Monday morning dawned bittersweet.
I woke up and turned on Good Day L.A., the semidiscombobulated morning news/gossip/chat show on Fox’s Channel 11. It’s something I once did reflexively, but only occasionally now, like checking in on an old friend. See, I had developed a deep connection to Good Day back when I first moved to Los Angeles and had fallen upon some tough times. It didn’t seem to take itself very seriously, and by being there every morning, mostly in a good mood, it reminded me that the world keeps turning even when you don’t feel like turning with it.
Of particular interest was weather girl Jillian Barberie. It wasn’t just that she was fetching; she also was kind of nuts, in a good way. While presenting the weather, something she often did with only the slightest of interest (and, really, unless there are fires or floods, how interesting is the weather here?), she’d make fart noises with her underarms. She’d pick her teeth. She’d exclaim about her breasts, “Yes, they’re real AND THEY’RE SPECTACULAR!” She was postmodern zany. I got it.
Barberie wasn’t just a joke though. I remember being impressed by how deftly she and her cohosts Steve Edwards and Dorothy Lucey, despite their usual loony shtick, handled tough, breaking news. The bloody 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery and shootout, during which nine civilians and three police officers were shot, stands out in my mind.
Jillian and her colleagues mirrored Los Angeles itself, serious when it had to be, but never unduly earnest.
Jillian had something else I could relate to — she wore her heart on her sleeve. She had personal demons that she seemed unable to keep personal. Like her divorce from former baseball player Bret Barberie. Or her emotional search for her biological parents. Later, it was her inability to find companionship in this lonely ol’ town. But she didn’t wallow in her travails; she used them for comedy and self-deprecation. Selfishly, I was glad she was unlucky in love. To me, it seemed, if all else went wrong, at least Jillian Barberie was still out there and available. How bad could things be if the world held out that possibility?
I never met her, but I did speak to her once. It was around 1999, and thinking I knew a star in the making when I saw one, I scheduled a feature on her for a magazine I edited. In the many starts and restarts of getting the photo shoot done, she was humble, accommodating and cheerful.
Coincidentally, her career took off after that. She appeared in more magazines. She did recurring guest spots on TV shows like Pamela Anderson’s V.I.P. (as reporter Foxy Levin), and the short-lived, not cleverly named Good Morning, Miami (another sun-kissed town in which Barberie had been a weather girl). Trivialities, for sure, but Barberie was always up for the joke.
Life moves on. We both got busier. She had the syndicated dating shows she hosted and the NFL on Fox weather updates, during which she never missed an opportunity to mess with Terry Bradshaw. There was Skating With the Stars.
I still watched when I could. But somewhere along the way, Jillian stopped being so much fun. She started to get a little cranky. Maybe it was the fact that Kelly Ripa got the Regis gig she wanted. Maybe she felt marginalized as “the weather babe.” When Good Day L.A. tried going national, her spot was taken by a Jillian-lite. She still did her job, but she didn’t seem happy. She kept reminding us she was on antidepressants.
Worse, and perhaps defiantly, she seemed to be internalizing something she used to wink at: the caricature of her as a sex object. Her knockout body went from playing a supporting role in her persona to taking the lead. Her photo shoots got racier. There was talk of doing a Playboy spread. Yeah, she flashed glimpses of the old, goofy Jillian, the beautiful train wreck with nine adopted pets at home, smarter than she lets on. But her characteristic self-deprecation appeared to have given way to a darker self-absorption. I tuned in only sporadically.
But when on a whim I turned on Good Day L.A. the other morning, there she was showing off pictures of her with her new husband. They got married in a small ceremony over the weekend in her backyard. She looked resplendent in a white dress and a flower crown. Her husband was tall, dark and handsome. He appeared to be easygoing, a good guy. Dorothy called in from vacation in Rome, crying with joy. Steve moderated the stream of well-wishing phone calls like a proud father. Jillian glowed, thankful. It was pure California goodness.
Happily, Jillian Barberie was back. Sadly, she was gone too. And now I want to see more of her again.
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