In an exclusive interview with Billboard last month, Howard Stern executive producer Gary Dell'Abate noted that, last year, Stern (who graced the cover of the Jan. 25 Billboard issue and also gave an extended Q&A) set a mandate for a stronger focus on A-list guests.
Stern's 60th-birthday bash at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday night (Jan. 31) reinforced just how many household stars of music, stage and screen have responded to the directive, as Stern, his crew (led by Dell'Abate's exceptional booking skills) and satellite broadcaster SiriusXM, Stern's radio home since 2006, delivered a four-hour gala rivaling the star power of any glitzy awards show. Perhaps even better; whereas the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards and Grammy Awards spotlight talents in their respective fields, Stern's party melded those of numerous walks, truly befitting his moniker as the "King of All Media."
Dell'Abate also told Billboard last month that every song performed at the bash would be a revered hit, with the last song of the night to be "iconic." Those promises, too, were kept.
The festivities began just after 6 p.m., with the night quickly taking on the feel of an all-star Stern broadcast, a mix of conversation and rock icons' performances of classic hits. Stern was mic'd and seated next to longtime sidekick Robin Quivers on-stage at a booth mimicking a radio studio, with Stern bantering with the night's emcee, ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, and guests who came over to chat on the couch next to them throughout the night.
Train, fronted by Pat Monahan, served as the evening's house band. ("The first time we did his show, I said about three words because I was so blown away to actually be doing his show. Now we're friends and he's one of the greatest people I know," Monahan told Billboard last month.)
The festivities were simulcast live on SiriusXM (for free), with the crowd of approximately 1,500 a mix of SiriusXM subscribers who won their way in by listening; household-name entertainers; and members of Stern's "Wack Pack," his loyal band of social misfits that have long made for fodder on his show.
Ultimately, the breadth and name-recognition factor of those who took the stage reflected Stern's evolution "from monster to man," as Kimmel joked later in the night (after he, Stern and guests shared several shots; the exceedingly boisterous crowd, too, was treated to an open bar), and from Stern's start as a tentative DJ, his rise to "shock jock" fame and to, at 60, the talent that lifted a then-fledgling Sirius (which would merge with rival XM in 2007) from 400,000 subscribers upon his joining the satcaster to more than 25 million today.
Here's a recap of the night's highlights. Remember, it was four hours-long, so this might take a while …
The party started when the curtain opened on Rob Zombie, who sang the Stern show theme song, "The Great American Nightmare." "Star Trek" legend, and official Stern show announcer, George Takei followed to officially welcome the crowd. "We're all here to celebrate Howard's birthday. Bill Shatner is not. I win," Takei declared.
When Kimmel began his night's hosting duties, amid the steady flow of jokes was a sincere admiration for all that Stern, a National Radio Hall of Fame inductee in 2012, has accomplished, with him noting especially how much Stern has transformed the medium. "Every person in this room tonight is here because, at one point, you turned on the radio, in your car or at home, you heard something you never heard before," Kimmel said.
"You heard a man talk about subjects no one had ever talked about on radio before. He told us very personal things about his marriage. He showed us every part of him and, in doing so, he took a medium that was populated by announcers and countdowns and zookeepers and guys with deep voices and he changed it.
"Howard Stern did to radio what Picasso did to visual art," Kimmel beamed. "Picasso changed the way that artists approached the canvas. Howard had the same effect on broadcasting."
Actor Johnny Knoxville introduced the next musical guest of the night, the Black Keys, who performed a bouncy "Lonely Boy" (a 14-week No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart in 2011-12).
Kimmel then went to roving reporter Jeff Probst, host of CBS' "Survivor," who weaved the bevy of entertainers seated at round tables Golden Globes-style on the floor in front of the stage.
Barbara Walters proclaimed to Probst her affection for Stern because, despite his penchant for his trademark blue humor, he's "pure, sweet and innocent." Walters' broadcasting-legend male counterpart Larry King said that an appearance on Stern's show amounted to "one of the great hours I've ever spent on the air."
"Thank you for all those years of entertainment," Stern responded.
Probst handed the mic to former "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" cast member (and 2013 Billboard Music Awards host) Tracy Morgan for praise of Stern, delivered in his typical offbeat way. Seated alongside a radiant Jewel (with most in attendance sharply dressed in honor of Stern), fellow former "SNL" comic David Spade said, "Thank you for putting me next to her."
