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Larry Interviews Noted Authors About Their Lives and Work

Aired May 6, 2006 - 21:00   ET


KING: Tonight, a very personal conversation with Ronald and Nancy Reagan's only daughter, Patti Davis. She shares life lessons from an unexpected source.
Plus, because you recognize the pink packet, doesn't mean you know the truth about Sweet 'N' Low. Rich Cohen shares an amazing family saga that includes lots of money, the Mafia and his mom's disinheritance.

All that and more, next, on "LARRY KING LIVE."

KING: Good show tonight; some terrific guests.

And we'll begin with a terrific lady, Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, author of six books including "The Long Good-bye," a memoir of her late father, a terrific book; and her new one "Two Cats and the Woman They Own" or "Lessons I Learned from my Cats." There you see its cover.

Before we get to the book, how is everything at the Reagan house? How is Nancy?

PATTI DAVIS, AUTHOR: She's good. Yes, she's good. Has a busy social life with her friends and she's doing well.

KING: Very active with Alzheimer's, though, and the charities and the like?

DAVIS: Very active at the library, yes.

KING: Were you're always writing?

DAVIS: I always was, even as a kid. In fact, my mother's told me that even I was a little girl they kind of knew I was going to be a writer because I was always off in a corner with a book, and sort of in my own world of stories and make-believe and everything. So it's all I know how to do. I have no other skills.

KING: Because it is, someone described, a lonely profession.

DAVIS: See, it's not to me.

KING: You're alone with your...

DAVIS: You are. Except when you're writing fiction -- which this is not fiction. But, I mean, I just finished a novel I've been working on for many years. And it doesn't feel lonely to me at all. And even actually when I'm writing nonfiction because -- I mean, my last book "The Long Good-bye," I mean, I was writing about real people. But they live inside of you while you're writing them, while you're writing about them. So it doesn't ever feel lonely to me.

KING: Was, "In the Long Good-bye," was it harder because it was so close to home?

DAVIS: No, actually. I mean I began that book not realizing I was beginning a book. I began because I just needed to write about the extraordinary experience of losing a parent. And it happened to be from Alzheimer's, which makes it a particular kind of loss, because it is such a long good-bye.

KING: And he was not -- he had not departed when you began the book right?

DAVIS: No, he had just been diagnosed.

KING: So we held out that last chapter, right, until he passed away?

All right, this is a departure, "Two Cats and the Woman They Own." Why do people write about cats?

DAVIS: Well, did you know Cleveland Amory?

KING: I was just going to bring him up.

DAVIS: It was so funny because...

KING: Who hated cats until he found one.

DAVIS: I don't know if he hated cats.

KING: Well, he was a dog man.

DAVIS: Yes, he was a dog man.

KING: And he found this runaway stray cat.

DAVIS: Polar Bear, yes. I thought it today and I thought, I bet that Larry knew him.

KING: Oh, I knew him. I used to interview him.

DAVIS: Because I saw his -- I was sure that you probably had. I saw his book in my bookcase and I was thinking about his wonderful books that he had wrote about Polar Bear, you know.

And, I think, because our -- I mean, I really am an animal person. And I've always had animals. This is a first time that I've had cats.

I was adopted by Aretha, the first cat. And I think we do learn things from our animals. And this was particularly instructive to me because I'd always had dogs. And I didn't know how different cats are. And how they -- well, first of all, you have absolutely no control. I mean, you just, you have to just surrender to the experience.

KING: They run you?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes. And Aretha chose me. She adopted me. She made it very clear that she wanted me to be hers. And she lived next door, but she wasn't happy there, so she moved to me.

KING: Myth or fact, they are not affectionate?

DAVIS: Oh, no, they're very affectionate. Well, it depends on the cat, you know. Aretha is very dog-like and particularly when she was in the process of adopting me. She was -- every time I sat down, she was on my lap. If I was talking on the phone, she would talk in the phone, too. You know, she was curled around my neck. She was glued to me.

But, you know, I kind of got the idea for the book because each little vignette, each little chapter, has a life lesson at the end of it, which applies to life beyond life with animals. It really is sort of life lessons about love and about appreciating gifts that are brought to you, even if they are dead rodents.

You know, that can apply to people, not that people give you dead rodents hopefully. But oftentimes, people give you gifts that you don't really like. And it's important, I think, to remember that they really meant well.

So it's little things that I was learning along the way. And, I think, just as Cleveland Amory found out with his cat experience, it really is a whole other world.

