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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Michael J. Fox

Aired April 09, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Michael J. Fox gets personal on the harsh reality of living with Parkinson's.




KING: On his wife and their surprising decision.


FOX: Well, we wanted to have more kids.


KING: And why nothing gets him down.


FOX: And I don't think of myself as a victim.


KING: Plus, Olympic superstar Michael Phelps is back in the tabloids.

Did he booze it up at a New York night club this week?

Well, his mom is here with a lot to say about that, the bong photo and more.

Then, the latest on the ship captain held hostage by pirates -- is a rescue in the works or is the United States at the mercy of the criminals?

All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's always a great pleasure to welcome Michael J. Fox to LARRY KING LIVE.

He's founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

He's a best-selling author. The new book is "Always Looking Up." I have it front of me. You see it on your screen.

By the way, he's got an ABC special, "Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist." It airs on May 7th.

Always -- do you remain -- it is easy to be an optimist?

FOX: I -- well, it's -- for me, it's second nature. It's just the way I look at life. And I -- it's certainly a challenge now for most people to be optimistic, obviously, with all of the troubles we have and the problems that the country is facing.

But I think it's exactly in those times when our optimism kicks in the highest gear. I think -- there's an expression that I like that I always use: "Don't wish for -- don't wish for a lighter load, wish for broader shoulders."

And I think that people are really -- I see a lot of broader shoulders these days.

People are really working on the delts, you know?

KING: What was it like when you were diagnosed?

FOX: Well, it was -- you know, it was hard to describe it because I was so young. I was 29 years old. And so Parkinson's is not what you expect to hear. I had a twitch in my pinky and I figured it was some kind of nerve damage or I'd done something, probably athletic, you know -- from my thoracic outlet or something.

But then I got this diagnosis and I thought the guy was kidding. And then it was shock. And then I had a certain amount of fear. And I started to react to it in certain ways. I started drinking more heavily as a way of self-medicating it.

And it took me -- you know, it's funny, because I sit and talk about always looking up and being optimistic and accept the losses and move on and find new gains. But it took me about seven years, I think, to really get to the point where I could tell people about it.

Because I was diagnosed in '91 and it wasn't until '98 that I -- that I admitted publicly that it was a situation I was facing.

KING: It is not life-threatening, is it?

FOX: No.

KING: Whether...

FOX: And I would say you don't -- you don't die from it, but you -- up to now, you'll definitely die with it if you have it.

KING: All right, here's an example...

FOX: I hope to change that.

KING: I don't want to take away from you a little, but to explain what it's like to be -- to have Parkinson's, on the bottom of page two in the prologue, just you in the bathroom -- just describing this. But just brushing your teeth.

FOX: Getting up in the morning.

KING: You write -- this is the morning adventures of Michael J. Fox: "Grasping the toothpaste is nothing compared to the effort it takes to coordinate the two-handed task of wrangling the toothbrush and strangling out a line of paste onto the bristles. By now, my right hand has started up again, rotating at the wrist in a circular motion -- perfect for what I'm about to do. My left hand guides my right hand up to my mouth and once the back of the Oral B touches the inside of my upper lip, I let go. It's like releasing the tension on a slingshot."

Now you...


FOX: ... just thinking about it.

KING: When you open your eyes in the morning, you know this is going to be coming.

FOX: Yes.

KING: Plus other things.

FOX: Yes. It's a series of -- you know, I kind of put myself through a routine of getting up. And also my feet cramp in the morning. So I put on hard shoes and I kind of make my way -- tiptoe to the bedroom so I don't clump -- clump around it.

KING: But doesn't that make you say, I think I want to stay in bed?

FOX: No. No, absolutely not. It's actually the opposite. It shakes me out of bed. And then once I'm out of bed, I'm happy to be out of bed. And I kind of go on to describe further, you know, getting ready and my ablutions and my routines and my rituals.

And then going out to the hallway to go to the kitchen, where Tracy has usually got the kids -- getting the kids ready for school. And there's a mirror in my hallway.

And as I pass that mirror, I look at it and I say, what are you smiling at?

And then I realize that because it just gets better from here.

KING: Do you ever say, why me?

FOX: No. No, I really don't. Even when I was kind of bummed about it at first and scared and had my -- was dealing much more with the fear and the uncertainty of it when I was younger -- I was in my early 30s. I never had that thought, why me? Because I've been -- you know, I've seen illness. I've seen, you know, certainly over the years, a lot of young children get ill. And there's -- there's enough -- if I want to feel bad for anybody there's -- there's is a long list of people whose names -- my name is not on it.

KING: I guess if we had to list the two most famous people with Parkinson's, it would be Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali. And they did a PSA together.



FOX: What do you see?

An actor?

An athlete?

