Even if you live under a rock, you’re familiar enough with the Kardashian women to know what you’d ask for from each. You’d go to Kourtney for advice about chic strollers and Kylie for help optimizing your Instagram self. You’d ask Kim whether, honestly, she ever thinks Kanye’s VMA’s speech was a little too long, and you’d see if Kendall wants to FaceTime Bieber and Gigi. But you’d go to Khloé if you wanted to laugh — if you wanted observations that were unfiltered and witty, if you needed someone to shoot you straight.
In the long lifespan that has been the Kardashian-Jenner franchise, the 31-year-old Khloé has always felt like the people’s sister — oddly relatable, funny like your best friend, the one keeping everyone in check. There she is in an early episode, cruising in an SUV with one hand on the wheel, answering a call from her mom. “Khloé? Hey it’s Mommy,” Kris says. “I know, it says that on my caller ID,” Khloé deadpans. Here she is, sailing into Armenia with “the most famous Armenian girl ever” (Kim — in case you were ready to choose another Armenian), jumping into a circle of women performing traditional dance while Kim keeps her distance, smiling politely like a statue. “If Kim ever loses a little bit of fame, she should just move to Armenia!” Khloé says later, of the Evita-like crowds they encountered. Khloé possesses an awareness that belies a near-decade spent with the cameras rolling. With her pointed commentary and uncensored mouth, she knocks down the fourth wall and then seems to take a seat on your couch, spitting out commentary about the show as quickly as you’re thinking it. She lets nothing slide.
Khloé really — and tragically — became the Kardashian everyone’s rooting for on October 13, when her ex-husband, former NBA star Lamar Odom was discovered unconscious in a Nevada brothel. As she rushed to Odom’s side, it became clear that her connection to him (in spite of her three-month relationship with Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden) was serious, both figuratively and legally. The divorce papers, it turned out, hadn’t been finalized; Khloé was responsible for Odom’s medical decisions. Collectively, everyone turned their attention to the toughest Kardashian and held their breath. The lights went out on social media and across all the Kardashian apps as the news cycle churned out occasional updates on Odom’s recovery, which Khloé appeared to be managing with a reservedness we haven’t exactly come to expect from the Kris Jenner school of breaking news — she even asked the brothel owner to please stop talking to the press. Fuzzy pictures emerge of her leaving the hospital late at night, hair pulled back — greasy. Khloé Kardashian is just like us. The tragic event illustrated her fierce loyalty — her strongest quality — as well as her Achilles’ heel (see: Amber Rose Twitter feud; Scott Disick slap).
“I’m very protective of my family,” Khloé told me three weeks before Odom’s breakdown, when I met her at the photo shoot for Yahoo Style. Back then, things were a lot more buoyant, and her famous one-liners were humming along on set. “I know, it’s bad — and I love that — it’s just who I am,” she says when I bring up the quips everyone loves. “And I get that it can be too much. Sometimes I talk too much. I’m just … very honest. I’ve also had people be like ‘Oh my God, you’re so funny, will you tell me a joke?’ And I’m like ‘I’m not Kathy Griffin!’ As much as I wish I could, I don’t do stand-up.”
This day, Khloé is tan and blonde and wearing a lot of makeup (something I’ll wish I was doing later when we take a selfie). Several pavé diamond rings adorn her fingers, which end in expertly manicured maroon nails. She’s wearing a camouflage bomber jacket, a style I’ll learn is a favorite of hers from a post called “Army Green Bombers Are Bae” on her new app (every month, “Khloé Kardashian” the line item deducts $2.99 from my bank account and teaches me things like why I should appreciate Ciara’s sense of style and how to organize my cereal). She’s honest and open, empathetic and kind, but above all else, she’s pulled together. “If the show were to end tomorrow — not to be ungrateful — it wouldn’t matter to me, because I have my foundation,” she says. “I have friends I’ve had for 15 plus years. I have my core values still going on, and it’s about family and loyalty.” In the past year her stepfather Bruce had become Caitlyn, her sister Kourtney’s relationship with Scott Disick had publicly disintegrated, and her brother Rob had effectively gone into hiding. Khloé herself was in the final stages of her divorce, and she’d also lost 35 pounds, garnering a lot of attention, often in ways she didn’t want (“If someone likes you or doesn’t like you because of your weight, that’s a problem,” she said). To watch Khloé at the shoot, though, was to see someone comfortable and happy — strutting around in a black Mugler leather trench coat, dancing with her glam squad, getting ready to head to Kanye’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Before Odom’s emergency, the thing about Khloé that people seemed to be discussing the most was her body. The press has been tough on her since she was a teenager, which is why it may come as no surprise that she’s been gearing up to launch her book, Strong Looks Better Naked, about how to find strength, inside and out. (Little did she know she would need to summon all of hers just a few weeks later with Odom.) “Before the show, I always felt really good in my own skin,” she recalls. “But people called me ‘the fat one,’ so I would almost beat them to the punch: In interviews I was like ‘I know I’m the funny fat one.’” Then came the proliferation of social media, and the Internet got mean. “I remember the first blog I ever saw of myself was on Perez Hilton, and it was bashing me so horribly that it haunted me. I always thought I had a pretty normal body — I could have lost weight six years ago, I could have done all of that. I don’t want to do something for somebody else.” Khloé lost the weight because she started exercising as a stress reliever. Her toned physique and the fact that now she’s having more fun with fashion (hello, bodysuits and denim) are great side effects, but not the end game. “I’ve been so dope this whole time,” she asserts, “I’m a good person. I’ve only changed physically.”