KING: You keep saying adoption. And how did this adoption take place?

DAVIS: She just started following me around everywhere.

KING: Where was she at the time?

DAVIS: She lived next door. She lived next door and...

KING: Didn't the people want to keep her?

DAVIS: It was a man and he had owned her with his girlfriend, and they split up. So she was sort of left...

KING: Available?

DAVIS: She was available, well; he wasn't around a lot. He wasn't home a lot.

KING: So he gave her to you.

DAVIS: Ultimately. Well he didn't have any chance. She left. She came to me.

KING: Had you, before this, had any particular interest in cats?

DAVIS: I'm an animal person, so I love all animals. I knew dogs, I understood dogs and I planned to get another dog at some point. But, you know, I didn't not like cats. I just hadn't thought about getting a cat. And you know, as I said, it was a lot for -- it was a lot more me -- I mean, they do sort of, not only run your life, but they think they know how to run it.

I mean, Aretha, at one point, I'd been dating someone and we broke up. And she quite liked him. And she started -- I was living in Malibu when the adoption happened. And she started sitting out in the sand in front of the building and sidling up to surfers as they walked by. She was trying to find me somebody new. But not every surfer, only the cute ones.

KING: You're putting me on, right?

DAVIS: I am not putting you on. I am not putting you on. The guy was gone and she was out there -- am I allowed to say pimping for me?

KING: Yes. She was pimping.

DAVIS: I don't want nasty (ph).

KING: Who's the other cat?

DAVIS: Skeeter. I went to the pound to get Aretha a companion. And I went to the pound not really knowing anything, still, about cats. I adopted the most dysfunctional cat in the pound.

KING: Skeeter.

DAVIS: Skeeter, because she skeets away like a little cockroach.

KING: So it's two women? Two babes?

DAVIS: Two women, yes.

KING: How well do they get along?

DAVIS: They get along wonderfully.

KING: Aretha accepted Skeeter?

DAVIS: Not at first. No, it was high drama. It was high drama. There were a lot of calls to my brother, who -- I dedicate this book to him. He was...

KING: To Ron.

DAVIS: To Ron, yes. And who has had cats for many years? What do I do about this? Aretha is hissing at me and getting angry at me. And he tried to explain to me that they are drama queens. And I should stop being a drama queen. Just realize that everything works out in time. See another life lesson. Everything, in its own time, works out.

KING: My guest is...


I think she's losing it. Our guest is Patti Davis. The book is "Two Cats and the Woman They Own: Lessons I Learned From my Cats." Great illustrations, too. We'll be right back.


KING: Our guest is Patti Davis, always good to see her, terrific writer of the book "The Two Cats and the Women They Own."

Do you feel becoming one of those, that's the crazy lady with the cats. She lives on the corner. She's got seven of them.

DAVIS: No, because I'm never going to have seven of them. The store is closed in terms of that. No, the next edition is going to be -- I terribly miss having a dog.

KING: How did you decide to do this book as life lessons. I mean, how did that come about?

DAVIS: I think it came about at the beginning when Aretha adopted me. I know you think it's so funny that I keep saying that, but she did. Because it was a particularly desolate time in my life. My father was dying. My last dog I had to put down a couple of years before that.

And I knew it was going to get another animal, but it's so hard to lose a companion that you had. I mean, I've had her for ten years. And I think I was kind of avoiding getting another animal. Because if you love something, something or someone so much, then you also open yourself up to the possibility of hurting, if something happens.

So I was aware, when she came into my life, that something a little bit more profound was going on now than just, oh, I have a cat. It really was, no, your heart is close to love. You are supposed to take that risk and have that experience in your life.

I had this quote book where I'd jot things down. And I'd jotted down this quote of Pascal's which is, "if one hasn't loved too much, one hasn't loved enough." And I thought of that in relation to her. And that, that sort of started me on this little, you know, experimentation of writing these anecdotes and writing these little vignettes and then concluding each one with a life lesson. And then I decided, well, I should just do 12 of them. Because it's kind of a 12-step program or it's a calendar in the making or something like that, you know?

KING: You're not losing it, are you, Patti?

DAVIS: No, I'm really not. I'm really not. You're just not keeping up with me.

KING: No, I'm right with you. Is Aretha so important? She's more important than the other one, right?

DAVIS: She's not more important. No, she's not more important. She's just...

KING: Been with you more.

DAVIS: She's been with me more and Skeeter is a little tweaked.

KING: Bats in the belfry?