How about two people who share a common illness -- no different than the millions of others with Parkinson's disease, except maybe we can capture your attention, raise money, help scientists find a cure this decade?

Look again and you'll see two people who won't stop fighting until there's a cure.

MUHAMMAD ALI, THREE-TIME HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: Because I'm still bad. I believe I'll make a comeback.


FOX: He's a guy (INAUDIBLE).

KING: One of the most famous PSAs ever done. Now I known Muhammad...

FOX: Do you know when that was done?

I was actually with you that weekend that it was done. It was done down at the -- at the fundraiser for Muhammad's institute down in Phoenix.

KING: Phoenix.

FOX: Yes.

KING: Oh, yes. I was there that time.

FOX: Yes. It was -- it was about nine years ago.

KING: All right. Now Muhammad has gotten progressively worse...

FOX: Yes.

KING: that he can't speak -- he almost can't -- I don't think he can speak.

FOX: Yes, no. And he's got -- and he's got the mask, which is the -- you know, it's the condition -- a side effect -- not a side effect, a symptom of Parkinson's where your face gets effectively frozen and you can't express yourself.

KING: When you look at Muhammad, do you worry about that's me coming?

FOX: No, I don't -- I don't think that way at all. There may be some intervening therapy or breakthrough before I get to that point. And that's one thing. But even aside from that, that's just not the way my mind works. I live -- one thing that Parkinson's does, because you can't -- at least for me, when I can't plan how I'm going to be in 10 minutes or 15 minutes, I don't know necessarily what I'm going to be dealing with. So therefore it necessitates that I live very much in the moment. And it's just the best way to live.

KING: When you say you don't know what it's going to be like in 10 minutes, that means...

FOX: I don't know what the symptoms (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: ... in 10 minutes you might shake?

FOX: I might shake. I might not shake. I might be dyskinetic. I might -- I might freeze a little bit. You know, I don't really know. And whatever it is, it's going to pass. So I've just got to take it as it comes.

KING: Why did you write the book?

FOX: The book was -- I wrote the first book because I had to. I think I had to kind of tell that story just for myself -- just kind of to acknowledge all the work that I had done on getting through that journey.

And then this book was -- I thought about writing another book and I thought about -- people responded so positively to the optimism in the first book. And so many people wanted to talk to me about that.

So I thought, well, optimism, what is optimism?

And so I started to think about it more kind of empirically, writing a book about optimism as a subject and interviewing researchers about it and talking to people who are optimistic and traveling to places where people are optimistic and all of this stuff.

So I had this big idea of just kind of a wide reportage kind of piece. And then I realized that there are other reporters that are better than me -- there are journalists who can do that kind of stuff. So I started to write about just optimism through the lens of my own experience over the last 10 years...

(CROSSTALK) KING: You -- the reporter isn't suffering from it.

FOX: Right. Exactly. And so...

KING: So no one could tell it better.

FOX: So I had to kind of tell it. I had -- I couldn't tell -- talk about optimism without separate -- and separate it from my experience. I had to make it part of my experience. So then having done that and written this book, which is really a memoir of the last 10 years, I still have these questions about optimism.

So I went to ABC and I said, there was thing I was going to do a book on, but I'd like to do a documentary special on. And they said, great. And so we -- we've been traveling around, talking to optimists. We went Bhutan, which is a country in the Himalayas that actually measures its gross national happiness along with its GDP.

KING: Really?

FOX: Yes. And it makes decisions on its development as a country based on how to affect the happiness of the people. And the people are uniformly happy. It's an amazing...


KING: That isn't the United States.

FOX: No, it's -- it's a little different. But -- but there are some common themes, I think. Whenever you get people that are optimistic and happy and fulfilled, you usually -- like in Bhutan, they have great relationships. They have great humility. They have great work ethic. And they -- and they don't -- they don't need things to be happy.

KING: We'll get a break and come right back.

And that special airs, by the way, on May 7th.

Don't forget our blog -- our daily podcast. They're both at

More with the incredible Michael J. Fox.

FOX: Larry, you're talking about the podcasts and the blogs.

KING: Hold it.

We'll come right back.


KING: We'll come right back.

Don't go away.


KING: We have some breaking news on multiple wildfires roaring through parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is here with an update -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Terrible pictures, Larry, out of a Midwest city -- Choctaw, Oklahoma, west of Fort Worth, as well.

KWTV, our affiliate here, with these pictures, even though now it's beginning to get dark. Really, you can see house after house in this Midwest city neighborhood and right around Choctaw. Hundreds of homes right now on fire. The winds gusting to 52 miles per hour. There's no end in sight to the winds. It's going to be a long night for the firefighters there -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Chad.

Now back to our interview with Michael J. Fox.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research.

