Longtime talk show host and BET correspondent Tavis Smiley will now forever be immortalized with the legends of the entertainment universe.
He was honored with his own Star on Hollywood Blvd’s Walk of Fame. Among the guests present to coronate him were Jay Leno and Larry King, who both playfully stomped on the landmark as it was unveiled.
“When I was a kid, I hated my name,” says the Midwesterner whose childhood pipedream was to play first base for the Cincinnati Reds. “Tavis Smiley. I got teased so much. It was Travis, Tayvis and Smiley became Smelly and ‘Oh, you’re Tavis Smelly.’ So I hated it as a kid. But, lo and behold, years later you’re a TV guy and it works.”
But it was a desire to serve the public in a deep and meaningful way — “My whole career track at that point was to become an elected official,” he says — and not hobnob with celebrities that, in 1996, pushed Smiley, who is receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 24, to pen “Hard Left: Straight Talk about the Wrongs of the Right,” a book that worked like a karate chop on conservatives, took note of Democratic Party shortcomings and issued a political call to action.
“1996 was a seminal year in my career,” says Smiley, whose the Smiley Group Inc. headquarters are inconspicuously perched adjacent to a closed-down burger joint in the artsy Leimert Park section of South Central Los Angeles. “Within months of writing my book I was in the White House as a guest of Bill Clinton and then as a regular on Tom Joyner’s radio show on NPR. So now I’m talking to 10 million people every day around the country. A couple of months after that, BET gave me my own latenight show. At that point I realized, well, maybe the political campaign thing of mine is done.”
“There is so much work to be done, and I never lose sight of this,” says the infectiously optimistic media maven. “I say this with humility, that I have quietly become — we have quietly become — the longest-running show in the history of latenight television hosted by a person of color. Arsenio [Hall] lasted five years his first time around. I’m at 11.”
Black star power indeed. Hit the gallery to see Smiley’s legendary TV peers “Rick James couch” his star and a random cameo by the Ray Parker, Jr., the “Ghostbusters” dude.