DAVIS: She's a little odd, a little dysfunctional.

KING: Supposing you met a guy you liked.


KING: Really liked.

And Aretha didn't like him. How would that affect you?

DAVIS: Oh, well, I think that she would -- I thought you were going to say something different actually.

KING: What did you think of?

DAVIS: I thought you were say what if you really liked a guy and he didn't like your cats? And I thought, well, I wouldn't like him.

KING: That would be automatic. He would have no chance.

DAVIS: No. I wouldn't like someone who didn't...

KING: If someone took you out on a dinner and said, you know, I hate cats. It's good-bye.


KING: OK. But what about the reverse?

DAVIS: Yes. The reverse? Well, Aretha is just not going to like anybody at first, you know. She takes some time to warm up, particularly to men. She does have some man -- she comes around eventually, you know.

KING: Is she cuddly?

DAVIS: Um-hum, um-hum.

KING: Sleep with you?

DAVIS: They both do, which is another thing that you really have to learn with cats, you do not own the bed. I don't quite know how two small animals can take up so much room in the bed, but you don't own the bed.

KING: Why do you let them control you?

DAVIS: Because they do. Because you can't argue with a cat.

KING: Does your mother like them?

DAVIS: She likes -- well, she's not met Skeeter because Skeeter hides under the bed when anybody else comes. But, yes, she likes Aretha. Aretha has sat on her lap and befriended her.

KING: What's the most surprising thing -- you weren't a cat owner before this?


KING: Surprising thing about them? That you didn't know?

DAVIS: That they're smarter than I am.


KING: Meaning?

DAVIS: Meaning that they figure things out, you know, that I don't know how they -- I don't know how they -- I think it's probably just sort of that intuition that animals have.

The last week of my father's life, when we knew he was dying, and I would wake up in the morning and Aretha had put toys on the bed around me. It's the only time she's ever that.

KING: So they know almost, right?

DAVIS: Well, she knew something was going on. And she knew something was wrong. It's the only time she's only done that. I'd wake up and I'd have these, like, toy mice around me.

KING: Do they ever scratch you?

DAVIS: Sometimes. If you want to take them to the vet or something.

KING: You get mad at them?


KING: You don't get mad?

DAVIS: No. I'd get mad at you, if you scratched me.

KING: You look like your mother when you do that. Give me some life lessons we've learned from this epic.

DAVIS: Well, the gift one was, you know, that was a big one.

KING: Big?


KING: I agree.

DAVIS: Well, I think that's something that you can take into your life.

You know what? It's little kindnesses that we forget to give one another as human beings, or acceptances of another's behavior, you know.

Skeeter, when I lived in Malibu, had a boyfriend cat down the beach. And she would go and she'd get him at his house. And she would bring him home. And his irresponsible owner had never neutered him, so he would spray sometimes in my apartment, which is horrible, if you've never smelled -- it's awful. But she loved him, you know.

You know, I'm sure that your kids, if they don't now, they're going to have friends at some point that you don't like.

KING: I'm sure.

DAVIS: And it's just you have to accept that, you know, you're not going to like...

KING: You have no choice.

DAVIS: You have no choice, you know.

KING: We'll be back with Patti Davis. The book is "Two Cats and the Woman They Own." Aptly titled. Don't go away.


KING: For those of you in the Los Angeles area, Patti Davis will be signing her books at Dutton's. Where?

DAVIS: Brentwood.

KING: On May 11th.

DAVIS: At 7:00 in the evening.

KING: On May 11th, signing the book, "Two Cats and the Woman They Own." Couple other things, what's the novel?

DAVIS: The novel is called "Till Human Voices Wake Us," which is one of the last lines of a T.S. Elliott poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and it is essentially the story of, a love story between two women.

OK, we changed from the cats now. That's at the heart of it, one of the women, it's written in first person by one of the women and she has lost a child, a young child in a swimming pool accident. One of the things I think that drives the story mostly is her desire to find out who is responsible. Somebody was responsible.

KING: That's not a life experience for you.

DAVIS: The women or the drowning? No.

KING: How do you relate to it?

DAVIS: I don't think it's difficult to understand love, you know, and I'm kind of fascinated by love that comes along unexpectedly, whether it's someone who physically you would think you would never be attracted to or even more complicated things that are inconvenient, maybe, in terms of society, it could be racial, religious.

I have known women who were not gay, who never had any experiences with another woman who fell in love, I mean literally their entire soul fell in love with another human being and it happened to be a woman. I don't think that happens to men as much as women.

