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Interview With Tara Conner

Aired February 5, 2007 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Miss. USA, Tara Conner -- out of rehab and coming clean after the wild partying that made scandalous national headlines.

TARA CONNER, MISS. USA: We all have personal demons that we have to face at some point.


KING: After the dramatic press conference where Donald Trump saved her crown...


CONNER: And you will never know how much I appreciate Mr. Trump for saving me on this one.


KING: And now, fresh from rehab, Miss. USA, Tara Conner talks about her battles with drugs and drinking, about her recovery and about her future.

Miss. USA, Tara Conner, is next on LARRY KING LIVE.

A great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE -- a great way to kick off the week, too, Tara Conner.

She is Miss. USA. You know her well. Nearly lost her crown due a scandal and substance abuse, but pageant co-owner, our good friend, Donald Trump, gave her a second chance and look how great she looks tonight.

And it's great to have her with us.

What -- where did you win Miss. USA?

CONNER: I won Miss. USA in Baltimore, Maryland.

KING: Why did you enter?

CONNER: Miss. USA was something I had wanted to try to do since I was probably 13. So it was always one of my biggest dreams and goals. So I figured I'd chase it and luckily I got it.

KING: Did you try Miss. America, too?


KING: A difference between the two.

CONNER: There's a big difference between the two, yes.

KING: Miss. USA is a prelude to Miss. Universe, right?

CONNER: Yes. It is.

KING: Now, is there a Miss. Universe coming or have you already been in that?

CONNER: I competed for Miss. Universe on July 23rd in Los Angeles and I got fourth runner-up.

KING: Nice.

Why do you enter these things?

CONNER: For me, it's the competitive nature to it. You know, it's the -- it's a bit of competition between girls and it gives you a chance to dress up and look like a princess for a day. You know, it's every girl's fun, fun time to do. And for me, it was just a great experience all the way around.

KING: And what were your career goals?

CONNER: I wanted to get into hosting and acting.

KING: So that -- that was a good pave the way for it?

CONNER: Yes, yes.

KING: Were you surprised when you won?

CONNER: I was shocked when I won, absolutely. I went into a state of shock. I mean I didn't even realize it until the next morning.

KING: So you don't -- you don't look at the other girls and say I'm going to win?

CONNER: No. No, no, no. If anything, I was always the girl in the background making jokes and having a good time, because regardless if you win or not, you're still there to enjoy the experience. And if you go in with an open mind and you can make the best of the situation, you can walk away a winner either way.

KING: All right, let's look at a historic day in your life, a dramatic December news conference orchestrated by "The Donald."

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PRESS CONFERENCE, DECEMBER 19,2006) DONALD TRUMP: I've always been a believer in second chances. I've always been. Tara is a good person. Tara has tried hard. Tara is going to be given a second chance.

CONNER: And you will never know how much I appreciate Mr. Trump for saving me on this one.


KING: Did you know he was going to save you?

CONNER: No. I figured he was going to fire me point blank, period.

KING: He said nothing before it? Did you know...

CONNER: We had a chat. We had a sit-down chat before the press conference, and it was basically giving me a chance to let him know how I felt about everything and what was going on. And, you know, I think he saw how passionate I was about my job and, you know, how willing I was to make a turnaround on this and to make a bit of a change.

And -- and supported me 100 percent of the way. And he really did save my life on this one.

KING: What was going on in your head during the conference?

CONNER: Oh, gosh, a lot of relief, because I knew that I had my job. But in the same sense, there was a lot of fear, because I knew that I would be under scrutiny for a while. And I knew that there was a chance I would be going to rehab. And I was scared to death. I was absolutely scared to death. I was all over the place.

KING: Of course, you could have said good-bye.

CONNER: Yes, but, you know, for me, at that point, I felt that if I were able to keep things in check and if I were also to listen to what people were telling me -- because that was something I was never able to do before. If someone would criticize me or tell me their opinion, I would let it go through one ear and out the other and I never accepted help.

And I think at that point in my life, I was just really ready to be pulled down.

KING: So you're saying that was good for you?

CONNER: It was very good for me.

KING: Sometimes bad things can turn into good things.

CONNER: Sometimes we have to hit our rock bottom before we can work our way back up.

KING: Were you sober at the news conference? CONNER: I was sober at the news conference -- yes.

KING: What happened? This whole thing -- take me back to the beginning of where you got -- the "New York Post" wrote the story, right? Then who broke it about you?

CONNER: I'm not sure who, but I know that there was a -- there was a gossip blog or something on the Internet that leaked some kind of story about me possibly losing my job. It was 7:30 in the morning and by the end of the day it was all over the place.

So over -- over the course of not even 24 hours, my entire life was plastered all over the place. And, you know, once you start seeing yourself and you start hearing what people are writing about you, some of it is completely false. But then again, a lot of it's true.

So I was forced to take a look at myself, which was a very hard thing to do for me.

KING: I'm told it was


KING: But once it's printed anywhere, it's printed everywhere.

CONNER: Right.

KING: Were you shocked that it got leaked?

CONNER: I was -- I'm never shocked about anything anymore because so many strange things have happened over the past little bit. Right now I'm just -- now I'm just pretty accepting about whatever comes my way, because I know that everything happens for a reason.

KING: But -- so you weren't that shocked?

CONNER: No I wasn't that shocked.

