Whether he's keeping 'em honest on his nightly newsmagazine, Anderson Cooper 360 (10 pm/ET on CNN), or tackling personal demons amid the horrors of Iraq and Katrina in his new book, Dispatches from the Edge, Anderson Cooper has a style all his own.
TV Guide: I spent the weekend reading your book and let me tell you, it's pretty dark. Working out some issues here, huh?
Cooper: [Laughs] Well, yeah... I guess.
TV Guide: Of course, between covering wars and natural disasters, this has been a tough year for you.
Cooper: Yeah. 2005 was especially interesting.
TV Guide: So why do the book instead of a TV special?
Cooper: I wanted to honor the people I met and the emotions they were experiencing. A lot of times we see things, but then that feeling disappears. I didn't want this to disappear.
TV Guide: You're also pretty honest about losing your father as a child, and the suicide of your brother.
Cooper: I think loss is a bond that we all have. It's something that is rarely talked about, and there's nothing wrong with talking about it.
TV Guide: Did you find a level of peace after all of this was done?
Cooper: There was something about Katrina and being in all of these places in New Orleans [I had been to] as a child with my father... [because of] that collision of the past and the present, things became clearer. Things started to make more sense. Anyone who has experienced loss as a child, especially with suicide, struggles with the question of "Why?" And much of what I have been doing over the past 15 years is sort of trying to answer that, then realizing that if I couldn't get an answer, then at least be able to live in a world where there wasn't any why, where people could function without an answer.
TV Guide: How many people pointed out that you may have had a death wish?
Cooper: I don't really think that's the case. I think it's more that I wanted to be places where emotions were palpable, where people were wrestling with life-and-death issues. I think that to a degree I had a hard time feeling anything, so I wanted to be around other people who were feeling things. I don't think it was a death wish in that sense. It was more that I wanted to feel and learn from people who were surviving.
TV Guide: Well, then, for god's sake, go to a hospital. That way, you don't have to worry about Kevlar!
Cooper: [Laughs] Well, I also wanted to travel and see the world, and I had been interested in military and combat since I was a little kid. I also think there's a value to going to such places and seeing those things. I actually found myself being able to function in environments that other people couldn'tso it seemed very natural.
TV Guide: What did your mother say about all this?
Cooper: Um, she was understanding. I think she knew. I I left high school early and went to Africa when I was 17, and I think that was the first time she realized this was something I really liked to do. She's not thrilled by it, but she's gotten used to it.
TV Guide: But you do have a lighter side as well. Like your affinity for My Super Sweet 16?
Cooper: Oh, yeah. Totally. But now I've moved on to Tiara Girls. My god, they should all be lined up and shot. It's fantastic! And these parents... I don't know if you saw the promo, with the mother encouraging her daughter to get liposuction?! The girl's already getting collagen and the mother's like, "How about some liposuction." I'm also addicted to Idol.
TV Guide: Who do you want to win?
Cooper: You know, I can never remember their names so I tend to go by their look. There's a part of me that wants the gray-haired person to win.
TV Guide: But is there room for the two of you?
Cooper: [Laughs] Well, sure, there's that. And also, he'd be off to the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit, which I think he's sadly pigeon-holed himself into with his performances. I really like when he gets soulful and Joe Cocker-ish, but all the other stuff is just embarrassing.
TV Guide: As a former child model, I imagine you watch Top Model?
Cooper: You know, I do not. [Laughs]
TV Guide: Too painful? The ill-fitting shorts and knee socks?
Cooper: Yeah, a lot of dark memories there. [Laughs]
TV Guide: How did that even start?
Cooper: I really wanted to be self-sufficient. But there's not a lot of jobs an 11-year-old can take, because of child-labor laws.
TV Guide: There are sweatshops and child modeling.
Cooper: Or, like, coal mining in Wales.
TV Guide: There's also intricate beadwork in Thailand. Small hands and all.
Cooper: Or I could make soccer balls in Pakistan. But since my sewing really wasn't up to snuff, I did the modeling thing, which was really cheesy.
TV Guide: How long did you last?
Cooper: It was two years. And I made a lot of money. I mean, not a lot of money, but I was making $35 an hour.
TV Guide: Beats a paper route.
Cooper: Sure does.
TV Guide: Oddly, you do this modeling when you're a kid and now every time you open a magazine, it's "hottest anchor" or "sexiest host." And by the way, the Vanity Fair pics? Hello!
Cooper: Oh, yeah? Thanks.
TV Guide: You getting that cover framed? Pull a Paris Hilton over the fireplace?
Cooper: No, I think that would be a little embarrassing.
TV Guide: Speaking of Paris, how do you feel about being directly followed in Vanity Fair by a spread on Nicole Richie?
Cooper: Well, she is an author, too. [Laughs]
TV Guide: But her book, The Truth About Diamonds, is air-quotes included "fiction."
Cooper: Yeah, hers is a novel, but it has photographs of herself in costume as various characters. There are a couple of photos in my book, but nothing like Nicole's. We decided those pictures were only for "personal use."
TV Guide: Your MySpace profile?
TV Guide: Where did 360's "Keeping Them Honest" bits come from?
Cooper: Katrina. There's so much stuff that's said, but people aren't held accountable for their actions.
TV Guide: You're basically calling people on their BS.
Cooper: And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Especially with New Orleans so many people haven't followed up on their promises.
TV Guide: Is the West Coast next for an "Honest" segment?
Cooper: Yeah, we went to the San Diego and Arizona borders, then L.A. for the immigration rallies. We're going back out in a few weeks to do a fact-check on the actual numbers of people coming across, and how that compares to previous years.
TV Guide: Did you cash in on your celebrity while in L.A.? Hit a swag lounge and score a free Hugo Boss suit?
Cooper: Well, I'm not allowed to accept any free gifts.... And I tend to wear Ralph Lauren anyway.
TV Guide: You're not tempted to go Hollywood and book someone like Kevin Federline on 360?
Cooper: I believe he is now "K-Fed," so I think we should respect his nom de guerre. [Laughs] I don't even know what I would say to celebrities. I veer away from [them].
TV Guide: Plus, if you wanted that life, you could have stayed hosting The Mole. Instead, you went and done good.
Cooper: [Laughs] Ah, well, thanks.