Today, using every resource the our disposal, we rededicate ourselves to this work.


KING: We're back with Michael J. Fox.

Incredible is an apt term for him.

The book is "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist."

Speaking of optimism, in March, President Obama lifted the ban on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research. You've long fought for that.

FOX: Yes, it was great. Finally.

KING: You've got to feel like a -- it's come true.

FOX: Yes, it was great. I was actually in Bhutan when that happened. I was on the other side of the world and in the Himalayas on a sat phone, you know, trying to find out the information.

But it was really gratifying. And he campaigned on that promise that he would do that and knowing that when he came in, he had a lot of housekeeping to take care of. We were happy he got to it as soon as he did.

KING: Do you think that will lead to things? FOX: I think it can't hurt. I mean, when you close off that exciting an avenue of research, whatever -- forget about it being a guarantee of breakthrough or a guarantee of results. It's not -- nothing is a guarantee. We never have claimed that it was -- it was a surefire thing.

But it was such a promising avenue of research in that you have cells that could be anything. And if we're going to any disease or, you know, in a distressed area of the body and reproduce the cells that's needed, in our case, dopaminergic stem cells -- dopaminergic brain cells that will create new -- new dopamine to replace the cells that have already died.

If you've got something that even speaks of promise in that area, to just for -- we thought, largely political reasons, to construct a series of restrictions that make it almost impossible to carry on was -- it was just -- it was just maddening.

KING: And now it's real.

FOX: And understanding people's ethical concern, but, really, this was not about ethical concerns.

KING: Are there -- are there new treatments from the ones of years ago?

FOX: Not really. The gold standard is still the...

KING: Dopamine?

FOX: L-dopa, yes.

KING: L-dopa.

FOX: Artificial dopamine. And...

KING: Now what does L-dopa do?

FOX: Well, basically it's -- the best way to describe it is that it's like -- it's the means by which your brain communicates with your body. It's the -- it's the motor oil that keeps the parts going.

And so if you're -- if you have Parkinson's, you know, your brain is firing and should be met with the dopamine and they should conspire to make your body do what you want it to do. But it does...

KING: Does it work?

FOX: Well, the dopamine works. But if you don't have the dopamine, it's like running an engine without motor oil. It's going to break down after a while. It's going to seize up. And it's not going to work. It's going to get stutters and sputters and starts and stops and -- and that's the shaking part.

And then it's ultimately going to get to where Parkinson's ends up, which is just freezing -- just quiescence. KING: How did you react when Rush Limbaugh made fun of it?

FOX: Well, it was a mixed reaction. I mean, you know, on one level, I felt bad for other people with Parkinson's to see it mocked like that. It was -- it was distressing. And, obviously, to -- you know, just the profound ignorance about what the condition is and what the side effects of the disease are.

But all that having been said, for practical reasons, it was a great thing, because we were trying to have a conversation about stem cells in the last two weeks of a -- of a midterm election when nobody wanted to talk about stem cells.

And I went out and did a couple of ads. And then he reacted in the way that he did and attacked me personally. And he caused such a fuss that all of a sudden we were -- everybody wanted to talk to us about stem cells.

KING: But were you shocked in that here I am, I'm an actor, I'm a regular guy, I'm a victim and a victim is being made fun of, I mean?

FOX: Well, I never think that way. I don't think of myself as a victim. But I think -- I do think of myself -- I do think of the situation, I thought, it is this obvious?

I mean, is it this cartoonish that -- that he could just come out and forget about the merits of the argument one way or the other and just attack the messenger in this kind of boorish a way?

And it was almost funny, because it was just, no, you're kidding me?

He said what?


FOX: He did what?


FOX: Wow! It was a (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Are you...


KING: Is it hard -- do you -- it's hard to get acting roles, isn't it?

FOX: Well, I don't try to get acting roles. But when I -- every once in a while a friend will call up and if it's something that seems interesting like (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: You just did something, right?

FOX: I did "Rescue Me" with my friend Denis Leary. KING: He's hysterical.

FOX: Yes. He's very funny. And he's very -- he's very persuasive, obviously, because he talked me into doing it.

And I did "Scrubs" a few a years ago with Bill Lawrence, who was my partner on "Spin City" and (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Now, when you act, is it hard?

FOX: Oh, yes. I don't have any access to the same toolkit that I always had. But it's like anything...

KING: Yes.

FOX:'s like you find new ways of doing things. And in those new ways, you maybe are able to do things you couldn't do before in ways you might not have approached before.

And that's my whole kind of philosophy of life is in -- in dealing with Parkinson's or any kind of setback or loss, is that if you -- if you avoid it or it creates a hole that you try to fill up with other stuff, with your ego and your needs and your wants and your control issues, then you're just going to dig deeper in a whole.