KING: When is it coming?

DAVIS: Good question. I don't know. I'm hoping it will be with Knopff. I want to work with Vicki Wilson again there.

KING: You will come back of course.

DAVIS: Yes I will.

KING: The book is "Two Cats and the Woman They Own." Patti Davis is the author of the book. The illustrations by are by Ward Shoemaker. In the L.A. area, she'll be signing books 7:00 p.m. on May 11th at Dutton's in Brentwood.

When we come back Rich Cohen and the terrific new book "Sweet and Low." Don't go away.


KING: He's on old friend, I went to his Bar Mitzvah. His father and I grew up together. He's a terrific writer. Rich Cohen wrote the great book, "Tough Jews," contributing editor at "Rolling Stone." His new book is "Sweet and Low," maybe the best reviewed book of the year. Were you shocked at what they were comparing you, Phillip Roth, were you shocked?

RICH COHEN, AUTHOR, "SWEET & LOW": I was happy. Made me feel good.

KING: This involved your own family.

COHEN: Right.

KING: Grandparents, mother being cut out of the will.

COHEN: Disinherited. KING: Why'd you write that?

COHEN: First of all my Grandpa Ben, amazing guy, the little pink packets you see in restaurants. He invented not only Sweet and' Low, but the sugar packet and he started as a guy as a counter at a diner who had an idea and the idea sort of changed the world.

He was amazing because it started so great with this invention and this sort of eccentric American fortune in Brooklyn. I wanted to call this book a Brooklyn Gothic or Sweet and Lowenstein. It turned into this huge fortune and ends up in this tragedy. Goes off the rails and winds up with my Grandma Betty, who sort of went by a parenting style I call 'love is finite', disinheriting my mother, my brother, my sister and I.

In the will is said 'To Ellen and her issue, I leave nothing.' That means I'm issue, something the doctor talks about. I sort of felt it was an amazing story but what happened, I realized to be disinherited it to be set free. You're kicked out of the club. I'm going to teach everybody the secret handshake.

KING: None of you were poor.

COHEN: We were very well taken care of by my father and mother and went to school and everything else. You got to get around to people it's not really about the money. It's about I'm somebody who likes stories.

KING: It's a great read and anyone watching ought to read this book but it involves the Mafia.


KING: Gangsters, jail time, your uncle.


KING: Who becomes crazed. What did he do to the business.

COHEN: Well my uncle is the son of the patriarch, and it's the problem, how does a rich man raise a son which isn't a rich man's son. It's the oldest problem in the world. It's biblical.

I think my uncle, Marvin who is a brilliant guy in many ways, and really helped invent this whole thing and build this company is also somebody who became focused on preserving what he had and there was a certain problem where the business got in trouble with the saccharine ban, maybe you heard 14 rats got bladder tumors. Fourteen rats get cancer, everything changes.

KING: Rats got cancer.

COHEN: Fourteen rats got cancer, nothing would be the same. Ultimately, he hired people to help him politically, now you have to deal with congress and other problems, and these people, and it's unclear what exactly happened, but they sort of pillaged the company, used the company to build their own houses, became associated with sort of very bad element and it wound out as a huge story in The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal and ultimately my uncle who now is the son of the patriarch winds of confessing to the crimes and cooperating with the government to keep himself --

KING: They didn't have to do any of this. They had a pretty successful company. Why did he meet all of this intrigue?

COHEN: Why do people do the crazy things they do? Every family is dysfunctional but you inject money and you get true craziness.

KING: Your Aunt Betty...

COHEN: No, my Aunt Gladys.

KING: Gladys, who has never left the house.

COHEN: She didn't leave the house, as far as I can tell, from the Nixon administration, up until Betty's death in 2001, post September 11, and...

LARRY KING, HOST: Just stayed in the house. What is that called?

COHEN: I think it's called - I don't know - I think it's called agoraphobia, or "crazy," I'm not sure which.

My brother-in-law would always say -- because my brother-in-law is new to the family -- "You mean your aunt stays in the house, sometimes she goes to the store?" I'd say, "No, no, I mean she stays in her room, and sometimes she goes to the bathroom." I mean, that's kind of the level that we're talking about.

KING: And now all this surrounds one of the most successful companies that your grandfather started. He was kind of a genius - I had the pleasure of knowing him.

COHEN: Yeah.

KING: Sweet 'n Low.

COHEN: Right.

KING: Did he name it?

