Less than 48 hours ago, Matt Lauerwas king of the morning TV world.
NBC’s Today dominated the ratings for the better part of his 20-year run as co-anchor, first with Katie Couric, then Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry, and most recently with Savannah Guthrie. Lauer’s reported salary had grown to a reported $20 million a year, affording him a cushy lifestyle and an impressive real estate portfolio that includes a ranch in New Zealand and a $36.5 million estate in the Hamptons.
Well, it’s nice that he has multiple places to retreat to. Because the king hasn’t only lost his throne—he was thrown out the castle and the drawbridge was slammed shut behind him.
NBC fired Lauer on Tuesday night within hours of receiving a detailed complaint of sexual misconduct against the veteran host and newsman from a female colleague, according to a statement the network released first thing Tuesday morning. His ouster was duly reported on at beginning of the Wednesday’s Today by a shell-shocked Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, both of whom said they were still processing the disturbing news about their longtime friend and colleague but applauded the bravery of the woman who had come forward.
Their grim report came just over a week after Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell had to do the same thing on CBS This Morning when Charlie Rose was suspended—and then fired hours later—from the network after the Washington Post reported allegations against Rose made by eight women.
The Today website has already been scrubbed of Lauer’s bio and the index of his stories. NBC said that no previous claims had been filed against Lauer, but that the initial unnamed alleged victim’s report gave them reason to believe there had been other incidents. And after news of his firing broke, Variety reported that they had talked to three women who claimed they had been sexually harassed by Lauer, including one who said he once gave her a sex toy as a present and another who said he exposed himself in front of her in his office.
And the hits kept coming, with NBC receiving at least two more complaints. Ari Wilkenfeld, the attorney representing the first woman to come forward, told The New York Times, “My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s human resources and legal departments at 6 p.m. on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace.”
Meanwhile, Lauer broke his silence on the allegations Thursday, both apologizing and—echoing other mea culpas made in the same vein by men, such as Charlie Rose and Sen. Al Franken, who’ve also been publicly accused of sexual misconduct in recent weeks—insisting he doesn’t remember certain incidents in the same way as his accusers.
“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions,” his statement reads. “To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappoint I have left behind at home and at NBC. Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish deeply. Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I am committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job.
“The last two days have forced me to take very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
Guthrie described herself as “heartbroken” and Jenna Bush Hageremotionally admitted it was hard to be at work at the moment. Meanwhile, longtime former Today anchor Curry—who was fired in 2012 after barely a year in the main co-host role and was the star of many a last-laugh meme yesterday—told People she was also “still really processing” the news.
“I admire the women who have been willing to speak up both anonymously and on the record,” Curry said. “Those women need to keep their jobs, and all women need to be able to work, to be able to thrive, without fear. This kind of behavior exists across industries, and it is so long overdue for it to stop. This is a moment when we all need to be a beacon of light for those women, for all women, and for ourselves.”
Megyn Kelly, who joined NBC and Today this year and counted Lauer among her main defenders when she got off to a rocky start, acknowledged yesterday on her show that “this one hits close to home,” but she kept the focus on the sea change taking place across the board when it comes to the response to sexual harassment and the mistreatment of women in the workplace. Today she invited Lauer and his accusers to appear on her show for a reckoning.
And according to The Hollywood Reporter, Kelly said while on a panel at Business Insider‘s Ignition conference yesterday morning: “I had heard rumors about Matt, but that’s all they were. And my feeling on it is a rumor is not the same thing as a reportable fact. And it was also that I hear a lot of rumors about myself, too, that are completely untrue, and when you’re a public figure people do make up things about you and put them in print.”
Kelly of course had hoped the rumors weren’t true, she said.
Meanwhile, a lot of people had heard rumors about Matt Lauer—not about harassment, per se, but about his marriage, alleged infidelities and about what sort of guy he really may be outside of his his stoic, warm and congenial morning show persona.
His 19-year marriage to former model Annette Roque has made headlines on and off over the years, most memorably in 2006 when she filed for divorce while pregnant with their first child. They ultimately reconciled, but not before it was reported that Roque had accused Lauer in the divorce papers (which are sealed in New York) “cruel and inhumane” acts.
Roque withdrew her divorce petition three weeks after she filed it. They welcomed son Thijs (pronounced “Tice,” it’s a Dutch name derived from “Matthias”) in November 2006. The Lauers are also parents of son Jack, now 16, and daughter Romy, 14.
Lauer was previously married to TV producer Nancy Alspaugh from 1981 until 1988. He met Roque on a blind date in 1997 and they tied the knot five months later, on Oct. 3, 1998, at a private estate in Water Mill, N.Y. Bryant Gumbel, his predecessor at Today, served as best man and a number of his colleagues, including Curry and Couric, were among the guests. (Al Roker‘s brother was getting married the same day, so he missed the ceremony but managed to make the reception.)
Roque wore Vera Wang and stylist Maria Santoro—the pal who set the couple up—was one of her bridesmaids.
Recalling how the newlyweds were acting at the party, Roker told People, They would be talking to somebody, and when that person would leave, the two of them were looking into each other’s eyes. You could see they were truly, truly happy.”