Kimmel reclaimed direction of the proceedings by welcoming Comedy Central's "roast-master general" Jeff Ross and comic icon comic Joan Rivers to the stage. Perhaps their best barb, courtesy of Ross: "Wherever Howard goes, he keeps a picture of his wife Beth in his wallet. Wherever Beth goes … she keeps a picture of Howard's wallet."
The music returned with John Mayer, who covered Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." By the end of the song, his intricate guitar-playing shined as a highlight.
After pre-recorded video tributes from Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld ("We're both the same age, [but] you win, man," Seinfeld conceded) and an on-stage hello from Kathy Griffin to Stern, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a timeout from preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. to make a cameo. "I'm not the representative from New Jersey you want to see," he told the crowd, introducing fellow Garden Stater Jon Bon Jovi. Backed by Train, he performed Bon Jovi's 1987 No. 7 Billboard Hot 100 hit, and one of the band's signature songs, "Wanted Dead or Alive."
"Dead or alive? Seems like a weird choice for a 60th birthday," Kimmel mused.
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine continued the music by likewise joining Train for a cover of Prince's "Purple Rain." Like Mayer, Levine showed off guitar-shredding skills not often revealed on Maroon 5 recordings. Stern remarked that "Rain" is his favorite Prince song (with many of the night's guests, and song choices, not known to Stern before his big night, in order to add to his excitement upon seeing and hearing them, Kimmel noted).
Next up, comic master and star of FX's "Louie" Louis C.K. (the first comedian who said yes to appearing at the birthday bash, according to Dell'Abate) praised Stern's unique talent for captivating listeners. "I grew up in Newton [Mass.] and my first car was a 1978 Datsun B210," CK said. "The day I got that car, I drove to New York City. I got stuck in traffic for hours and I'm listening to some guy I've never heard of. He's on a megaphone prank-calling Yoko Ono. I was angry, like, 'Play a song!'"
NBC's Matt Lauer and Al Roker appeared next in a video tribute, apologizing for not being able to attend because they were in Sochi, Russia for the Olympics … only for a zoom-out to reveal a green screen behind them.
Train followed with its No. 10 Hot 100 hit from 2012 "Drive By" and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean."
Katie Couric bantered with Probst and Stern, followed by Whoopi Goldberg, who gave a testament to Stern's interviewing skills. "People would tell me, 'I never liked you before … [until] I heard you on Stern …'"
In a video message medley, the Beach Boys, Neil Young and Metallica's James Hetfield wished Stern a happy birthday (separately), with the Beach Boys tweaking the chorus of "California Girls" to, "we wish we all could be rich as Howard Steeeeern …"
Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" fame introduced Jimmy Fallon, the new host of "The Tonight Show" as of this month. Kimmel was gracious to his new 11:30 p.m. competitor, although after he shared a shot with Fallon, Stern said, "Kimmel just poisoned Fallon." Fallon showed off his imitation skills, perfectly capturing Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried and Adam Sandler, while winning his biggest laughs for his sound-alike version of Chris Rock ("60 years old! 60 years old!" had the crowd roaring.)
After a quick hello from actress Mary McCormack, Stern's "movie wife" in his 1997 No. 1 box office biopic "Private Parts," incoming NBC "Late Night" host Seth Meyers continued the surreal mix of late-night network rivals sharing a stage. "Growing up in New Hampshire, my dad used to listen to you at night on WBCN [Boston, which aired Stern's morning show on delay when he first arrived in syndication]. When he got home, he'd stay in the car to listen [more]. It turns out the radio didn't work. He just didn't want to come in and see his family …"
Fellow "SNL" alum Fred Armisen sang the Beatles' "Blackbird" to Stern, followed by Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's "Girls," chiding Stern for making fun of her upon her breakthrough. Dunham admitted to her eventual fandom of Stern, calling him a "champion of women in the arts."
Dunham introduced comedienne Sarah Silverman, who, along with the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines, worked up a musical ode to Stern punctuated by its funny yet heartfelt "stop the clock" refrain, in which they wished Stern to remain ageless.
The night's tone changed when Stern interviewed CBS' "Late Show" host and longtime friend David Letterman for approximately a half hour. (While it was surely great radio to outside listeners, the crowd grew a bit restless in spots at the low-key turn in direction.) Letterman touched on a variety of topics, including his strained relationship with outgoing "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, his few hobbies ("fishing") and his 32-year run on late-night TV, saying he has no immediate plans to step down like his NBC competitor.