KING: What went wrong in New York?

By the way, were you having problems before Miss. USA?

CONNER: Yes. I would never say that, you know, it happened while in New York. I would say -- I started having dependency issues with alcoholism and addiction when I was 14 years old so...

KING: In Kentucky?

CONNER: In Kentucky, so...

KING: Going to high school?

CONNER: Um-hmm.

So I came into New York, you know, I was on a temporary high because I had just won Miss. USA. My biggest dream, you know, came true. So after that high went down, I started working. I, you know, I felt very lonely. I never opened up to anyone. And when I was exhausted, I would never ask for help or when I just couldn't seem to be on track and I knew something wasn't right with me, I never reached out.

Instead, I would, you know, fill my void with drugs and alcohol, which was, of course, the wrong thing to do. But I didn't realize I was doing this because I suffered from the disease of alcoholism addiction.

KING: What came first, alcohol or drugs?

CONNER: Alcohol. My disease progressed from alcohol into drugs. So, it was -- my disease goes in a cycle. I would always -- I started out with alcohol and then when I would get in trouble for one thing, I would stop for a while and think well, you know, I've stopped for a while, no one is going to know. And then I would do something big or I would try to make this huge success in another -- in another area -- so it would balance out my scale.

And eventually, you know, I could stop and not use for a year, two years or for months, you know, at a time. But then I would always start right back up.

KING: Having spoken and interviewed many, many addicts, no one is able to tell me -- or have been -- why.

Why did you take drugs?

CONNER: With alcoholism addiction, you don't know why. It's something that is -- it's a void that you feel like you have to fill. There's an emptiness that we alcoholics and addicts have. And by filling it with drugs and alcohol, it can numb away all the pain and all of the -- all the suffering we've ever been through. And although it's destroying us and tearing us apart, for that temporary little bit, you feel so much better. And eventually you never feel better. Nothing ever feels good. You're never able to hit that first high and it starts to destroy your life.

KING: Does it lead you to wilder things, sexual things?

CONNER: It can distort your thinking. Alcoholism and addiction attacks the brain. And anytime that you put an -- alcohol or a drug, you'll have an allergic reaction. I've said this before, you're going to wind up in handcuffs, an institution or in jail. And -- or debt. So it's...

KING: Yes. You could wind up dead.

CONNER: Yes, you could wind up dead. And that's not a route that I would want to take. But...

KING: What about your parents? Did they know about this?

CONNER: I think my parents -- they knew that I had -- I had drank a couple of times and they knew -- they knew that something wasn't quite right with me, but I was always very good at manipulating and justifying situations, and I would minimize, you know, my alcohol consumption and they were -- they were shocked when they had to sit down with me in rehab. And I just came right out and told them look, I'm an alcoholic and an addict and I've done this and...

KING: Addicts know how to lie?

CONNER: We're very -- well, it's funny, when you're in an act of addiction, everything out of an alcoholic or an addict's month is a lie.

KING: We're back with Tara Conner, a gutsy girl.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the moment we've all been waiting for. And the first runner-up is California.

And so Miss. USA 2006 is Kentucky.




CONNER: And I guess one of the good things about having some kind of little troubles here and there is you're able to reach out to far more people. And I'm willing to do whatever it takes. It's not only given a chance to have the time to better myself, but to better me as Miss. USA.


KING: By the way, how old are you?

CONNER: I'm 21.

KING: You're a child.

CONNER: No, I'm not.

KING: What a muddle (ph).

CONNER: I'm a young adult. I wouldn't say that I'm a child.

KING: Yes.

What a life for 21, though.

CONNER: Yes. Yes.

KING: I have ties older than you. We have an e-mail question, a tough question, a statement from Sarah in Boca Raton, Florida.


KING: "Why didn't you resign? You should have done the honorable thing and resigned to seek treatment and move on with your life instead of tarnishing the reputation of the Miss. USA pageant."

CONNER: I didn't resign from the title only because -- I didn't resign from the title to go get treatment. If it wasn't for having the title and if it wasn't for Donald Trump making me go, basically, it was either that or just go on my own. I would still be using right now, you know?

KING: You would?

CONNER: You know, if it wasn't for the fact that I went to rehab...

KING: So if you would have walked away...

CONNER: If I would have walked away, I would be in much worse shape than I am right now. So I don't think that I'm -- yes, I've tarnished my crown. I wouldn't say that I've tarnished the -- the Miss. Universe organization for the rest of time, you know, for the rest of the time that they're going to have other girls come in.

But if anything, I think that I've shown that pageant girls aren't perfect, you know?

I have never claimed to be perfect. I have never claimed that I have had an issue here or there. And there are so many people out there that have a really, really hard time reaching out and asking people for help, because they see images of perfection -- the way they typically view beauty queens -- and they think that they could never do that, only for the fact that they have this little secret that they keep.

But there's a lack of education when it comes to alcoholism and addiction. And, you know, I mean I champion breast and ovarian cancer awareness. But now I can -- I have a different voice. There's other things that I can reach out to.

And I think that opens up a much bigger audience for people to look up to me. I mean I'm not saying to look up to me because I have made mistakes in my past. But today I'm trying to live a clean and sober life.

KING: When people go to rehab -- and we'll find out what that was like for you in a while -- they have to want to go.

CONNER: Exactly.

