Former MTV VJ Kennedy, now a Los Angeles radio DJ, still has fond memories of her 1992-1997 stint at the cable channel. That's why she subtitled her new memoir, The Kennedy Chronicles (out Tuesday), The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses. "The MTV studio was where you wanted to be," she says.
But one of her most vivid memories is of simulating oral sex with a microphone while standing next to NYC's then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the 1994 Video Music Awards. Kennedy says she did it in order to win over a hostile audience — and it almost worked.
According to Kennedy, Roseanne Barr, who hosted that year's VMAs, teed up the incident by making some cracks at the VJ's expense during her opening monologue. "She hung me out to dry, insinuating that I had had an oral sex relationship with Rush Limbaugh," Kennedy says. "Which bums me out. I didn't see it coming but it was in her Teleprompter, so I know that someone had approved it. But no one told me and I wasn't ready for it."
Later, when Kennedy, fellow VJ Bill Bellamy and Giuliani appeared in the Radio City Music Hall balcony to tout the Viewers Choice Award, the audience began to boo. "I didn't know if they were booing me or booing him, so I panicked. I wanted desperately to get them back on my side, because I was sinking."
It was also her 22nd birthday, and her brother was in the audience. "So I had so many layers of excitement and anticipation and emotion going on all at the same time," she says. "I did the only think I knew, which was to perform oral sex on the microphone."
Nervous laughter spread slowly through the crowd, "until they were all cracking up," she says. "I was like, 'Good for me, this is great,' not realizing the personal and political ramifications of what I had just done. It didn't occur to me that I could get in trouble for that. That it crossed the line."
Angry MTV execs met that night to figure out damage control, and Kennedy was chewed out by almost every executive. The cable channel's bosses "told me I had thrown the show into the toilet. And because of that, the show was really dirty and awful and sexual."
Andy Schuon, who's now helping launch Sean "Diddy" Comb's new music channel, Revolt, as president, headed up MTV programming at the time. "You lick a microphone, it's one of the oldest tricks in the book to either get fired or become more famous," he says.
But it was the kind of VJ behavior that Schuon says the channel was used to. "One of the top skill sets you had to have as head of programming at MTV was to know how to apologize for things," he says. "The art of being sorry rather than being safe was a big motto at MTV. But we just got through those things."
Schuon says Kennedy's job was saved after she promised not to cross that line again. "It was not our style to fire people for going over the line," he says. "It was more for them to understand afterwards where the line was."
Kennedy apologized to the mayor when she ran into Giuliani again later that year while hosting MTV's New Years Eve coverage. She says clips of the infamous moment disappeared when Giuliani ran for president in 2008. Even now, she can't find a copy. "I have pestered and badgered all parties involved for so many years now," she says.
Schuon thinks he still has a copy. "We probably cut it out of repeats of the VMAs that year," he says. "But I probably have a copy of it. I bet I do. It's on VHS somewhere, but I don't think I have a VCR that works anymore. That may be the biggest problem."
Just last summer, Kennedy says she ran into Giuliani again at the Republican convention. "Mayor Giuliani was there in the green room, and I decided I would say something," she says. "It had been 19 years. I apologized to him again and he just laughed and said, 'There's no need to apologize.' We took a picture. He was super nice. But that is one of those memories that is seared into my being."