Kimmel sat with Stern and Letterman, any sense of rivalry with the latter trumped by respect for him. "I loved that," he told Stern after.
Next: a video tribute from Arnold Schwarzenegger and on-stage guest Katie Couric, who ribbed that repeatedly hearing that Stern is the "greatest interviewer is getting a little tired." (Stern, of course, grilled her good-sport fiancé John Molner on intimate details about the couple.)
Jewel sang a Stern original, "Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes," wowing with an extended high note at song's end, while onetime Stern foe Rosie O'Donnell reimagined "Grease" hit "Summer Nights" to chronicle her eventual friendship with the guest of honor.
John Stamos introduced John Fogerty, who got the crowd, and even Stern, dancing with blistering versions of "Bad Moon Rising" and "Fortunate Son." "Like Howard, [Fogerty] speaks the truth," Stamos praised.
Actress/journalist Maria Menounos turned the tables on Stern, interviewing him from the couch. Among his revelations: Quivers, who overcame cancer, was his favorite guest of the night, "for being alive with me today." He also apologized for being rude in interviews with Will Ferrell, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, expressing hope that they'd return for fairer chats.
"At 60, I feel I'm just getting started," he said, adding, "To my fans, you made a dream come true. You're the reason I'm here."
A video message from Paul McCartney found the Beatles legend wishing his friend Stern a "happy birthday, Mr. President …," before syndicated radio host Dan Patrick introduced one of the night's top draws, Dave Grohl. His simple acoustic version of Foo Fighters' 1997 alternative classic "Everlong" captivated the crowd, with Stern calling Grohl's acoustic take of the song on his show in 1998 (the first time Grohl had performed a song so stripped-down, he said) "one of the stellar moments of my career."
Grohl took to the couch for a chat with Stern, saying that, "You played that version 10 times in an hour [that day]. If you hadn't, I'm not sure I'd be here now." Other gems: in his songwriting, ideally, lyrics and hooks appear in unison, "like a puzzle"; his mother, a 35-year schoolteacher, recognized his passion for music early, that "you're not doing any good under fluorescent lights. She understood kids"; and, drawing cheers, the "music is done" for Foo Fighters' next album, their first since 2011's "Wasting Light" (their first Billboard 200 No. 1).
Grohl added an acoustic take on the band's "My Hero," a song he wanted to play because it's one that Stern once told him made him cry, evoking Stern's feelings about his father, Ben (in attendance last night). Stern's wife Beth joined him on stage for the song, remaining next to him for the rest of the night.
Another of Stern's onetime enemies, Kathie Lee Gifford, wished Stern a happy birthday (needling him for years of jokes about her), before a giant cake rolled onto the stage and the crowd sang "happy birthday" to Stern. Quivers then shared her gratitude for Stern, with whom she's worked for 32 years. "I've had the best seat to [view] an emergence of a superstar. A great person makes other people live up to their potential. I love you from the bottom of my heart and I would go to the ends of the earth for you," she said, the pair's deep connection touching.
Robert Downey, Jr. had the honor of introducing the night's musical headliner, Steven Tyler. "Here's to hell," Tyler shouted to Stern. "May we have as much fun there as we have getting there!" Guitar icon Slash joined Tyler, on piano, for a commanding performance of Aerosmith's classic "Dream On," Tyler still hitting all the song's ridiculously high notes at its close.
In a lengthy list of thank yous, Stern lauded many for his career, highlighted by his appreciation for his longtime agent, Don Buchwald, and SiriusXM for believing in him. "As a kid, all I wanted to do was go on the radio and have somebody appreciated what I had to say," he said.
After four hours, the night wrapped with Tyler, Slash, Grohl (on drums) and Train joining to blast Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." Stern and his wife danced; Cyndi Lauper, Tom Arnold, Zach Braff (gleefully snapping cell phone pictures of the all-star jam), Kathy Griffin and Jenny McCarthy hit the stage; and Tyler and Quivers momentarily did their best Rockettes' impersonation with impressively synchronized leg kicks.
Stern's closing remarks summed up the incredible assortment of talent that assembled to celebrate his 60th birthday.
"This is the greatest night of my life."