KING: Did you want to go or were you forced to go? CONNER: I wanted to go. You know, at the time, it was kind of -- I would say at the very beginning, it was a force thing, but they didn't force me because they said it's either this or you, you know, or this.

As I said, well, I'll take rehab. And I even think I made the comment I'll take any free therapy that I can get, which was ridiculous.

But going into it, you know, I went in with open arms. I knew that I had hit my bottom. I saw every bad thing that you could see on me and that I could see in myself written in front of me.

And so it's kind of hard not to take a look at that and say, you know, there's obviously something not right here with me, you know?

And I -- everyone had turned their back against me, even the people I worked with. Everyone in the Miss. USA organization had basically washed their hands. And the only person that didn't wash their hands of me was Mr. Trump.

So now I can tell you, coming out of rehab, I have a very, very big support system through them. And, you know, I -- things can change. People can change.

KING: How wild were you living in New York?

CONNER: It doesn't matter how...

KING: They painted it as very wild.

CONNER: They painted it as very wild. But, again, everything can be sensationalized. I will not say that I didn't have a couple of wild nights, because there was definitely some nights that were more wild than others.

KING: But I mean it could have been really embarrassing to Miss. USA, right? If Trump had taken another viewpoint, he could have well said...

CONNER: Oh, yes.

KING: ... you've embarrassed us?

CONNER: Yes. He could have said you've embarrassed. But, you know, he's dealt with alcoholism before and he saw something in me that no one else really could see. And he was able to call me out on my B.S.

KING: Now, your situation sparked a huge war of words, as you know, between Donald and Rosie O'Donnell after O'Donnell made some comments on "The View" about Trump and you.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC) ROSIE O'DONNELL: This young girl, Tara Conner -- how old is she?




O'DONNELL: Twenty-one. She went out and she was partying. She's from Kentucky.


O'DONNELL: She went to New York and she was hanging out at all the parties doing what Paris and Lindsey do, you know...


O'DONNELL: ... dancing, whatever. And so he held a press conference to announce whether or not she was going to retain her crown.


O'DONNELL: And then she started to cry.


O'DONNELL: Going I just want to thank Donald, who's giving me a second chance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was brilliant.

O'DONNELL: And there he is, hair looping going everyone (LAUGHTER) everyone deserves a second chance, you know? I'm going to give her a second chance. This guy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her hair is perfect for that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your hair is perfect for this.

Listen, he annoys me on a multitude of levels. He's the moral authority -- left the first wife; had an affair; left the second wife; had an affair; had kids both times but he's the moral compass for 20- year-olds in America.



Were you in rehab already when that occurred?

CONNER: I -- yes, I didn't get to see any of that or hear any of it?

KING: Did you know about it? CONNER: I didn't know of anything that was going on because we didn't have access to televisions, radios, nothing. So...

KING: Did you learn about it after, though?

You had to.

CONNER: I heard about it afterward and then the first time I seen that clip was during another interview. And I was like wow, you know. But I think the only thing that I have to say about that is it's the lack of education, once again. People don't understand...

KING: Of who? Of Rosie?

CONNER: Well, of Rosie in this case. And, you know, other people that may have a negative view. It's one of those things where a lot of the things that people can say can be very hurtful and they don't understand how deep these things can go.

But, you know, it's my choice whether I can take it personally or if I can move on, and I never take anything personally so...

KING: When you saw it, were you shocked?

CONNER: I'm not shocked at anything anymore, like I said. So I'm very, very used to all of this. But, you know, that was an issue that they had to deal with between the two of them and, you know, to me, it really didn't have anything to do with me. That was their battle.

KING: Did you think that in forgiving your or sending you to rehab -- asking you to go to rehab, Donald was some sort of moral authority?

CONNER: I, you know, when I heard that and when he told me this, I thought wow! Because I would never expect something like that out of Donald Trump. I wouldn't say anything is being out of a moral authority or anything like that.

In my case, this was between he and I, and he is the one that chose to give me a -- or chose to give me a second chance. And through that, you know, I got my life back.

So regardless of what it makes him and what it doesn't make him, I am extremely grateful.

KING: Why do you think he did it?

CONNER: Again, I think alcoholism has affected him in his past, as well. And, again, he saw something in me that he...

KING: He doesn't drink at all?

CONNER: He does not drink at all, you know? So I think that with this personal thing, he -- he could empathize with me on this. And he did so... KING: Aren't you a little angry, though, at what Rosie said?

She mimicked you and made fun of you.

CONNER: I don't -- I never -- one of the great things about the tools that you learn in rehab, one of which is to never take anything personally, because if you do, if you affect what other people have to say about you, it could absolutely eat you alive and it prevents you from focusing on yourself.

And if I were to sit here and listen to everything that has been written, everything that has been said, it would not be able to focus on my own recovery, which is the most important thing to me right now.

KING: We'll be right back with Tara Conner, Miss. USA.

Don't go away.


O'DONNELL: He inherited a lot of money.


O'DONNELL: Wait a minute.


O'DONNELL: And he's been bankrupt so many times where he didn't have to pay...


O'DONNELL: He didn't pay off the people he owes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... they put you on a payment plan.

O'DONNELL: Here comes a lawsuit. Get ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait, wait, wait, wait.

O'DONNELL: This is going to be good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they put you on a payment plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He sues, you know?