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Apollo
Life as half of the most powerful morning show duo on TV with Couric was hectic, to say the least. Starting in 1998, Lauer would take off every year for Today‘s popular “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer” series, which would have him crisscrossing the globe over the course of barely a week. He actually proposed to Roque while they were in Venice, Italy, on one of his whirlwind tours.
“When I first started doing this [traveling all over for NBC News in general], I was single, and getting on a plane for eight days and 30,000 miles didn’t have that big an impact on my life,” he told People in 2004. But in 2001, he was scheduled to go when his wife was pregnant, “which made it fairly hard. I left the next year when we had a newborn [Jack], which was extremely hard…And now we have two children, and it’s a lot more challenging to leave my family.”
Talking about how life had changed the most since his single days, Lauer said, “Now I define myself by what happens when I walk in that door after work.” Regular date nights were important, he added. “We try to pick a night where we can go out, just sit down and have a quiet time together. What you end up talking about is your kids. But that’s fine because that’s a passion we share.”
Aside from the occasional photo opportunity at an event, the Lauers have led a relatively private life as a couple—sporadic dirty laundry reports aside.
Since 2004 their home base in Manhattan has been an apartment they bought for $5.884 million in the same Lenox Hill building where Bernie Madoff lived before he was busted for running a Ponzi scheme and sentenced to 150 years in prison. The building, on NYC’s Upper East Side, boasts 11 floors, with two penthouses and two residences per floor, with front and back elevators allowing for utmost privacy if you’re not one for hobnobbing with the neighbors.
In 2010, multiple reports circulated that Lauer had moved out of the apartment, but still saw the kids all the time and would reunite with Annette on the weekends in the Hamptons as a family—but the couple adamantly denied it.
“I have never moved out. I am not moving out. There is no truth to that,” Lauer told People, calling rumors of infidelity on his part “ridiculous”; Annette separately told the magazine—in a very rare interview—”Out of self-respect, I want to stand up for our family and protect them.” They had some problems in the past, she confirmed, but “we have worked through it.”
Lauer also said, “Have we had a completely perfect, easy marriage? No. But the stories you’ve read over the years are not true. I don’t think we’re any different than any married couple that’s been together for 12 years. The [cheating] accusations are ridiculous and I’m not going to [dignify] them with an answer. It’s not true.”
The Lauers are currently owners of two residents in the Hamptons, though they’ve been trying to unload one since last year. They originally listed an 8,000-square foot estate on 25 acres in Sag Harbor for $18 million, but after a couple of reductions the asking price was down to $14.9 million as of June, per Curbed Hamptons.
The Long Island enthusiasts also sold an 1,800-square-foot Southampton “cottage” for $3.5 million last December that Lauer had bought in 2009.
Last summer Lauer went larger than ever, purchasing the 19,000-square-foot Strongheart Manor, sitting on more than 6 acres of prime waterfront real estate, from Richard Gere for $36.5 million. The main house has 12 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms, while the property also contains two guest houses, a pool, basketball and tennis courts and 300 feet of beach.
Now it turns out that the lingering property in Sag Harbor might not be the only headache in the Lauers’ portfolio.
According to Deadline, New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office is now reviewing Lauer’s purchase of the lease for Hunter Valley Station, a 16,000-acre ranch that he acquired in February for a reported $9 million (it’s government land, which can’t be purchased outright, but buyers can take over the lease), in light of the allegations against him. Per the terms of the international deal, foreign tenants must “be of good character.”
And we imagine that’s not the only ball up in the air for Matt Lauer right now.
In 2012, when he signed a new deal with NBC that Forbes put at $25 million a year through 2017, Lauer told Extra that “it was always [his] dream job” to be a part of the Today show and he couldn’t imagine giving it up.
“I still love it,” he said. He also was asked about property he had recently purchased in the area (they appeared to be in the Hamptons), and he said they planned to convert from a nursery into a horse property.
“My wife is very much into horses,” Lauer explained, “my children are into horses, and so we have a dream to kind of have the place that we can keep some horses and ride year-round. And it’ll be beautiful, it’s a great use of the property, and I think people in the area will really like it.”
Lauer said he used to ride horses when he was younger, “but I find other ways to break bones these days, between bicycles and jet-skiing and things like that.”
He was also asked about an incident that had just occurred when a notorious Ukrainian prankster had tried to kiss Will Smith at an event. Asked if the guy went too far, Lauer said, “I think any reporter doing his or her job should not be kissing interview subjects, either immediately before or immediately after interviews—and especially not during.”
And now, with his Today show days behind him, pretty much everything he’s ever said and done, on camera and off, has been magnified to the nth degree—including Katie Couric telling Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live back in 2012 about Lauer’s most annoying habit when they worked together.
“He pinches me on the ass a lot,” Couric, who left Today in 2006, replied. (She did, however, return to Today for a week in January for a series of special broadcasts marking Lauer’s 20th year on the show.)
“I just learned of this, like, a second ago,” Howard Stern, who has had Lauer on his radio show multiple times over the years and who is personal friends with him and his wife, said on the air Wednesday morning, when news of the firing first broke. “And, I don’t know, it just sounds like a f–king mess.”
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)