But if you just recognize, look, it is what it is, now what's around it?

I mean, the only thing that I don't have a choice about is whether I have Parkinson's. Everything else I have a choice about.

KING: The book is "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of Incurable Optimist."

The guest is Michael J. Fox.

A new acting role coming.

We'll hear about it in 60 seconds.


KING: We're back with Michael J. Fox.

The book is "Always Looking Up."

Let's take a quick look at some of his work as an actor.



FOX: He's right. You are an animal.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alex, are you feeling all right?

FOX: Never better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just seemed a little hyperactive.

FOX: Oh. What you're seeing here is simply my natural boyish exuberance, that's all.




FOX: Doc, I'm from the future. I came here in a time machine that you invented.



FOX: Come on, country boy! Get up! Let's go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you paranoid or something?

FOX: No. But I'm a little confused.



FOX: You know, honey, I'm not one of those guys that needs, you know, constant reassurance, because I am the Hulk.



KING: Were you most comfortable in comedy?

FOX: Comedy -- especially in doing sitcoms and doing "Spin City" and "Family Ties," it -- you have the benefit of being with an audience. And I just loved that. I love including them in the performance and picking up on their rhythm. I mean, what people call timing is just -- it's really just a communication with the audience and -- and just sensing what they're liking and what they're not liking.

KING: But some good actors don't do it well. You do it well.

FOX: Well, they say comedy is always hard, but -- but I -- the dramatic film work that I've done, I found very challenging for me. And I'm glad that I did it.

KING: "Rescue Me" is a multi-episode, right?

FOX: Yes.

KING: You'll be on more.

FOX: I did like five episodes. I did them all in one big hump, so it's hard to -- it's hard to -- for me to parse out which one is which episode. But, yes, we started out -- I think the first one was on earlier this week and...

KING: And you have written that you feel "sad and angry" for Muhammad Ali when you see footage of him fighting, dancing and clowning.

FOX: Yes. Well, what -- that's part of a greater thought about -- a bigger thought about -- about how we perceive ourselves and vanity, because people always ask me, does it bother me to be shaking and whatever?

And I say, listen, vanity is the first thing to go. And when you get rid of that, when you get rid of what you look like and just kind of deal with how you feel.

And Muhammad, I wondered -- I was wondering -- and I wondered in the book -- how he felt when he watches old footage of himself, especially as Cassius Clay and early on, you know. He was this young god and he -- and he was so, you know, poetic and fluid and balletic and just amazing.

And so I wondered how he felt when he sees that footage. So I called Lani -- I don't know if you know Lani.

KING: I sure do.

FOX: She's fantastic. And...

KING: She's amazing

FOX: She's just a great person. And I called Lani and said, and I'm writing this thing and I'm just wondering how Muhammad -- how Ali feels when he -- when he sees this footage of himself.

Does it make him sad?

Does it make him wistful and long for -- for what he used to be?

And she said, Ali loves it.


FOX: He loves watching that stuff. He just -- he can't get enough of it.

And it made me think about the times when I'm sitting at home watching TV and flicking through the channels and I pop up on one channel or another over the course of my trip through the 160 channels and I see myself a few times.

And I used to just kind of skip past. And now I'll stop every once in a while and I'll watch. And I'll say, yes, that was cool. That's -- that's still me.

KING: Michael has an upcoming special. You're going to get a sneak peak of it right after this.



FOX: After everything this disease has taken, something of greater value has been given. So, sure, it may be one step forward and two steps back. But after a time with Parkinson's, I've learned that what's important is making that one step count.


KING: We're back with Michael J. Fox.

The book is "Always Looking Up."

We've got a clip from your upcoming special, "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist."

This involves the visit to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. You discussed it earlier.

Let's watch.


FOX: Since I've been in Bhutan, my symptoms have been really diminished. It's been the strangest thing. I am -- I've had less tremor. I've had less bradykinesia, which is the shuffling and the kind of halting movement. And that's allowed me to take less medication. So I don't know whether that's from the altitude or whether it's from -- from the medication I've taken for the altitude sickness or whether it's just Bhutan.


KING: What do you think it is?

FOX: I think it was the elevation. I'm not quite sure. It was a strange thing. When I was over there, we were at about 11,000 feet most of the time. And I just felt a real diminishing of my symptoms.

KING: Well, I've got the cure.

FOX: Yes, move to Bhutan.

KING: Go to Mexico City. FOX: Oh, well I...

KING: Denver.

FOX: Mexico City -- I like to breathe, though. It's...

KING: How about Denver?

FOX: I love Mexico and I love the Mexican people, but I -- but that smog is hard to take.

KING: Denver?