O'DONNELL: I can imagine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a big suer, yes.

O'DONNELL: He's going to sue me, but he'll be bankrupt by that time so I won't have to worry. But... (END VIDEO CLIP)


DONALD TRUMP: I never went bankrupt, but she said I went bankrupt. So probably I'll sue her because it would be fun. Id like to take some money out of her fat ass pockets.




TRUMP: There are a lot of people with alcohol addiction, with drug addiction, with lots of different addictions. Rather than saying you're fired, I took a different course. And everybody thought I was going to throw her off. I didn't want to do that. I took a different course. She's in rehab. She entered rehab today.

I believe she could be a great role model and actually much more important than even being Miss. USA.


KING: We're back with Tara Conner.

You -- what was rehab like?

By the way, where did you go?

CONNER: I went to the Caron Treatment Center in Warnersville, Pennsylvania.

KING: Is that a famous place?

CONNER: I don't know. I don't know what rehabs are famous and what aren't. I just...

KING: How many people there?

CONNER: There's a lot of people there. I couldn't put a number to it, but there are several...

KING: Men and women?

CONNER: Men and women.

KING: All ages?

CONNER: All ages. I think from like 12 to 73 was the...

KING: Twelve?

CONNER: Yes. KING: What happens?

We all hear about rehab.

What happens?

CONNER: You go...

KING: How long were you there, a month?

CONNER: I was there for 31 days. I think the -- the most humbling experience I've had was when I went there and every question that you could ever possibly be asked was asked and it's your job to be extremely honest, because that's what helps you in your recovery.

But to have someone go through your bag and to look at everything that you have to make sure there's not alcohol in things and to make sure that there's nothing in that that you could possibly ingest or hurt yourself with, it was -- it was kind of hard.

But then again, when I started going through it, I started counting days. And then after about three days of doing that, I realized why am I counting down days here? Am I going to count my -- am I going to count down my days when I leave rehab, you know?

Today -- I think every day -- you should take every day one day at a time and...

KING: You had a lockdown?

CONNER: It's a lockdown, pretty much, yes.

KING: You can't escape?

CONNER: You can't escape. You can walk away, you know? Nothing is holding you there. If you try to leave, they're not going to stop you because you're there by your own will.

But, you know, there's -- there's security there. There's C.A.s watching all the time, which -- they are awesome. And everyone...

KING: So you've got to sign forms, I'm leaving, and that kind of thing? You can't just run out?

CONNER: Well, you have to sign...

KING: Or can you?

CONNER: You can. You can. And, you know, they'll look for you and if you choose to come back and get your stuff, you do. If not, you leave it.

KING: Wasn't it hard to stop -- addiction...


KING: It wasn't hard to stop?

CONNER: No. I, you know, I had clean time before I got into rehab and when I went there, I went in with open arms. And I embraced everything about it. And I think the first day was really the only hard day for me, wanting to think to myself, gosh, I'm going to be here for 31 days, you know?

But after that, I embraced it and said I'm enjoying it here. And then when leaving, I thought I could stay if I had to so...

KING: So what happens?

Give me an example of a typical day.

CONNER: We're up very, very early. It's a very structured bubble, we like to call it.

KING: You live in a room with others?

CONNER: I live -- I had a roommate. It's kind of like a dorm. You have to be up at 6:00 a.m. You have to have your bed made.

KING: In your age bracket, the roommate?

CONNER: Yes. In -- within my -- I was with the adult women so I think that age bracket starts between 20 and up. So I was there from 20 and up. And there's, you know, a much older lady there, as well.

So it was definitely a dynamic, you know, variation. But...

KING: Then what?

You get up...

CONNER: You get up, you go to -- you go to lectures, you have small group therapy, you have individual therapy. You have like a recreation time where you can go work out and you have three meals every day, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

KING: A communal breakfast?

CONNER: Uh-huh. Everyone eats breakfast together.

KING: Good, hearty meals?

CONNER: Good, hearty meals. A little too hearty.

KING: What happens at night?

CONNER: At night, we finish up with, you know, some kind of a lecture or something like that. We go to our dorm area or our -- our living units. We have a meditation.

KING: Do you call home?

CONNER: We call home, yes. We go back home and we have a meditation. We all give each other a big hug and go to bed. It's a -- it's a big community feeling. They were like a family to me.

KING: Why did the lectures work?

CONNER: Well, again, it's -- like I said, it's a very structured thing. So you're forced to sit there and listen. And the thing is, is when you go to rehab, you may not go into it and come out of it changed at all. It's your choice to be willing to listen to what's being said and to embrace it and to learn from it. Because if you're -- if you don't want it, you can sit there for 31 days and not do anything and do any work on yourself.

But it was very important to me to hear everything that was going on, because for me, my life was at stake.

KING: Are some of the teachers former addicts?

CONNER: All of them are.

KING: All of them?

CONNER: All of them are.

KING: Which makes it great, right...

CONNER: Yes...

KING: ... because you associate...

CONNER: ... because you can't point your finger at them and say you don't know what I'm going through. And they're like yes, yes, I do. I know exactly where you've been.

KING: We'll have you look back into your past, "People" magazine reported that at age 14, your parents divorced and one day you turned up at school drunk.

CONNER: Uh-huh.

