Remember when Star Jones thrived on excess? This was the woman, after all, who accepted wedding gifts from companies—clothing and merchandise—in exchange for plugging them on 'The View,' as if she needed the freebies. Now that she's returning to TV, 160 pounds lighter from (she finally admitted this week) a gastric bypass, she's got a new view: moderation. Take a recent breakfast. Jones orders a single scrambled egg with cheese. The waiter brings her two by mistake. "That's too much!" Star squeals, shoveling the extra egg away. Still, in many other ways, she's still the same Star. A few weeks before her new show on Court TV (it debuts Aug. 20) Jones spoke to NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Have you seen Barbara Walters since you left "The View"?
Star Jones: No.
If she was here today, would it feel awkward?
Absolutely not. I have done nothing wrong. I never lied. I had an amazing experience on "The View." In broadcasting, I consider her my mentor.
How did you part ways?
We didn't. The very last thing that happened, was I held her hand. I went along with the rest of the show and I never spoke to her again. I got a phone call that night [not to come back].
What have you done in your year off?
I spent a semester teaching students at an East Harlem school. I was asked to go to the graduation for my eighth-graders. For someone who doesn't have children, I felt like a proud mom. This weekend, I'm hosting a Democratic event.
Who are you supporting in the election?
Hillary Clinton and I are longtime friends. I think she would make one fantastic president, without question. I think she's the most qualified person in the field, on the left or right side of the aisle. But I'm in a very good position as a Democrat right now. My top two front runners right now are head and shoulders above anyone on the other side.
You look great. But you also look so different.
You're catching me immediately after an hour of playing tennis. So you got the bright face.
When did you have your gastric-bypass surgery?
I had surgery Aug. 19, 2003—four years ago. The total loss at this point is 160 pounds. I weighed 307 pounds on Aug. 19. I stopped weighing myself when I hit 270 pounds. I never wanted to weigh myself again. So I didn't want to know what my weight was from the doctor prior to surgery. The day of surgery, you come in and they take your blood and you do all the things you do in preparation. I got on the scale and I guess I wanted to know that number, even though I wasn't emotionally ready to handle it. Somewhere in the back of my head, I wanted to know. It said 307. I'm not sure if that was the highest I was ever. But that's the highest I ever saw the scale go.
What was your goal weight?
I said to myself, I had a goal of getting down under 200 pounds. It's very normal to lose weight after a gastric bypass, but what is not as normal is to not put it back on. I've read lots of comments from other women and even some men about my essay that was published in Glamour. Every single fear that they describe, I have felt.
Why didn't you come forward with your surgery until now?
I was never brave enough to express those fears until last year. I got a letter from a viewer [after leaving “The View”]. She said you were so candid and you had such an impact on other professional women, the ups and downs of their careers. I wish you could have been as candid with whatever you did to lose weight. I promised myself reading it that I would have the courage to step out there. I started to really put that in place, and I started to see a therapist. It was an emotional decision. I didn't want people to think poorly of me. I didn't want anyone to emulate me. Don't make me your goal or your ideal. This is a long, long, long journey.
What's the journey like?
The first eight to twelve weeks your body is helping you along. One thing I did is I started exercising. It was very discouraging initially. I started with pilates because my doctor recommended it because I was so obese. It was hard to lift my legs. It was very discouraging. Then the weight starts to come off. I saw the changes in my body. Right away, I started to exercise. I haven't used an asthma inhaler in four years. I hate the traditional gym. It never worked for me, so I mix it up. Tennis two days a week. I do a serious core fusion class, combination of body-strength training and cardio. I work with a trainer specifically one day a week: walking, lifting weights, lunges, stretches and getting that cardio in.
When you look at yourself in the mirror what do you see?
It's less about me looking at the mirror. Inside my head, I'm still 300 pounds sometimes. What I try to do is to not absorb the compliments any more than I absorb the criticisms. Criticism I appreciate because it helps me correct behavior. I'm trying to be the best I can. I look at myself in the mirror, and I giggle sometimes. I giggle sometimes that anybody cares that I've changed this much. I legitimately thought that I, Miss Big Mouth who talks about everybody on the planet, could say I don't really want to talk about it. It's the most naive and arrogant thing that I could ever thought.
How quickly did you notice the weight change?
Within six months after the surgery, I remember the first time I sat in an airline seat, I put the seat belt on and I pulled the slack. It was one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I've never had slack before. I usually needed a seatbelt extender.
There used to be a time on "The View," when there wasn't so much drama on the set.
I think we grew apart. When we started the show, we were a group of friends. We were a group of women who wanted to be like friends. We were very protective of each other, each other's privacy and not hurting each other's feelings. We never tried to hurt each other's feelings. Ever. You never heard one mean comment coming out of the show. It was a wonderful place to come to work. But as we grew, as we matured in our individual celebrities, that changed a bit. what happened? People grew apart. We were not as protective of each other. That's the fairest way I can put it.
Joy Behar makes nasty cracks about you on the show even now.
That's life. You deal with it. I can handle that. I'm not a shrinking violet. As you recall.
Did you watch Rosie's fight with Elisabeth Hassleback on her last day on the show?
I did see all of that. I for the life of me couldn't understand why there was controversy. It's not like anyone doesn't know what Elisabeth believes. I disagree with pretty much everything that Elisabeth thinks because of my own political persuasion. But I would die for her right to say it.