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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of Tom DeLay, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Blair

Aired May 7, 2005 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS in a moment but first here's what's happening now in the news.
Insurgents unleash a bloody attack in the heart of Baghdad. A suicide car bomb blew up next to an SUV convoy today, causing dozens of casualties. Two American contractors were among 22 people killed.

President Bush is hailing freedom and democracy as he marks 60 years since the end of World War II in Europe. The president's symbolic visit overseas is reviving memories of post world war Europe and renewing tensions with Russia, a former cold war adversary.

China reportedly has rejected a U.S. request to pressure North Korea to return to disarm amount talks. "The Washington Post" reports the U.S. urged Beijing to cut off its oil supply to Pyongyang. China refused.

Police in the Atlanta area are reopening the notorious quarter century old child murder case against Wayne Williams. Next hour we'll talk to the prosecutor whose case against Williams is being questioned. I'll be back with more headlines in 30 minutes. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS begins right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's called the hammer, a politician respected and feared by his colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will feed you. He will fund you, but in the end he will destroy you if you don't play ball with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But before Tom DeLay went to Washington, he had a reputation as a party hearty politician. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He got the name hot tub Charles. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The story of Tom DeLay's rise from the exterminating business to house majority leader and the ethical bumps along the way.

Then he's the embattled prime minister whose decision to invade Iraq threatened to send his political career into a tailspin, but he's managed to hold onto power, despite his party's disappointing performance.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think I have a very clear idea of what the British people now expect from this government, for a third term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The personal and political battles of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

And later, he's the on screen king of cool, whose battled racism and drug abuse before he landed on Hollywood's "a" list.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: I had deviated my septum snorting cocaine so I realized I can't snort cocaine anymore but I can smoke it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overcoming addiction and conquering Hollywood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lets talk about your latest obsession.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A candid conversation with Samuel L. Jackson. Now from the pages of "People" magazine and the network for news, a look at the most fascinating people in the news.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Hi, everyone. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. He's one of the most powerful and influential Republicans in Congress, and also one of the most controversial. House majority leader Tom DeLay is known as the hammer, a master fundraiser who demands nothing less than total party loyalty. But DeLay often draws considerable fire. He's been admonished by the House Ethics Committee three times in just the past year alone, and now, he's facing yet another investigation.

Candy Crowley has our look at the former Texas bug exterminator, who's become a lightning rod in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An American patriot, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay of Texas.

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's a long way from the limelight to Laredo, but that is where Tom DeLay has born and where his story begins. The book on DeLay's personal life is full of blank pages; little has been written, because little has been said.

BOB BARR, (R) FMR. GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: It wasn't really as if he hid his personal life from us, but he didn't wear it on his sleeve either.

CROWLEY: Tom DeLay was the second of four children in a family dominated by a man described as a boisterous, domineering alcoholic.

J.D. HEYMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He was a terribly demanding parent, and had a way of communicating that his sons had always disappointed him.

CROWLEY: After his father died in the late '80s, DeLay stopped talking to his mother and siblings. In a 2001 interview in the "The Washington Post" magazine, Maxine DeLay said of the son she calls Tommy, "I see him on TV and it helps. I keep all the tapes." DeLay says nothing. He is Texas born and bred, save the five years the family spent in Venezuela while his father, a wild cater, worked the oil fields. Charlie DeLay wanted Tommy to be a doctor and he seemed on track, a top high school student, and an athlete. But to rambunctious pre-med years at Baylor were followed by an invitation to leave.

LOU DUBOSE, AUTHOR, "THE HAMMER:" He cut crossways with the administration because something happened at Texas an A&M. Baylor is a Baptist Institution, painting something green; you know small-time vandalism involving sports.

CROWLEY: DeLay graduated from the University of Houston, biology major. He went into pest control.

DUBOSE: Got a job mixing rat bait in Houston and ended up gradually working himself into a position in which he could buy an exterminating company.

CROWLEY: His business drew three separate IRS liens for not paying payroll and income taxes. He tangled with business partners, twice settling out of court, but the years were most notable as a launching pad. The exterminator grew to loath regulations. He called the EPA the Gestapo of government. Tom DeLay went into politics.

BEVERLY CARTER, PUBLISHER, FORT BEND SOUTHWEST STAR: He told me he was running for state representative as a Republican. I said oh yea I'm a Republican, too. He said you're about the only one out here.