KING: The magazine went on to say: "When her mother found out, she arranged for Conner to undergo counseling. Recalling the episode, a tearful Johnson says that those close to her daughter say I thought we were over that hurdle."

Your mother thought you were OK.

CONNER: Yes, because, like I said, I can be very manipulative in active addiction and active alcoholism. So if -- if I want to tell you that everything is OK with me and if I want to put that mask back on, I can. And everything will seem to be OK with me and everything will be wonderful, when, in all honesty, when I put that mask on, within me, I'm very insecure. I'm very insufficient. I'm very -- oh, I'm full of fear, you know?

But now I'm allowed to be different.

KING: More with Tara Conner. And, by the way, later Paula Shugart will join us.

She's president of Miss. USA.

Don't go away.



KING: We're back with Tara Conner. Do you ever desire cocaine?


KING: Alcohol?

CONNER: I can't say that I never desire it, because if I did, that would be a lie. It's something I will have to battle every single day.

KING: You're always an alcoholic. You'll always be.

CONNER: Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. There will be days I when I'm going to see it and I'm going to be around people that are doing it. If I ever choose to go out to a club again, it will be all around me. But it's my choice, whether I pick it up or whether I don't pick it up.

KING: Do you avoid clubs?

CONNER: Right now I'm avoiding clubs, yes.

KING: Someday you will go, right?

CONNER: Someday when it's not so early in my recovery and, you know, there are not as many triggers for me. Yeah, I probably will. Right now I'm choosing to stay around people in recovery, and stay around positive people that are going to be good influences on me as well.

KING: Do you still -- I will ask you about your duty as Miss USA. We have a clip to show. You suggest that your problems may stem from something bad that happened in your childhood. Here's what you told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show, watch.


MATT LAUER, NBC ANCHOR, TODAY: My job is try to get you to be honest. Has there been abuse of some kind in your background?

CONNER: I will not deny that I've -- I've, you know, witnessed some abuse. But out of the respect of my family, and I have not discussed it with them yet, this is something that I need to take one day at a time. It's too early in my recovery for me to give it --

LAUER: But physical abuse, or sexual abuse or -- can you clarify that?

CONNER: I -- again, it's something I would like to speak with my family about first. I would like the respect of privacy. I'm giving all that I can right now. Later on, maybe I will feel more comfortable speaking on these topics, but right now not so much.

LAUER: Can you tell me if it's something recent, or is it something from early in childhood?

CONNER: We will just say it's was earlier on.


KING: You feel pressed there?

CONNER: You noticed, if I'm ever feeling pressed, I was like, uh, uh, uh. So, it was hard.

KING: Did you think it was over the line?

CONNER: I don't think it was over the line. It's his job to interview people and ask them about certain topics.

KING: Did you talk to your mother since then?

CONNER: I have not talked to my mom a whole lot since then. So, again, it's still one of those things.

KING: Are you close to your mom?

CONNER: Very close to my mother.

KING: She in Kentucky?

CONNER: She's in Kentucky. She's the most wonderful woman that walks.

KING: Did she come to New York during this?

CONNER: No, but she did go to the rehab facility to see me.

KING: How often could you have visitors?

CONNER: Every Sunday, every Sunday, for a couple of hours and we had one group family session with my mother and my father. They were very supportive.

KING: I have another email, this from Liz in Vancouver, British Columbia: "When you enter the USA pageant do you sign a contract that has a moral clause?"

CONNER: I wouldn't say it has a moral clause. I would say there are rules that need to be followed. And it's your choice whether you follow these rules. If my sense, or in my case, I didn't. At the end of it, you know, the Miss Universe Organization had my termination papers sitting there in front of me, while I was speaking to Mr. Trump. He was the one, if you want to call it -- trumped them. He trumped them. And I was able to keep my job.

Luckily, Miss Universe Organization, and friend Lark Anderson (ph), my publicist, and Miss Paula Shugart came up there to visit me and Darea Bush (ph), which is another one of my people, they were very supportive and everyday they stand behind me.

KING: How much did you reveal to Donald Trump? Did you talk to him about the abuse? Did you talk to him about your childhood? What did you talk to him about?

CONNER: Mr. Trump knows just as much as everyone else does. The crazy thing about my recovery is, like you and I sitting here talking together, you know, just as much about me as my family does. Just like when I sat down with Matt, everyone knows just as much about me as my family does.

KING: That you're willing to tell.

CONNER: Yeah, I have been willing to tell. And for me --

KING: If there was abuse, and you did not elaborate on it, did you tell Donald Trump about it?

CONNER: No, no. Again it's something --

KING: OK, so it's nobody's business, it's nobody's business.

CONNER: When I said it was something I would like to keep between myself, my family and whatever else is involved, that's where I would like to keep it at this point. And then again later maybe I'll feel opening up to talk about it. But right now it's not good for my recovery.

KING: Donald said on this show, during your recovery, that you were doing well. Did he keep in touch?

CONNER: He did. I talked to him yesterday. I went to go see him yesterday. He gives me calls here and there, and he always checks up on me. He's been an awesome support.

KING: How soon after that news conference did you go into rehab?

CONNER: A couple days? The next day?

KING: How did you get there, by car?

CONNER: Uh-huh. I got there by car.

KING: Tough road trip? You had to think about so many things.