FOX: Denver is not quite as high. I mean, you know, I don't -- I don't think - I want to live my life. I don't want to like chase - I'm not, you know, someone said if you only eat crackers and you live in a cardboard box, you'll feel great for the rest of your life. I'm not going to do it.


FOX: Although I love all those places you mentioned, but I -- but I'm not going to alter my life.

KING: Parts of your book are a love letter to your wife, Tracy.

Now, without being saccharine, how important has she been?

FOX: Well, I couldn't have made the journey that I've made without her. And certainly I wouldn't have this family that I have. And a lot -- and three-quarters of our -- of our children were born after the diagnosis. And we knew what we were facing, what we were dealing with and had some sense of what the prospects were, although they've turned out a lot better then we could have imagined.

I mean, I'm 20 years after diagnosis and I -- there's very little that I don't do now that I -- that I used to do. So -- and I still travel with my kids. And I'm with them part of the day, every day.

KING: How old are they now?

FOX: My oldest is 19. And he'll be 20 next month. And I have twins that are -- that are going into high school next year. They're 14. And then I have a -- a 7-year-old.

KING: All right. You could have said, let's not have children.

FOX: Yes. But -- but we wanted to have more kids. And we -- we both come from big families and we love that dynamic. And we also just, you know, kids -- kids are just so great. I mean, as you were saying about your own, you watch them play baseball. I mean, my daughter -- one of my daughters dances and the other daughter is an athlete. And my son has done so just wonderful things.

KING: Nothing better.

FOX: It's just the best. And my little one, I'm going -- I'm going with her later this afternoon to get a hamster.

KING: How do they deal with their father's illness?

FOX: They -- you know, they don't -- I think that they would kind of give you a blank stare if you first started to talk about it, because I don't think it's the first thing that they think about when they think of me. I mean, they know it's what I deal with and they know, certainly, that a lot of my work is -- is related to trying to find a cure for it and helping people who -- who also have the disease.

But they don't - it's not what I lead with. It's not - it's just a circumstance in my life. It's not the definition of my life. And so therefore it doesn't define me to my children.

I think that they would think I'm corny and goofy and a little sentimental and silly and other things. But I don't think they think of me as sick.

KING: So the glass is always half full.

FOX: Well, it is, you know...

KING: How about bad days?

FOX: Well, I have bad days. But again, I have to separate how I feel physically from how I feel emotionally. And I don't -- I mean allowing that a lot of people who have Parkinson's deal with clinical depression and that's a completely different issue. You'd have to put that aside. And that -- and you can't jolly your way out of that. I mean, that's -- that's a real illness that it takes some serious dealing with.

But absent that, just if I have a bad day physically, it might disappoint me that, therefore, I can't do something that I want to do. I can't do it the way and in the timeframe that I want to do it.

But -- but it's very easy for me to just go, well, that's how I -- that's how my body feels. That's not how I feel. There's other things I can do. There's other things...

KING: And you...

FOX: know, and it'll come around.

KING: You're -- you're a hero.

FOX: No.

KING: Michael J. Fox.

The book, "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist" -- on sale everywhere. And it's going to sell out everywhere.

Next, the latest on the American ship captain still held hostage by Somali pirates.

Is a rescue in the works?

Stick around.


KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Pirates continue to hold the American captain of the U.S. flag cargo ship hostage aboard a lifeboat off the coast of Somalia. The USS Bainbridge is on the scene. With us is Chris Lawrence, CNN's Pentagon correspondent. Robert Vaughan is the the brother of Colin Wright. He's on the right. On the left is Bill Evans, who is Colin Wright's uncle. And Chris Voss, who used to be the FBI's lead international kidnapping negotiator, and the CEO of the Black Swan Group.

What's the latest, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Larry, the sun is going to come up on the Eastern coast of Somalia in just about an hour or two. The stand off continues between this life boat full of pirates and their one hostage and the US Navy on the other side.

We are told that FBI negotiators back here in the states have been in contact via Sat phone, helping the Navy translators talk directly to those pirates directly on the lifeboat, trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

Meantime, the Navy is sending two more ships to the area. One is a frigate equipped with guided missiles and helicopters. That's going direction to the scene to try to help with security. The other is an amphibious assault ship. That's going to the general area. But it's got a full medical facility on board, including an operating room and a surgical team. That is going to the general area for its medical capabilities.

KING: Colin Wright is the third mate on the Alabama. With us is two of his relatives. On your left is Bill Evans, Colin Wright's uncle. On your right is Robert Vaughan, who is his brother. How long has he been working out to sea, Robert?

ROBERT VAUGHAN, BROTHER OF COLIN WRIGHT: He's been working for about 15 years.

KING: Have you heard from him at all, Bill? Were you able to talk to him?

