Lots of great interviewees

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I was asked recently to name my favorite interview subject ever. That question stumped me.

Having been in the scribbling business for nearly five decades, I would estimate I have conducted close to 2,000 interviews with people from all walks of life: famous athletes, entertainers, politicians, Nobel Prize and Medal of Honor recipients, average folks with a story that became newsworthy, and many on the dark side, including serial killers, made Mafia members, and death row inmates.

I finally decided it would be impossible to choose just one out of all these, so I broke my most memorable interviews into categories. For one reason or another, every name mentioned here gave an interview that left a lasting impression on me.

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Entertainers: the three nicest and most considerate entertainers, who gave me far more than my requested time and were fun conversationalists, were Liberace, Lawrence Welk, and Paul Anka. Interview subjects who were rude or impatient can never make this list, no matter how interesting they were.

I realize this list makes me sound damn old, but to quote the worst answer a subject can give: It is what it is.

Athletes: Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, and Greg Maddux. All three reached the pinnacles of their sport, but none of them ever acted like they were more special than your mailman. All were also intriguing and insightful about their sport.

Politicians: President George H.W. Bush, President Jimmy Carter, Abdullah II King of Jordan. Again, the courtesy and intelligence these men displayed in the time I was honored to spend with them was an inspiration. All were class personified.

Great Golfers: Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam and Johnny Miller. Golf is a cerebral game that requires patience and discipline. These four exhibited those qualities in lengthy conversations.

Not So Great Golfers: Jack Lemmon and Rodney Dangerfield. They were willing to explain in detail the worst golf shots they had ever hit. Both reached the top of their professions, but enjoyed making fun of themselves in an arena where they knew their limits.

Brilliant Minds: Famed criminal defense attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes and financier-philanthropist Michael Milken. In transcribing their words after the interviews, I found they not only spoke beautifully, with perfect diction, but the content of their words stayed with me long after the meetings.

Comedians: Phyllis Diller, Sam Kinison, Ron “Tater Salad” White. As enjoyable as their interviews were, they were also challenging because I laughed so much I kept losing my train of thought. All were spontaneously hilarious, just funny by nature.

Authors: Novelist Ken Kesey and essayist Jan Morris. I did my masters thesis on Kesey, so when I eventually met him for an interview it was probably the most nervous I’d ever been with a subject. I was in awe of his talent. Morris, the first internationally famous transgender person, decades before Kaitlyn Jenner, spoke in language that was poetic. Both were generous and thoughtful.

The key to any satisfying interview is to spend long hours prior to the meeting researching the subject’s life, preparing a strong list of questions, but being ready to change course whenever an unexpected answer leads down a more interesting path.

Final note: the best interviewer working in television today is Keith Morrison of Dateline. That is because he is a terrific listener and a talented wordsmith. I’d love to interview him some day.

Note to Keith: call me. I’m in the phone book, if they still publish those.

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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