COHEN: It was named by him after his - a song based on a Tennyson poem, "Sweet and Low." Everything is perfect -- it's like this is what you get when you really study a story.

Artificial sweetener - that's what the family kind of became about. The big problem with Sweet 'n Low was aftertaste, bad aftertaste - sweet at the beginning, bitter at the end. And that was like Betty's life to me - "To Ellen and her issue, I leave nothing." And it's like, you peel away the packet and underneath you have this whole story of craziness and intrigue and everything else, and it's really the American story. KING: Now Sweet 'n Low -- which was dominant, right? - while it still makes a lot of money, is third.

COHEN: Smaller piece of a bigger pie. And what happened is, while they were so focused on saving saccharine from those rats, who came in? Equal came in. G.D. Searle came in, and they hired Donald Rumsfeld, who came in, helped run the company and got aspartame, which had always been rejected by the FDA, onto the market.

Aspartame is brilliant. They had this swirl logo. They made a deal with Coke and Pepsi - let us put our logo on your bottle and we'll give you it much cheaper, and all of a sudden they just surrounded and took over, and then you get Splenda - "tastes like sugar 'cause it's made from sugar." The original problem had been too much sugar - well, this to the sugar molecule changed and solved. So now you eat it, it tastes like sugar, your body doesn't recognize it as sugar -- it's like that cake never happened. You just dreamt it and never ate it.

KING: Why were there always these rumors about each of these products - "That's bad for you"?

COHEN: Right.

KING: "That will kill you."

COHEN: Because it's not real, it's fake, and everyone is suspicious of fake food. The thing that I realized, when you study this stuff, is if you drink six cans of Diet Coke, it takes six seconds off your life. If you drink six cans of sugar, it takes six seconds off your life. You realize, it took probably six seconds to drink those six cans. So basically, living is using up your time.

KING: How big an industry is it, total?

COHEN: It's a huge industry. I mean, these are the products that defeated sugar. You realize that everything in the Western world -- the slave trade, the Caribbean, Brooklyn - it all was because of sugar, right? Brooklyn was the world's largest sugar refiner. Now sugar has, like, lost its market to all these fake things that have no value.

KING: I don't see people use sugar.

COHEN: They don't use sugar anymore.

KING: It's in the packet, and it's there...

COHEN: Look at it this way - it started with Grandpa Ben taking the old saccharine tablets, which used to exist before Sweet 'n Low, crumbling them up and spreading them on his grapefruit so they would be like sugar because he was on a diet -- because no one in my family really likes who they are. So he was trying to change who he was, and it winds up with the destruction of sugar.

KING: It's a great book. The book is "Sweet and Low," the author Rich Cohen. We'll be right back.


KING: Our guest is Rich Cohen. "Sweet and Low" would make a hell of a movie, by the way.

COHEN: I think so. It's like "Citizen Kane" or something like that.

KING: You liked Ben, didn't you?

COHEN: I loved Ben. That's the weird thing.

I grew up I the Midwest. I did not grow up basting in Brooklyn, like everybody in your generation that I know. I grew up out in the prairies and the plains, and I did not come to this story with any kind of anger, even though I had been disinherited.

I came with it with sort of a "gee whiz" sense of "Look at this factory, look at these machines, and look at what this guy did." And I wanted to write about it, and then I went and I interviewed my uncle and I interviewed my aunt, and I talked to all these people and then I started seeing what was underneath it, and over time I started to get angry about it because I felt like I had been cut out of it.

And there was a thing, actually -- or my grandmother was questioned -- as she's disinheriting us, a lawyer under oath says to her, "Are you sure you want to leave your grandchildren no legacy?" And I really think about this because I now have little kids, and what does it mean? What is the legacy? And she said, yes, she wants to leave them no legacy, and what I realized working on this is, she did leave us a legacy. That's the legacy. It's the legacy of no legacy. As far as telling the story, it's like, you cut somebody out, you set them free, you know, and that's how...

KING: Why did they cooperate? Why did they agree to be interviewed?

COHEN: I think because they sensed that I wanted to know the real story, and I wanted to do it fairly. It didn't mean they weren't suspicious. I have a thing where my Uncle Marvin asked me to proofread everything I wrote. I said no.

He thought maybe that he would tell me his story, and the truth is, probably he's more sympathetic as a character in the book than if he hadn't talked to me because there are a lot of very sympathetic things about him, and he was, and is, a very great man in many ways. That's what I think is good about the book. It's like real people - they're flawed.