BILL EVANS, COLIN WRIGHT'S UNCLE: No. I haven't talked to him. He has talked to his mother. That's all I know of him.

KING: How is he doing, Robert? What kind of shape is he in?

VAUGHN: Last we heard, he was doing just fine, when he called my mother Wednesday. He said he was OK and said he would check back with her. KING: The wife of Captain Richard Phillips was expected to talk to the press earlier today, but the stress of her husband's captivity is taking a toll. A neighbor had this to say in her stead. I want you to comment. Watch.


MICHAEL WILLARD, FRIEND OF SHIP CAPTAIN: I think right now she is just overwhelmed and feels she can't deal with this right now. She is upset enough about her husband and his situation and just needs her privacy. She has decided that she does not want to make a statement now until this is resolved, and would like you to respect her privacy.

She has stated that she would like you off her premises and away from the house by tomorrow morning. There will be no other statements.


KING: As we understand it, Robert, and I guess Colin would certify this, the captain is very popular, is he not?

VAUGHAN: That I can't speak for Colin. I never met the man. He seems like a fine person from what I've seen on the TV and read about him.

KING: Chris Voss, is there anything you can -- for example, can the Bainbridge board the ship? Can they go out and take -- by hostile action, can they take the captain?

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI KIDNAPPING NEGOTIATOR: Well, that is not really necessary right now. The pirate aren't going anywhere. Negotiators -- the men and women of the FBI crisis negotiation unit have dealt with a lot of situations like this in the past. They know that if they don't escalate it and they are just patient, they can reach a peaceful resolution. It will take a couple of days, but they can get there.

KING: You can go to CNN's number one show page, and tell us what you think about this show and others. Our blog is your blog, by the way. Back with more on the pirate standoff. Then Debbie Phelps. Don't go away.


KING: Chris Lawrence, earlier today's CNN Barbara Starr talked exclusively with top US Naval commander in the Middle East, Vice Admiral William Gortney. And he offered this insight into the escalating piracy problem. Watch.


VADM WILLIAM GORTNEY, US NAVAL CMDR MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA: We have always thought that one of the potential game changers out there was a U.S. flag vessel with a U.S. citizens on board and we are there. That's where we are right now. We are just seeing that they are communicating. And with communication comes -- possibly comes coordination, cooperation with each other.


KING: Chris -- Chris Lawrence, as Chris Voss says, the expectations are these are long and drawn out. Is that what the Pentagon is expecting, these negotiations?

LAWRENCE: Yes. There is some question about how long the pirates can stay on this small boat. But everybody -- the word here is just patience. Everybody is preaching the word patience, because the Navy is in position. The Alabama has already moved out. It is headed back towards its original -- somewhere near its original destination.

So the Navy can just wait. The captain's on board. All reports are he is in contact and he hasn't been harmed yet. Really, there is no harm in just being patient and trying to wait out the pirates and keep working on them, moving them towards a peaceful resolution.

KING: Robert, did your brother ever talk about piracy? Did he ever fear piracy?

VAUGHAN: I don't know that he ever feared about it. Certainly he was aware that it was a possibility. He knew that activity was taking place when he took the position.

KING: Chris Voss, what -- a negotiator has to know this, I guess, what motivates these pirate?

VOSS: They are motivated by an expectation of greed, of a high pay-off. This is very much like a bank robber whose gotten caught in a bank and thought they were going to get away with a lot of money, and found themselves trapped inside, and doesn't quite know what to do with it yet. They don't really know how to react to the situation. In the question of do you resolve this with force or finesse, right now finesse is the thing that is working. There is no reason to escalate this.

KING: But they have time invested, don't they?

VOSS: They do have time invested. They hope that will come to something more fruitful than simply getting out alive, but that might be their only choice.

KING: Pentagon have any plans, Chris, to protect these troubled waters in the future?

LAWRENCE: The thing is, Larry, it's interesting to see Chris standing in front of that map. Up until recently, these were the safe waters. Most of the pirate attacks were happening north, around the Gulf of Aden. That's where all the coalition ships were patrolling. In the entire month of January and February, there were only two reported attacks in this area off the eastern coast of Somalia.

All of a sudden, that jumped to 15 last month. What it shows the Pentagon is that the pirate are changing their tactics. They are moving to where the coalition is not patrolling. And they are also starting to use these mother ships, larger, bigger boats that get them further out to sea. And then they launch the smaller ships from the mother ships. That lets them attack a boat much further out to sea than they were able to do before.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll stay on top of the scene. CNN covering this around the clock.

We have a horrendous weather occurrence going on in the American southwest. Back to Chad Myers. What's the latest?