CONNER: It was fine. There was a social worker that rode with me and the entire time we just chatted it up. We had so much fun. I make a lot of any situation that I possibly can. She sat there, and we talked through some of my things. I was still in complete denial thinking, oh, this is just a bunch of crap. Don't know why I'm going here but I'm open. We will see how it goes. KING: But you didn't con Mr. Trump, did you, that I will be fine?

CONNER: No, he knew better. Mr. Trump knows rehab doesn't fix you. You you're not cured as soon as you go in. He said if she messes up again, she's gone.

KING: You weren't wildly optimistic it was going to work?

CONNER: What? Rehab? I didn't think that I had an issue, so I was like how is this going --

KING: You're a denial girl?

CONNER: I was in complete denial. Complete denial.

KING: What was the worst thing about rehab?

CONNER: I cannot point out a worse thing.

KING: Really?

CONNER: I can't. I didn't get to use my phone. That was a blessing. Those phones can make you miserable.

KING: Cell phone?

CONNER: Exactly. I didn't get to talk to a whole lot of people. But by doing that I was able to reach in and look at myself the entire time. I think I got sick of Tara while I was in there but again, I'm very happy that I was able to see all of these things and work through what I was able to work through, while I was in there.

KING: Did you make friends?

CONNER: I made so many friends.

KING: That still last?

CONNER: That are still lasting.

KING: Why 31 days? Why not two months?

CONNER: You can. You can go to an extended care. You can go to a halfway house. For me, I have a job to do. Even after my job is over if I feel I'm not strong in my recovery, I may go back to another place.

KING: Who picked out the rehab center?

CONNER: I'm not sure.

KING: Probably Miss USA.

CONNER: Well, the organization, Mr. Trump picked it out, I think. KING: Do you have a guess as to why there's so much recidivism?

CONNER: My guess as to why?

KING: Why so many people go back to drugs.

CONNER: I know exactly why people go back to drugs. They think they have complete control. When you get further along in your recovery, you think, maybe I can have just one more drink, or maybe that one quick fix. I went so long without it, but it will be OK. By ingesting anything into your body, putting any kind of chemical, any kind of alcohol, will you completely distort your thinking all over again.

Oh, maybe I can have just one more. It's been a while. I have been doing OK. One more will not hurt. Then you continue to crave it and crave it and your mind starts to distort again. You start putting on this mask because you have these people in recovery that are going to sit there and say, what are you doing? And you have these people saying, it's OK. So you put the mask on.

KING: When you're in denial, of course, you say, I can stop any time.

CONNER: Exactly. I'm OK. I don't have to have a drink right now, but maybe like 10 months down the road, whatever. Right now it's not a good idea. For me to sit there and say I would never relapse would be very unhealthy review.

KING: Are you close with your dad?

CONNER: I'm very close with my dad.

KING: They are divorced, but you're close with both, right?

CONNER: Uh-huh.

KING: Back with more with Tara Conner on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Extraordinary young lady. Don't go away.


CONNER: I plan on walking out of this the best Miss USA that you have ever seen. I promise you that and I want to thank all of the people that have been behind me. I want to apologize to my family. If I put any disgrace upon you. But know that, thank God, thank God I have the chance to make it right.



KING: We are back with Tara Conner on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. In the next segment, we will talk with Paula Shugart, who is the president of Miss USA and has been very helpful to you.

CONNER: Very helpful.

KING: Reports you're going to pose in "Playboy"?

CONNER: I heard that I was going to pose in "Playboy", but no, that's not going to happen.

KING: What if they wanted you to pose clothed?

CONNER: Clothed? See that's a different story. Right now, regardless, it's going to be a while before I ever consider doing anything like that. But if I were to ever pose for "Playboy," it will be fully clothed.

KING: What are your duties as Miss USA? What are you supposed to do?

CONNER: I champion breast and ovarian cancer awareness.

KING: You do that by doing what?

CONNER: You go to different walks; you go to different events. I also work with the Gay Men's Health Crisis Center, God's Love We Deliver, you work with a lot of different charities.

KING: Travel a lot?

CONNER: Travel a lot. You do some fun stuff. You compete for Miss Universe.

KING: Are you back in the swing of it now?

CONNER: I'm getting back into the swing of it. It's been a little crazy in the past couple of weeks. But I'm starting to get back into the swing of things.

KING: You hold the title until when?

CONNER: I hold it until March 23rd.

KING: Then what are you going to do?

CONNER: Wherever my path leads me, I'd like to get into --

KING: What would you like to do?

CONNER: Probably some kind of an acting job.

KING: How about television?

CONNER: Absolutely. Just whatever presents it's self to me. Right now, my options are open, but I would love to get into television.

KING: What did you think of what happened to Miss Nevada?

CONNER: That was something else that went down while I was in rehab. So I don't know full details on it, but that's --

KING: Her they didn't forgive.

CONNER: Her they didn't forgive? I think, her, they did remove her title, is that?

KING: Yeah, they did.

CONNER: That's her issue. I can't -- I know that sounds horrible, and I don't mean to not be sympathetic. Right now I'm just focusing on me and my recovery. I can't work on everybody else.

KING: How do you maintain sobriety? During the difficult periods, those periods when you want to drink, what do you do?

CONNER: Call people. Reach out. Ask someone for help. Say, I'm not doing so hot right now. I want to use, or pick up. You know, I'm having a down day. And this is what's unclear to me, or this is frustrating me. You use other people, you talk to people. You can pray about it. Sit there and meditate for a few minutes. There are so many different things you can do.