KING: How'd they come up with pink?

COHEN: Pink? Now that's interesting. Now the whole story of this product is based in legend and lore. Pink, they said, because pink would stand out in the sugar bowl. There was white, and there was pink. Now my Uncle Marvin later told me that he entertained and rejected blue because blue does not occur in nature. Now I always thought that was him criticizing Equal because blueberries, sky - there's lots of things.

KING: No kidding. He was criticizing Equal.

COHEN: I think so, but, like, 30 years after the fact.

KING: Did Domino's Sugar steal the packet?

COHEN: That's the story I heard. Ben originally wanted to packet tea because he worked in the teabag factory. His diner was across from Brooklyn Navy Yard. He lost all his business after the war ended, so he wanted to pack tea. Nobody bought his tea.

Grandma Betty had the idea, while they're sitting in cookies in Midwood, of trying to get the sugar to pour, and it won't come out, why not pack sugar? And he re-converted his machine, and he went down the street to Domino's Sugar, is how I always heard the story, and he gave them the idea and they said, "Great idea - you got a patent?" "No." "Great idea."

And they built their own machines, so he wound up packing some sugar for small companies and other things. He packed soy sauce, duck sauce, and sea monkeys, which some people don't know what it is - but these little animals you order out of the back of comic books - until about 10 years later they had the idea of fake sugar, or saccharine that behaved like sugar, and he plugged into the zeitgeist,t and kaboom.

KING: Could there be a Ben today? Could a young man be a Ben today?

COHEN: Absolutely. I mean, it's just got to be the right industry.

Ben was a guy who went to law school, my grandfather, and there was no work for him because it was the Depression. He got married, he went to work in his grandparents' diner. He was a counterman, and then he winds up stumbling upon this thing that changes the world. It's the American Dream. I'm sure now sort of in the Internet, and in various other things, people are doing the same things. But definitely it's true that things become big business, and it's hard for a guy like that.

KING: I don't know how you're going to top it, Rich. It's a great book.

COHEN: Thanks.

KING: Rich Cohen. He earlier wrote, "Tough Jews." He's contributing editor at "Rolling Stone," and his new book is "Sweet and Low," a terrific read.

When we come back, an old and dear friend, Nancy Davis. She's very, very involved with the study of and, hopefully, the defeat of multiple sclerosis - has new book dealing with it called "Lean On Me." We'll be right back.


KING: Old friend joins us now - Nancy Davis, founder of the Center Without Walls, a national medical research foundation. She's director of the Race to Erase MS. Her new book is "Lean On Me" - there you see its cover - 10 Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life." What's the Center Without Walls?

NANCY DAVIS, AUTHOR, "LEAN ON ME": The Center Without Walls is a group of seven arguably the best MS doctors in our country who work as a team. They come together monthly. They report on all results, both good and bad, in medical research, with the idea of hoping to come up with a cure much quicker.

Ninety percent of every medical study ends up with a negative result. Doctors don't always report that. Only 30 percent of good research are being studied. This is a way of bringing the best doctors together, reporting everything good and bad, so that they don't duplicate but they constantly communicate.

KING: You don't - you have never looked sick. I know you have multiple sclerosis, but how does it affect you?

DAVIS: When I was first diagnosed 14 years ago, they told me that my life was over as I knew it, that I should go home and go to bed and that I would never walk again, that I could look forward to only operating the remote control on my TV set.

Thank God I got second opinions and went out there and really did all the research in the world I could. I have had many different symptoms throughout the years. Right now I feel very empowered, and I'm feeling so great. I wish so badly that I could have bought the book "Lean On Me" 14 years ago when I was diagnosed because I was absolutely terrified.

KING: How have you done it? Medication?

DAVIS: I think a lot of it is your attitude. A lot of it is getting second opinions. Only 24 percent of people ever get a second opinion.

No matter who you are, at some point in your life you or your loved one will be diagnosed with a life-altering disease, and your world falls apart. Some people are terrified to hurt their doctor's feelings and get a second opinion. Any second opinion on any disease, you will get a different opinion because every doctor has different experiences. Sometimes they're influenced by different levels of education they have, but you owe it to yourself to really go out there.

KING: A friend of mine has multiple sclerosis - you know him well - Mark Barentas (ph). His No. 1 problem is depression. Did you have that? DAVIS: A lot of the MS drugs make people depressed. Losing your ability to walk and have your freedom makes people depressed. Having an illness makes people depressed. I think the people who do really well with any disease - and "Lean On Me" is about every disease - people who have bad attitudes do badly. People with really great attitudes, who are really positive, who want to really live their life and who are too busy, do very well in light of horrible diseases.

