play hockey anywhere else in the world, because the International Ice Hockey Federation wouldn't let him play if he was under suspension from us.

KING: They honored your suspension.

BETTMAN: And he lived for about a year and a half with the uncertainty. All the players did from a collective-bargaining standpoint. But he lived with the uncertainty of when he was ever be able to play again -- not to make him a martyr -- I mean, Steve Moore was hurt, and Bertuzzi deserved to be punished.

But at some point, enough was enough, and we had to move on. And I believe that he was genuinely remorseful, and I believe that the last year and a half took a terrible toll on him.

KING: Is the bitterness over the labor dispute over?

BETTMAN: I think so. The fact that we have a partnership with the players, and that we're now all on the same page to build this game has brought us back faster than anybody ever would have imagined.

KING: All teams in action opening night?

BETTMAN: All teams. That's a first.

KING: When's opening night? It is...

BETTMAN: October 5, Wednesday night.

KING: That's going to be exciting.

BETTMAN: Can't wait.

KING: Neither can I. Gary, we're going to do lots more with you, and a pleasure having you with us.

BETTMAN: Thanks, man.

KING: Thanks for bringing it back.

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League. All teams I action, Wednesday night. It's back!


And we'll be back with Denise Austin. Don't go away.



KING: It's always a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE my friend, Denise Austin, the fitness and weight-loss guru. Her new book is "Eat Carbs and Lose Weight."

The trend has been to eat less carbs, but isn't that now history? Isn't the carb fad over, Denise?

DENISE AUSTIN, AUTHOR, "EAT CARBS AND LOSE WEIGHT": Yes! It's good to eat carbs, and you can still lose weight. But the right carbs are what's important -- good fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans -- those are the good foods that you want to eat to really lose weight.

And you can. The average person, when I put them on my plan, lost 10 pounds in one month. So you can do it.

I give you a 28-day eating plan to tell you exactly what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plus, you get snacks, and this is keeping you in good health, good nutrition, with a well-balanced eating plan.

Because it's all about being balanced, trying to eat the right foods, and making sure you have energy. Because without carbs you won't have good energy, and that's what's important in life.

KING: What killed the carb fad?

AUSTIN: Well, you can't do it for a lifetime. You've got to eat things that you're going to eat for the rest of your life.

And that's why I put this book together. It's "Eat Carbs, Lose Weight." Because you can't give away a whole certain type of food group -- like good carbohydrates -- you must eat carbohydrates for good health, good nutrition. But you choose the right ones. That's what's important.

KING: But can I eat bread on this diet?

AUSTIN: Yes, you can, but not too much. And it has to be whole grain -- it's got to be oat bran, it's got to be whole wheat, or rye toast, which is so good. It's got to be ones that really have about five grams of fiber in each slice. That way, fiber keeps you full, and also helps curb those appetites.

KING: Exercise still important?

AUSTIN: Of course, Larry! I'm a fitness person! I truly believe exercise is a way to keep that weight off.

This is important -- what I did is put a walking plan together for everybody, but also a way to do 12 easy exercises every day -- kind of like your minimum daily requirement to firm up your arms, your tummy, your legs. You're stretching your back, stretching your thighs. Your whole body works in just 10 minutes, as well as doing the walking three days a week.

So exercise speeds up the metabolism, gives you that oxygen your body needs to feel good. Because that's what it's all about -- feeling good about yourself, living the best life you possibly can through eating right, exercise, good night's sleep, also lots of water -- making sure you're getting the right foods, that's what's important.

KING: There's probably more diet books than in any other category in a bookstore. So how do you know? I mean, you've got a reputation. But how do you know? I mean, we have the South Beach Diet, the Atkins -- how do you know what's right?

AUSTIN: Well, first of all, I teamed up with Amy Campbell from Harvard University, with the Joslin Diabetes Clinic. She's the top nutritionist in the country. And we put together this plan that everyone can do, even if you have diabetes.