Everyone I talked to before I interviewed Khloé expressed a hope that she’d find love. “I mean, I don’t know. I’m dating, obviously. James,” she said, when I ask about Harden. “But I haven’t really spoken a lot about him. I’ve learned from experience you just never know what happens in life. I’ve chosen to keep things closer to my heart until I figure it out. I love hard, I love who I love, and I don’t make any qualms about it. And I can’t wait for that to happen. I think I was so open and honest about my relationship with Lamar — which I don’t regret for a second; it was the best time of my life. But because you can’t just show these wonderful things and then not show the other stuff — like ‘Oh! Lamar disappeared!’ I had to explain I was going through a divorce, and people appreciate that and relate to it,” she pauses. “And we also had a great love story, so I think people want to see that for me again.”
In the weeks since our conversation, that love story had reignited, but it was a different, perhaps more enduring chapter of it — the kind that happens when no cameras are on. Khloé’s voice was very quiet when she got on the phone with me last week to talk about Odom, who had been transferred to Cedars-Sinai, in Los Angeles, and was rumored to need a kidney transplant. She’d been easing back into sharing bits of her life with the public. “It’s so bizarre to me that I had to make an announcement on my app about why content stopped,” she said. “Even to do that, I literally had to be talked into it — why do I have to post something informing people that I’m not posting anything? It was just bizarre to me.” She adds, “It’s silly how much you do focus on social media when your life is just kind of fluffy or whatever, and now it’s the last thing on my mind. She’s chopped off her hair (“I was just emotional and irritated being in a hospital — I don’t know why I did it, but I like it”). In the murky lines between Kardashian private lives and public consumption, she was crystal clear that Odom’s condition belonged to the former. “If you look at my past with him, I’ve always been more private,” she said. “So for me, keeping this private is a big deal. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about it, and I think they shouldn’t; you shouldn’t talk about a medical situation unless you’re around it.”
When I spoke to her, she hadn’t read any of the online speculation about where her relationship with Harden stood. “Right now, at this moment — I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen in 30 minutes, which I’ve learned recently — but James and I are great, and we’re on a great page. As of this moment, he’s been very supportive. He and I are doing just fine.” If anything, the past few weeks have cemented her theory that with a relationship, less is more. “Not everyone needs to know everything about you — I know that sounds crazy coming from me. There’s already so much access to [my family], I wanted to keep a little percentage of my life just for me.” In Khloé’s view, the assumption that their stalled divorce papers meant she and Odom were back on was shortsighted. “There is so much more medically and emotionally that we have to go through in order to even think about anything romantically,” she said. “This is a very serious situation with a lot of layers. He has a long road ahead of him, and I will be there by his side. I will always love him unconditionally,” she said firmly. “That will never waver coming from me.”
That love story does indeed seem unfailing and changing by the day. Reports say Odom was taken off dialysis and can walk. Khloé watched Harden play against the Nuggets in the season opener in Houston. On Halloween, she tweeted a photo of a plastic jack-o’-lantern against a sterile medical background, and the Internet went wild with speculation again. Of course, we have no idea what’s really happening inside of that hospital, but Khloé, you can bet on it, is being strong.