MYERS: Larry, it's all part of the same system. Now we know that there is a tornado on the ground near Springfield, Missouri. There was a tornado on the ground, making damage in Nina, Arkansas. The warnings are going to go all night. The same system that made the wind in Oklahoma, making tornadoes all the way from Missouri down to Texas. We'll keep you advised.

KING: Is this a typical Spring occurrence?

MYERS: You bet. Absolutely, 100 percent a Spring occurrence.

KING: Does that move anywhere or does it stay where it is?

MYERS: It will be right over Atlanta tomorrow night. We'll be here all night watching it, Nashville, Memphis, as well.

KING: The weather goes East?

MYERS: Yes, from west to East, absolutely. It charges out of the mountain. So does the dry air, that dry, windy air that charged out today. That created all the wind damage here and the fire damage in Oklahoma city, Midwest city. And now that same system is charging to the east, where it is still humid here. And that humidity is the fuel to the fire, making these tornadoes tonight.

KING: Thanks, Chad Myers, one of the best in the business. Chad Myers atop the scene.

Ahead, Debbie Phelps. Just as the bong photo is fading away, there is more tabloid fodder today about her son Michael. What did he do now? How does she feel about it? That's ahead. Don't go away.


KING: Time for a little inspiration with tonight's hero of the week. His name is Ed Nicholson. He's president of Project Healing Waters, which helps rehabilitate military personnel and veterans through fly fishing. It's a very unique idea. I asked Ed how he came up with it.


ED NICHOLSON, PROJECT HEALING WATERS: Well, I was in Walter Reed, the hospital myself, about five years ago. Suffering through that, I saw the wounded guys. And I thought now that I was retired, spent years in the Navy, I thought maybe I would take a few out fishing.

Pause it there and then you bring it forward. Pick it up, put it out.

KING: What kind of response do you get from them?

NICHOLSON: It's terrific. I think that's what really keeps me going and many of our volunteers we have across the country; it's the feedback directly from them as to how important this program has been to them and their healing.

Instead of cranking it in like you would with a spinning reel, you strip, strip, strip.

What could be easier?

KING: Having fly fished myself, I find it very, very soothing. Is that the way it works for the guys and girls?

NICHOLSON: It really is. It's physical, yes. It helps them reclaim some of the losses they achieved. But it's really an emotional break they get. And able to get out of the hospital, get out on a river, maybe catch a fish. But that's not really the important thing. It's just out there in nature.

KING: I salute you, Ed. We are proud to have you as our hero of the week. It's a unique and great idea.

NICHOLSON: Thank you, sir.


KING: Who knew that a passion for a hobby could be used to help and heal others? Ed Nicholson, thanks for a job well done. Happy fishing.

Next, Debbie Phelps on today's tabloid report about her son Michael. Scandal on the horizon? Stay with us.




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, give my best to Debbie Phelps. She's a great mom and a great lady.

KING: You hear that?

DEBBIE PHELPS, MOTHER OF MICHAEL PHELPS: Hi, Anderson. How are you? Thank you so much. Good to see you.

KING: She sure is. She is principal of a middle school in one of my favorite places, Baltimore, Maryland. Debbie Phelps, the mother of Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals in Beijing, is the author of a new memoir, "A Mother For All Seasons." There you see its cover.

You have this terrific new book coming. If I do say so myself, it's inspiring.

PHELPS: Thank you.

KING: It's uplifting and just hitting the bookstores. Yet today's lead story in the "New York Daily News" gate crasher column -- I don't know who writes that -- "tsk, tsk," it says, "Michael Phelps, partying your face off in public is not the way to reclaim your good guy image. The Olympian was been laying relatively low since his bong smoking scandal in January was out in full force Tuesday night at New York City hot spot Marquis" -- I think is the name -- "Michael was definitely having a good time, an eye witness tells us, drinking straight from a bottle of Grey Goose. When the DJ started playing MIA's 'Paper Planes,' he got up started dancing like a loon and kept on yelling 'shots.' Phelps definitely had enough alcohol on hand for several four round. He ordered four bottle of Vodka."

Is this tough for a mother? How do you react?

PHELPS: It's one thing that I learn at a very early age is I don't get caught up in gossip columns. I know my son. He has great values, lots of integrity. That's what I think about that.

KING: Did you talk to him about this?

PHELPS: I always talk to Michael. I talk to Michael every day. We talked about training today and things of that nature. So -

KING: But it would be normal to say, what happened, wouldn't it? I would say that to my son.

PHELPS: I'm a mom. You're a dad?

KING: You bet.

PHELPS: And we parent. We give love. We give support. We give guidance. We give an ear to listen. And, again, I don't get caught up in gossip.

KING: Therefore, you don't believe it? I just want to establish what your feelings are.

PHELPS: I don't get caught up in gossip, Mr. King.

KING: So you don't believe it?

PHELPS: I don't get caught up in gossip.