KING: Is that your biggest fear, going back?

CONNER: My biggest fear -- my biggest fear right now is to lose my sobriety. By that being my biggest fear, it can also -- you have to have a healthy fear of that. It keeps me strong.

KING: In fact, you would be crazy --

CONNER: You would be crazy if you didn't have a fear of it.

KING: Do you feel double-pronged. In other words, you have an image to uphold as Miss USA.


KING: No Miss USA has ever gone through this?

CONNER: This is true. But society has changed a lot. We are facing a lot of different things these days. Again, no one is perfect. And they realize that and it's through Miss Universe Organization part of their job is to make us the most intelligent and powerful and strong woman they can. So by me getting a second chance, they did that exact thing and they are behind me 100 percent. They are amazing people. Very open. It's a very good organization.

KING: You have a boyfriend?

CONNER: I do not have a boyfriend.

KING: Did you have a boyfriend?

CONNER: I did not have a boyfriend.

KING: You never had a serious -- ? CONNER: I had a serious relationship before, but that was before the pageant and kind of during and now it's -- I don't have time for a boyfriend. Right now I'm just really focusing on Tara.

KING: Why do you live in Manhattan?

CONNER: I live with Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe.

KING: That's in the Trump Tower?

CONNER: It's an apartment, yeah. We all live together.

KING: Is that part of the contract?

CONNER: Uh-huh.

KING: What is the reason for that?

CONNER: Because, you know, we do a lot of work. We are very busy girls. And we have a lot of people that work with us. So they put the three girls together because that's what the pageant holds, and we have a blast together.

KING: We have a viewer e-mail from Mike in Louisville.

CONNER: Mike in Louisville.

KING: "Do you, in general, attractive people get better breaks or preferential treatment in society than less attractive people?"


KING: You don't?

CONNER: I don't think so. To put it -- to be -- beauty is skin deep. True beauty lies within. If anyone understands that concept will understand I was probably the ugliest person before I went into rehab. So, I don't think so.

KING: You don't think the beautiful girl has an edge?

CONNER: Well, in this case, I didn't have an edge over people that I work with now. Mr. Trump was the only one that said, "I see good things in you. So I will send you to rehab and bring out more good things in you." And I said, "OK."

KING: Was there ever a point in rehab you wanted to leave?


KING: Never?

CONNER: Never. I didn't want to leave the day I left. Oh, I love it here. It's so peaceful. I had such a good family/friend base there. I had this awesome schedule. I knew it would be very different when I got out. I knew I would have to be doing a little bit of this as well. I was a little scared to get out. I was so comfortable and in such a good place. Luckily, I'm in a very good place now. So it's all working out.

KING: Do you think have you been properly punished?

CONNER: I think so. Anyone that has to sit there, sit down, and look at themselves in the mirror and pull out every single bad thing they can possibly think of and work through it, it's an extreme punishment. But it's a very, very big gain. So I had a pretty good punishment.

KING: You bear no anger toward Rosie O'Donnell, or anyone?

CONNER: No. None. No anger.

KING: We will be right back. Tara Conner will be joined by Paula Shugart. She's president of the Miss USA Organization. Don't go away.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourth runner-up of Miss Universe 2006, it's USA.


KING: We are back with Miss USA Tara Conner, and joined by Paula Shugart, president of the Miss USA Organization.

Now how is your organization, Paula, assessing Tara's future with you?

PAULA SHUGART, PRESIDENT, THE MISS USA ORGANIZATION: I think we are taking it one day at a time, but I'm actually really, really happy. I think when I spoke with you the night of the press conference, I was concerned. And I was hoping --

KING: Very.

SHUGART: Very concerned. And it really was a bit of a gamble for the organization, and my hope was she was going to use the tools, and she was going to come out a better person and hopefully a role model out of it.

KING: She looks amazing. She has such problems and also such pluses.

SHUGART: Absolutely.

KING: She should be a terrific Miss USA. SHUGART: Absolutely. We were talking last night. Our regret is she only has two months left on her reign now. Because this, Tara, the person I'm knowing now and the person -- she worked very, very hard because the change that someone can make in 31 days is amazing.

KING: Big difference?

SHUGART: Huge, huge. I like this Tara.

CONNER: Me, too.

KING: Tara, you said that you felt that a lot of Miss USA people turned their backs on you?

CONNER: They all had.

KING: Including Paula?

CONNER: Including Paula, absolutely. We used to butt heads all the time.

SHUGART: And I don't think it was even necessarily turning our backs, finally after months, you get frustrated and you feel someone is not going to listen to you anymore. I would always just try to say the importance of living by your word that is all you have.

And my biggest goal was, obviously, aside from the brand on our 55 years of history, I really was concerned Tara needed to hit rock bottom, and if she lost her crown, that certainly would have been it. I didn't want her to think going to rehab was another way out.

KING: Did Donald Trump talk to you about his decision?

CONNER: Absolutely. I was there.

KING: Did he talk to you before he made it?

SHUGART: Yes. We spoke prior, and I knew how he was leaning.

KING: Did you agree with him?

SHUGART: Actually, he knew both sides, and I saw both sides at that point. He heard me out as well, because.

KING: Did you speak out against his idea?