KING: Your introduction is titled, "You're Lucky," meaning?

DAVIS: The doctor, when he first diagnosed me with MS, was pointing around the room to all these MRI's and showing me all these spots on my brain and spinal column, and he said, "Now I want to tell you, Nancy, you're lucky," and I thought, "Whoa, how am I lucky?" He said, "You're lucky because you don't have a brain tumor."

I thought it was very cruel to tell me I was lucky to have MS because it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. It just turned my whole life upside down. Today I realize I, in fact, am so lucky. I'm probably the luckiest person living with multiple sclerosis. I have five kids now. I'm healthy, I'm living my life, I wrote a book, I'm able to run a foundation and help other people.

KING: You gave birth with it, right?

DAVIS: I did. I have 1-and-a-half-year-old twins, which everybody thinks is a medical miracle, too. I'm able to live a life. I don't think I would have been challenged to live the life I'm living now had I not been diagnosed with MS and faced the fear of losing my independence.

KING: You write about finding "Dr. Right." Isn't that hard? How do you know?

DAVIS: You don't know, but sometimes you have to listen to your gut instinct. You should never get only one opinion. If you go to a doctor and he resents you going to get another doctor's opinion, you should run out the door.

Different doctors have different levels of education. You should have positive doctors, doctors you can get a hold of, that you can talk to, that you understand. If a doctor is constantly speaking, you know, in Italian, Latin terms or something you don't understand, you have the right to make him explain it to you. Patients who go in and go in with lists and are really prepared for doctors, doctors respect you very much. You can get more out of your medical care. You should never be intimidated from your doctor.

KING: You write about giving back.

DAVIS: I think the greatest thing that I have done in my life, that probably makes me not be depressed and makes me feel so good, is every year after we do our event, I get these amazing letters from so many people whose lives we have in fact really helped and changed, and there is no greater high than when you know that you give back. I think the whole thing comes full circle, and it's so rewarding. It's so rewarding for everybody to teach their kids to give back. In whatever level that you can give back to any kind of charity, your life will change for the better.

KING: Did you start the Race to Erase MS?

DAVIS: I did. I started the Race to Erase MS 13 years ago. On May 12 we have our 13th annual Race to Erase MS.

It was something that was so important to me to do because I didn't like what existed at the time, and I knew that there was no known cause, no cure, no drugs on the market to help stop the progression of MS. I thought if we put seven of arguably the best centers together to work as a team, to never duplicate but constantly communicate, we in fact would come up with a cure a lot quicker.

Today there's not a cure yet, but there are five drugs on the market with FDA approval, so many more things coming through the pipeline. For the person being diagnosed with MS today, the future is so much brighter.

KING: You optimistic?

DAVIS: I am totally optimistic. I think life is the most precious thing we have. Our health is so precious. So many people take it for granted, and "Lean On Me" - it's about empowering everybody to know before you have one of these life-altering diseases come into your life, either affecting you or somebody you love, to own it, to empower yourself, to be smart, to know how to navigate the health care waters and to live the life that you deserve.

You're not going to get better by accident. You get better because you plan it. "Lean On Me" really takes all those steps apart to teach you how to make lists, how to deal with each one of the emotions that you are going to come in contact with, and no matter if you're a very young person or very old person, this will happen during your life.

KING: "10 Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life." When is the Race to Erase MS night?

DAVIS: May the 12th.

KING: I'll be there.

DAVIS: Okay.

KING: It's a great event. You pack 'em in. Thanks, Nancy.

DAVIS: Thank you so much.

KING: Nancy Davis - the book is "Lean On Me." She's the founder of the Center Without Walls. We'll be right back with Ira Berkow. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Ira Berkow is one of my favorite writers. Written for The New York Times for more than 20 years, shared a Pulitzer Prize, published "The Minority Quarterback" author of more than a dozen books including the best seller "Red," a biography of Red Smith, and "Maxwell Street, Survival in a Bizarre."

He joins us now to discuss his new book, "Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life." Why now? why this kind of autobiography, Ira?

IRA BERKOW, NEW YORK TIMES SPORTS COLUMNIST: Well, when I turned 65 a year ago I thought that my life had been interesting and that I met a lot of interesting people. They taught me a great deal. I haven't learned too much. They were trying to teach me.