KING: What about something that wasn't gossip, the picture with the bong thing. It was a picture.

PHELPS: It's a picture, that's true. But, you know, a picture can say many things. It has many words. It has many meanings. It has many visualizations that you want to think. It depends on the person who is looking at that picture.

You know, as a mom, I support all three of my children. And I believe that no matter who you are in this country, in this world, there are obstacles that get into your life. I call them speed bumps in school sometimes. I heard someone say lightning bolts. That's another term for that.

But, you know, how do we grow? How do we learn? You raise a child through 18. You send them off to college. You give them the roots. You give them the foundation to be a strong young man, a strong lady. Life throws curve balls to you sometimes. How do you handle that curve ball.

KING: Michael is 23. That's an adult. He's an adult.

PHELPS: A young adult.

KING: Young adult. So one could say it's his life. He chooses to lead it. As our parent, we do our best to guide them, but 23 is 23. Do you view him still as a kid?

PHELPS: I view my 31-year-old daughter as a kid sometimes. You know, I look at each of my children independently and individually of themselves. And they have many strong values, strong points, professionalism. And I'm just very proud of all three of them and everything they've done.

KING: Do you think these kind of stories -- and you don't pay attention to them -- hurt your book?

PHELPS: You know, the book that we have here in front of you, "A Mother For All Seasons," is a memoir of my life, Debbie Phelps. And, you know, I was asked many times and told many times, Debbie, you need to write a book some day. As an educator, I'm thinking, I would really like to do that. And it would -- and it became a personal goal of mine to be able to publish a book, not knowing exactly what it was going to be.

Was it going to be my life? Was it going to be parenting? Was it going to be swimming? Was it just going to be motivational and inspirational? When I take a look at the book I was able to write, I have great pride in that book, because it shows other people, every woman, but not even women -- men can read this book also -- the inspiration and motivation of life. What do you do when obstacles get in your way?

KING: It's an excellent book.

PHELPS: I appreciate that.

KING: The question is, do you think these kind of stories might hurt the chance of people buying the book, which is what you want?

PHELPS: And people are going to have to make that decision.

KING: Do you think it might? PHELPS: Who knows? Life -- life is life. I do want to say, though, in reference to the Beijing Olympics, we, as a family, I think, made a great impression on the world, on the United States. My son has great love for me. It's a great bonding relationship. Families are very important.

You want to build that bond. Never know, though, that there was so much face time during the Olympics of our family. We were there as parents in the stands, spectators in the stands.

KING: That's life.

PHELPS: It is life.

KING: We'll be right back with Debbie Phelps. The book, "A Mother For All Seasons." Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Debbie Phelps. The book, "A Mother For All Seasons," and a terrific read. We mentioned that pipe thing earlier. Michael was on with Matt Lauer about that. Let's watch.


MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": The party in South Carolina; who were these people you were with? What was going on that night?

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: We were just celebrating, honestly. It was just a small group. We were sitting around celebrating.

LAUER: I have to ask you, were you smoking pot?

PHELPS: It's a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what you and I are talking about. Stupid mistake, bad judgment.


KING: OK. You're a teacher, were a teacher for 20 years. You're a principal. What part of someone's life is our business?

PHELPS: There's a very fine line there. As a principal, when I sit and talk to a parent, I have to talk to a parent as the principal of the schoolhouse. And what happens outside those school doors really I have no part of. If they choose to tell me that, then definitely I will listen. I will offer advice. So that becomes a very fine line in people's lives.

But sometimes people over-step that line. And they pry into other people's business that is not necessary and doesn't belong to them.

KING: Is he still a role model, do you think?

PHELPS: You know, when I think of the word role model -- and I'll go back to me being a little girl, it was my mom and my dad. They were my role models when I was growing up. And when I hear that role model in a sentence with my son, what I think about with Michael is what he does with and for children. And it might be things people don't even know of his association with the Boys and Girls Club. For years he has done that. For his association with Make A Wish.

And things that -- he touches kids' lives. So if an individual, wherever they may be, may select my son as a role model, I say that my son has strong values. I say he's a human being. And I say that from obstacles that get in people's ways -- we all have them, Mr. King, and you know that -- what do you learn from them and how do you rise above the occasion?

KING: It's what do you do with the downs.

PHELPS: You have to. Everyone has a down. Everyone gets a lemon. What do you do with it?

KING: I never met someone pure.

PHELPS: Nor have I. I don't think I ever will.

KING: Thanks, Debbie.

PHELPS: It's a pleasure. Thank you so very much.

KING: Debbie Phelps. The book is "A Mother For All Seasons." Marie Osmond and the guys from "Deadliest Catch" are here tomorrow night. Right now, the latest new with Anderson Cooper and "AC 360."