SHUGART: At one point, yes. I was feeling I had a lot at stake. We have some great state directors, and all of the former Miss USAs, there are a lot of people that were affected by this. And my biggest goal, I wanted make sure if she was going to go away, she made it work for her.

KING: Miss America has a full-time chaperon, does Miss USA?

SHUGART: Well, actually Miss America never -- one of the biggest differences, when you're crowned Miss USA, you don't go home. So Miss USA, Miss Universe, you move immediately to New York and that's your home base.

KING: I see, Miss America goes home?


KING: I see. Will Tara have any kind of special treatment because of what happened?

SHUGART: No, I don't think you are now.

KING: Anything different from other Miss USAs?

SHUGART: Oh, no. I think -- obviously -- well, right now we moved to a bigger apartment and moved the title holders to a bigger apartment, and that was already in the works. So there is a staff member that is living there now. But I think I'm probably more in your life on a daily basis. But that's it.

CONNER: Absolutely.

KING: You visited her in rehab, right?

SHUGART: Uh-huh.

KING: It's amazing what they did there.

SHUGART: I -- I cannot thank the people there enough, but I also know that you went in with open arms. Tara worked so hard, that I'm amazed. I can be quite skeptical sometimes, but I really believe in what happens.

KING: Did you have any feelings towards Rosie O'Donnell?

SHUGART: No. I just -- for me it was just Rosie being Rosie. And my concern was about Tara, and the organization. I thought Donald handled it very well.

KING: How is Miss Teen USA doing?

SHUGART: She's doing well. She's just at this point, she's not -- she's in New York this week for fashion week and then she's looking -- she's taking her test to go to college.

KING: Does she handle herself well?

SHUGART: She's handled -- I think she kind of got caught up in the press there a little bit, but she's actually been doing well.

KING: In our remaining moments, we will ask Paula to give us a prediction about Tara. Don't go away.


CONNER: I want to thank all of the people that have been behind me. And I want to thank Mr. Trump and Miss Paula Shugart from the Miss Universe Organization for doing what they said they would do. Because their goal is to empower women, and to make us the best women we can possibly be.



KING: We are back with Tara Conner and Paula Shugart, president of Miss USA. How is she going to do?

SHUGART: I think she's going to do really well. She's going to take it one day at a time. But I think you have limitless possibilities now, this person.

KING: Think Donald Trump might start a show around you?

CONNER: Around me?

KING: Yeah.

CONNER: Oh, I have no idea. I have no idea.

KING: Recovering people -- who they are.

CONNER: People in recovery.


SHUGART: Any time you have three beauty queens living in an apartment together, there should be a show about it.

CONNER: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

KING: Do you clash?

CONNER: Do I clash? Actually, no, I don't clash with the girls. If anything, I feel like the big sister. So --

KING: You could do a reality show about living together, couldn't they?

CONNER: Absolutely.

KING: Don't put it beyond Donald. There is a possibility.


CONNER: They should is started it earlier on. Definitely, that would have been a good show.

KING: Do you follow up on Miss USAs? Like after she relinquishes her crown?

SHUGART: Oh, absolutely.

KING: You have no power but you stay in touch?

SHUGART: I stay in touch with everybody. I know I will be staying in touch with everybody. I know I'll be staying in touch with Tara.

KING: You are going to stay in Manhattan and look for a career in show business, right?

CONNER: Stay in Manhattan or move to LA, whichever one pulls me out there.

KING: Do you think the course of this, despite the downside of it, you have an edge? Everybody knows you. I don't know last year's Miss USA.

CONNER: It's sad everyone knows me because she's the Miss USA that went to rehab but --

KING: But you can use that.

CONNER: I could use that. But I just hope that people can see me for who I am. And what I am capable of instead of what I have done in the past.

KING: At some point Vanessa Williams posed nude. She's a terrific entertainer. Made a career out of it. Would we have known her without that?

CONNER: Probably not.

KING: So, couldn't you think she could use -- I mean, in a crass sense, but she could she use this?

SHUGART: Sadly, it probably does give you more presence. Everyone does know Tara's name. But if she didn't make the changes in her life, she would never make anything of it.

CONNER: The thing is, it's still open. If I ever choose to use again, or if I ever choose to drink, whatever, I can go right back downhill to where I started. So, again, this is something I have to take one day at a time. And just hope everything works out for the best, and just stay strong. Yeah, maybe I have and edge, but it's up to me to keep that edge.

KING: You know, Paula, she will be asked more about addiction than cancer.

SHUGART: I know. And that's fine because she's a great spokesperson and role model for that.

KING: So, you accept that even though the role is supposed to be to talk about cancer.

SHUGART: I will accept that she has a great message to give and if she can hit one person, we have all won.

KING: Do you think this helps Miss USA, ratings wise?

SHUGART: Probably. Probably. I mean, certain there is a lot of focus on it. I think people now, as opposed to that plastic pageant, in which people know Miss USA is about real people, and people probably actually now know what the pageant system is about.

KING: Good luck to you, Tara.

CONNER: Thank you so much. Thank you.

KING: You deserve all the breaks you get.

CONNER: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, Paula.

Tara Conner, Paula Shugart. Tara Conner, Miss USA. Paula, president of the Miss USA Organization.

Hope you enjoyed and found enlightening tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360" is next.


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