Starting with my father and going on to people I've interviewed as you have, and spent time with, great athletes from Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays in baseball to Chief Justice Warren, Groucho Marks, John Wayne.

I thought what I learned from all of these people, the insights I got would be interesting, especially from a guy who grew up on the West Side of Chicago, a kind of a street kid, and not having a great deal of direction growing up and finding writing when I was in college at Miami of Ohio.

I just thought looking back on all of this, at age 65 it's probably a good time to do it.

KING: You were such a terrific writer, anyone would say that, you could write about anything. Why sports?

BERKOW: Well, I played sports. I like sports. I was a great fan, as I know you are, and have been. But when I -- I went to Northwestern's Medille Graduate School of Journalism and I wanted to write. I wasn't quite sure what kind of writing I wanted to do and when I graduated I wrote away to about 25 newspapers for general reporting.

So I just thought I'll just get experiences and that eventually will lead to some kind of writing, novels, nonfiction, long nonfiction. I wasn't sure. I just wanted to -- I'd been told I had some ability, it's one of the few things I was good at. I can't fix a flat tire. I wasn't going to be a plumber and so, but it seemed that writing, I had some ability at this so I was going to pursue it.

I wrote away to 25 newspapers asking for a general writing job and all of them said no, but they'll keep me on file. I was growing up in Chicago, The Los Angeles Times for the editor there said if you're in the neighborhood, drop by, we'd like to talk to you. But the Minneapolis Tribune eventually contacted me and said we have an opening in sports and that was the beginning of it and so far that's the end of it.

KING: No regrets at all. No saying to yourself, I know I've touched other subjects. Maybe I could have written the great novel. BERKOW: Herman Melville wrote the great novel and I knew nothing about whaling. I thought about novels and I tried short stores. I had a short story published at 17 but it just wasn't all together for me and I really liked nonfiction, and I liked writing about people in all walks of life.

It's the same kind of thing you do, Larry in the interviewing, you know, such a wide range of people and it's just fun to be able to express what they're saying and create moods and scenes, you know, the kind of thing that great nonfiction writers do, which I still aspire to, like someone like Gates Elise (ph) and my mentor and great hero growing up was Red Smith.

KING: You write athletics in the purest sense offer an oasis from the humdrum and all sports writers routinely deal in miracles.

BERKOW: Well, we do. You know, when you -- someone has seen a game and said oh, my God, unbelievable catch. What an incredible run, what a fantastic this or that, you know, I mean, and so, you know, and it's so -- it is so uplifting.

You know, we have now the steroid business and all, which kind of brings things down a little bit, but on the other hand, Barry Bonds comes up and hits a home run and it's still exciting. He's 41 years old. I have to feel he's off steroids right now and it's still amazing that here's another one of those words that we use. And so yes, it is uplifting and fun and exciting.

KING: Of all the athletes, Muhammad Ali is your stickout, why?

BERKOW: Muhammad Ali is one of the stickouts. I mean, he had such vitality, and you know, you had to love people who, when you asked them one question they fill up your notebook. Casey Stengle was like that. Ali was like that. Pete Rose is like that. Arthur Ashe was like that in a different sense. You had to love Ali and his sense of humor.

One of my favorite stories about Ali, when Angelo Dundee, his trainer, who I know you know, got on an airplane, the two of them got on an airplane and the stewardess said to Ali, Mr. Ali, you have to fasten your seat belt and he said, "Superman don't need no seat belt." And she said, "Superman don't need no airplane either."

So I mean, you had to love that kind of thing.

KING: The affection for the late Red smith, you wrote a great book about him. I have one of the honors of my life knowing him a little. What was his greatness?

BERKOW: Red was smart and he had a huge talent. Of two greatest sports writers probably well, as good as anyone, were Jimmy Cannon in New York, and Red Smith, both writing in New York in the '40s and '50s and '60s and 70's. But Red also had great insights, a headline in a review of my book in The St. Louis Post Dispatch said, about Red Smith, the Shakespeare of the press pox. I have to think that was really on target and he was the Shakespeare of the press box. KING: Well said. We're out of time. You're in his league.

BERKOW: Well, thank you, Larry, I appreciate that.

KING: Ira Berkow. What a writer. "Full Swing: Hits, Runs and Errors in a Writer's Life." Published by Ivanor D. Ira Berkow, one of the best.

Thanks to all of our guests tonight and four terrific books and right now we'll be back with you live on Monday night. Stay tuned for "CNN SATURDAY NIGHT."


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