Because what's important -- you have to eat breakfast. All the people who've lost weight and kept the weight off more than five years -- guess what, they exercised, and they ate a good breakfast. So I put together a whole plan -- different breakfasts that you can eat that are healthy. You need some fiber in the morning. You need a little protein.

Then also, I put together great lunches, even if you're on the go -- what to eat for lunch. And also, good dinners -- you do want to have a good carbohydrate for dinner as well as lots of salad, fruits, vegetables -- trying to eat seven fruits and vegetables every day.

And the plan is well-thought-out, because you get lots of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to feel good. To still keep the calories low -- we only eat about 1,300 to 1,400 calories in the book for women, and a little more for men -- so you are kind of limiting your calorie intake. But at the same time, you're burning about 300 calories through the exercise.

KING: What about that new DVD?

AUSTIN: Oh, it's great, Larry, because it's Pilates. And everybody needs to firm up the abs, because guess what -- it'll keep your back healthy. This is my first Pilates video that I've put out that beginners...

KING: What's a Pilates?

AUSTIN: Pilates works the muscles of the core of your abs, to protect your back. Your spine is your lifeline, so you have to keep it healthy, keep it strong. It's a series of exercises that work the tummy, the sides of the waist, the entire torso area.

So for you, I think this would be great, because it's a beginner workout. And it's only 10 minutes, and there's seven different ones that you can do to kind of progress -- a very beginner one, that you start to really tighten up that tummy. I slowly get you into the situp mode.

And then you do some great back stretches. It's a good series of exercises for the back and stomach, so you can keep nice and strong, and walk tall, and feel healthy again.

KING: Have you ever been calm and laid back?

AUSTIN: Ha! No...

KING: In all the years I've known you -- you know, once we were on an airplane, and you had me -- you and me were doing exercises in first class!

AUSTIN: You bet, Larry! You've got to move everywhere!

KING: You even taught me -- you can exercise sitting. Just pull your stomach in and sit like this, it's an exercise.

AUSTIN: Yes, you are your own architect, by the way you sit, by the way you stand. And I've got those exercises in the book too, because if you tighten up your tummy right now, everybody, for five seconds, that's equivalent to one sit-up.

You can do that to tighten up your "tushy" too -- squeeze your buttock muscles. That way, you'll look great from behind. Because your muscles need to be worked, they need to move. We have 640 of them, so you've got to make it work.

KING: Is there any food absolutely eliminated from this diet that you can never eat again?

AUSTIN: No, it's mainly good, healthy foods -- nutrient-dense foods. But I'm a big believer in an array of foods, lots of different types of foods. Variety is the key. I've got blueberries in here, salmon -- all kinds of great foods.

But the key thing is, I don't like partially hydrogenated oils -- those are the bad fats. I'm into healthier fats. You eat about 50 percent of your foods of good carbohydrates, 25 percent good lean proteins, and 25 percent good healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado, those types.

So your hair looks good, your skin looks good, you feel alive. It's all important and it's all balanced in a 28-day eating plan. So it's good for everybody to give it a try, and it's healthy -- it's worked up with the top nutritionist in the country.

And it's real! You can do this, and you don't have to eliminate a whole food group. You can eat good carbohydrates.

KING: She's one of my favorite people. Her column, "Body Work," appears every month in Prevention magazine. She continues to star in Lifetime Television's "THE DAILY WORKOUT" as well as "FIT AND LIGHT," another TV program. She's got the new DVD "Hit the Spot." And now the new book, "Eat Carbs, Lose Weight," written with Amy Campbell.

Thank you, Denise.

AUSTIN: Oh, thank you, Larry! Love you!

KING: Bye, baby.

AUSTIN: Keep fit, honey!

KING: Feel like I've worked out.


Don't go away. We'll be right back.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Great array of guests, lots of interesting topics.

We invite you now to stay tuned for more news around the clock on your most trusted name in news by far, CNN.


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