8 Things Bruce Jenner Said About the Price of Fame, From 1976 to Now
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
Photo: Getty Images
Bruce Jenner was widely considered the greatest athlete in the world -- but in 1976, the only way to participate in the Olympics was to be a true amateur. No professional athletes or Dream Teams allowed -- and a violation of those rules jeopardized your gold medal. (Think similar to how NCAA athletes are regulated now, at least officially.)
"In ancient Olympics, the victors were taken care of for life, literally given the keys to Greek cities," Jenner explained in his 1996 self-help book, Finding the Champion Within. "Many became the equivalent of millionaires; most never had to work again, giving rise to the term 'resting on your laurels.' These days, even Olympians have to act or they rust."
So despite setting world records and making the cover of Sports Illustrated, Jenner's hope for a financially secure future relied on being able to translate that fleeting moment of fame into a lifelong career of endorsements, broadcast commentator contracts, motivational speaking and other film and TV appearances.
"Bruce did a great job of staying relevant in a way that not every athlete figures out," said ESPN’s Christina Kahrl. "At the time, Jenner was probably as recognizable as Jimmy Carter or Muhammad Ali." After the 1972 Olympics, swimmer Mark Spitz infamously flubbed major appearances, a "what not to do" example that Jenner frequently pointed to when asked how he would navigate his post-Games career.
While Jenner was prevented from making money as an athlete before winning Gold, he’d already quietly secured a manager and a publicist in advance. But like most celebrities, in interviews and appearances over the last four decades, Jenner displayed both a striking media savvy -- and some mixed emotions about the price of giving up privacy in exchange.
Here are eight times from 1976 to now when Jenner talked about how celebrity impacted his life.
1. Sports Illustrated cover story, 1976
"'I do know that if I win and I handle myself well,' [Jenner] said, 'I can work off it for years and years.' He was being realistic, not cocky… In a five-minute span shortly after he won the gold medal, Jenner himself said exactly all the right things about the Olympics, his opposition, his country and his wife and family. If there is anything he might worry about, it would be that people would consider him too perfect, perhaps contrived. But in fact, he is only a very careful and commanding person, completely in control of himself. There is nothing artificial in being organized." -- August 9, 1976 - "Heading for the 11th Event," by Frank DeFord
2. People cover story, 1977
"I wasn’t going to be a dummy and let it slip through my fingers. The whole ballgame is to preserve your credibility and not do something that makes you look like a fool." -- April 11, 1977, "The Olympic hero strikes gold again--the kind you spend," by Nancy Faber
JENNER: Making the announcement that Chrystie [Jenner’s first wife] and I were separated was tough. It really made me mad that I had to go public with it. But there were two sides to the story. One, it didn’t look like Chrystie and I were going to make it. So if I don’t announce it publicly, what happens if I’m seen with another woman? All of a sudden, they go, hey, what’s happening? And then all the scandals start. So it’s better that I get it out in the open. But it really bothered me a lot that the public has to be involved with my private life. But I suppose the public is also paying my salary and I owe people an explanation.
PLAYBOY: Especially because you did so much in public as a couple. It seemed to many that you marketed your marriage.
JENNER: No, it wasn’t a plan to market our marriage or anything like that…
PLAYBOY: Let’s be honest: Don’t a lot of people think you’re a real schmuck for walking out on a pregnant wife?
JENNER I do get a lot of that lately. Wheaties is concerned. Other people are concerned. I’m just going to take the blame for it. The press has never had the chance to take a shot at Bruce Jenner, and this is their first opportunity to get some real gossip, or whatever, or say, hey, he’s not perfect, he’s human. Which I am. I’m just a person…
PLAYBOY: You once said that there’s a price to pay for being "the world’s greatest athlete," in that you’re being challenged all the time.
JENNER: Yeah. The title is a very tough thing to live up to. The world’s greatest athlete means you can do everything.
-- July 1980, "Playboy Interview: Bruce Jenner," by Jay Stuller
4. Entertainment Tonight, 1982
MARY HART: Beside the emotional consequences there really were some business consequences of the divorce [from Chrystie].
JENNER: It hurt tremendously. That image was gone, basically. Wheaties and Minolta and the companies I was associated with -- I lost contracts, I lost a lot of respect from people. But time heals. I’ve been able to recuperate. Things have gone very well. I’m so much more happy today than I’ve ever been in my life that it’s all worth it to me now.
-- "Bruce and Linda Jenner at Home"
5. Finding the Champion Within, 1996
"Because we were such close friends of Nicole [Brown Simpson], everybody wanted us to comment on the murder. We had about 500 phone calls a day, even though we seemed to be changing our number practically weekly. Representatives of all the media were calling, from Sports Illustrated to Life to People to Time to Geraldo. Katie Couric and Connie Chung didn’t let up. Barbara Walters knocked on the door and walked into our living room. The media attention was far more intense than what I had received when I won the Olympic gold medal -- and that was intense enough."
-- Finding the Champion Within - A Step-By-Step Plan for Reaching Your Full Potential,
by Bruce Jenner (with Mark Seal)
"A long time ago, when I won the Games, the Jenner name was known all over the world. Every country I went to, they knew who I was, and now all of a sudden [Kris] wants to go back [to Kardashian as a last name] because the girls’ name is big all around the world?"
7. Esquire, 2012
"Being a celebrity is a business. That's how you have to look at this, and by that measure, this is a very successful business."
-- May 20, 2012, "The Strange Thing About Bruce Jenner," by Chris Jones
8. Keeping Up With the Kardashians, 2013
"It really bothers me that Kylie is afraid to get her [driver's] license because she’s afraid to be driving around because these guys follow her... I don’t want these stupid paparazzi guys to take that away from Kylie…I don’t get mad very often but these guys are really ticking me off. I don’t want them following my daughter. That’s just dangerous. [Bruce gets out of the car to yell at paparazzi.] F--k you, buddy. Quit f--king following my family, you hear me?"