Hello, Star Jones — And Goodbye
New-York-City-prosecutor-turned-talk-show-host-turned-weight-loss-activist Star Jones made a momentous return to The View on Wednesday after a six-year absence. Warmly welcomed back by her former boss and co-host Barbara Walters, Jones defended her 2006 decision to announce on-air that she was leaving the highly rated gabfest — thereby "blind-siding" Walters and millions of viewers — and had many onlookers feeling nostalgic for the pre-Rosie O'Donnell days when The View was cozy, warm and never more controversial than "heels vs. flats."
Jones' mud-slinging departure, and O'Donnell's subsequent arrival, changed all that. A new era of "she said, she said" was unexpectedly — and for the most part, gratifyingly — ushered in, adding so much heat to "Hot Topics" that the conversations boiled over to gossip rags, cable news shows, blogs and (eventually) Twitter. The culmination was, of course, the infamous split-screen debate between O'Donnell and conservative stalwart Elisabeth Hasselbeck, which had nothing to do with Jones.
And yet, as her guest appearance on Wednesday's show demonstrated, it had everything to do with her. Before joining The View, O'Donnell had publicly criticized Jones for lying about her dramatic weight loss (Jones had gastric bypass surgery in 2003 but attributed her shrinking frame to diet and exercise), and it was in the days leading up to the announcement, in April, that O'Donnell would replace co-host Meredith Vieira that Jones learned her contract was not to be renewed. Essentially, she'd been fired, and rather than play along with a palatable "I'm ready to move on" message that would've made everything at ABC look hunky-dory, Jones decided to play ball.
"I feel like I was fired," she told People around that time — a move that, combined with her off-script announcement, terminated her spot on The View immediately, except for some pre-taped segments. "And then there were three," Walters announced the following day, referring to herself, Joy Behar and Hasselbeck, before going on to describe to The View audience what had transpired behind closed doors. (See video below.)
With six years between then and now, so much back-and-forth would seem like water under the bridge. Awkward circumstances led to awkward decisions, and on Wednesday Jones seemed more-than-willing to put it all behind her. "Barbara, are we really going to go here? Do we care at this point, my sister?" she asked, before making an exasperated face as Walters insisted on re-capping what had led to Jones' departure.
Jones has every reason not to want to talk about the intervening six years. When leaving The View, she said her nine years there were the happiest of her life. And since? Not so much. Her marriage to investment banker Al Reynolds, which began in a frenzy-inducing, over-the-top ceremony, ended in divorce. In 2011 she competed against the likes of Real Housewife NeNe Leakes and LaToya Jackson on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice — and placed fifth. Her appearances on talk shows at the time were largely focused on her heated feuds with Leakes, whom Jones controversially called "ghetto" and compared to a "wild animal." Wednesday's View appearance, hailed as a "Welcome Back," dealt with her six-years-old departure mainly because there wasn't much else to talk about. Ostensibly, she was there to raise awareness about heart disease. No upcoming movies. No new hosting gigs. "I am writing a second book," she laughed, though whether or not she was joking remains unclear.
What to make of a figure like Jones? Her decision to leave The View on "my own terms," as she says, facing down pressure to conform to a PR-friendly exit, still seems brave after six years. Yet, at the same time, she's done little to combat the image of a striving, fame-hungry has-been who got a little too cocky once and is still paying the price for it. "I look good!" she blurted out on Wednesday's show, trying to steer the conversation away from the fact that she initially misled people about her weight loss techniques. And she does! Neither morbidly obese nor unsuitably skinny, Jones seems to have finally found a medium size — and a sense of serenity — that fits her. Good for her, but at this point it feels about six years too late. We've already moved on.
Watch the video of Jones' dramatic 2006 exit here:
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