TOM UHER, (D) FMR. TEXAS STATE REP: Most of the legislature probably, all but maybe 20 members were Democrats, so when Tom won it was unusual.

CROWLEY: He was the Republican representative from sugar land and he was a lot of fun. Able to master both the legislative process and the art of auctioneering.

DELAY: $14,000.

CROWLEY: DeLay's stint in the state legislature was unremarkable but he was well liked by all parties.

UHER: Tom was a good sport. You could you tease Tom, he'd take it and he'd tease back. So when things would come, if DeLay got up there, we'd start chanting, "d-lay."

CROWLEY: The Texas legislature meets for four months every two years. The pay is so small, few can live on their own in Austin. In 1981, six of them shared a condo. Uher, DeLay, two more Republicans, two more Democrats. They called themselves the macho manner group and hung out at the Broken Spoke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm good, baby.

UHER: If you remember the old TV program called "Cheers," it was a spot like that but you got to put it in a country western setting.

CROWLEY: They talked issues, and partied, pulled practical jokes and over times DeLay's Austin antics earned him a rap.

CARTER: Tom had a real strong reputation of having a very good time while he was there. He got the name hot tub Tom.

CROWLEY: After six years as a state lawmaker, Tom DeLay spotted an opening and took his shot.

DUBOSE: He filed for that open seat and grabbed onto Reagan's coattails and he won election to the House.

CROWLEY: Tom DeLay was moving on and up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. Members elect and their guests...

CROWLEY: He arrived in Washington as he left Texas, a few believer in fewer regulations, lower taxes, smaller government, and a swaggering party hearty guy.

REP. DAVID DRIER, (R) CALIFORNIA: There were a few times I remember in the '80s when, you know, I was there, and Tom was having a very good time and all.

CROWLEY: DeLay, by his own account, consumed up to 12 martinis a night, prowling the receptions and fundraisers that make up social life in the city of politics, and then one day, that first term, hot tub Tom, was reborn.

DUBOSE: He was converted in the offices of Frank Wolf, a Virginia congressman who gave him a James Dobson tape, changed his life.

CROWLEY: It was a tape about fatherhood. It moved DeLay to tears. He knocked off the hard liquor, became a regular churchgoer, rededicated himself to his wife and child and developed an unshakeable faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A deep profound believer in evangelical Christian ideology and politics and feeling that is the deliverance of this country and it will make us a better democracy and a better culture.

CROWLEY: Still, there was little he could affect for most of his first decade in Congress. DeLay was a backbencher, a newbie in a minority party.

DELAY: Well, the Republicans are working.

CROWLEY: Things would change with time and cookies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Coming up on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, how cookies helped turn hot tub Tom into the hammer. That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE):

CROWLEY (voice over): After ten years in the U.S. House, Tom DeLay had earned some seniority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These members have worked very, very hard.

CROWLEY: Learned the ways of the hill and shown a spot on aptitude for the practice of politic. He'd been elected secretary of the Republican Conference, but DeLay was looking to trade up. It was 1994.

DRIER: In his first campaign for whip, the Republican women in Houston would send to each of the budding campaigns of Republican candidates around the country big boxes and in it, it had pencils and papers and home-baked cookies, so a candidate for Congress who would be out knocking on doors, meeting with supporters, talking about issues, debating his or her opponent, would come back to the headquarters, and they would say, "this guy, Tom DeLay, just sent home-baked cookies from Texas."

CROWLEY: The cookies got their attention. The cash from DeLay's political funds to dozens of congressional wannabes won seats and loyalty. When the House opened for business in 1995, Republicans were in charge for the first time in four decades, and Tom DeLay, supported by many a grateful freshman was elected Republican Whip, the person responsible for rounding up votes. He was very good at it.

BOB BARR, (R) FMR. GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: He's worked for each member to get elected and to be reelected. That is something that members don't forget or forget at their own peril.

CROWLEY: Supporters say they've never even heard him raise his voice that DeLay would not be where he is if a blunt instrument were his only tool.

BILL PAXON, (R) FMR. NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Was the kind of person who would always reach out to help, help with your political needs, your congressional needs, and your personal needs. He is one of the most caring men of integrity and warmth and sincerity I've known in my 30 years in republican politics.

CROWLEY: He was once described as a cross between a concierge and a Mafia don.

CHARLES STENHOLM, (D) FMR. TEXAS CONGRESSMAN: If anyone within his own party disagrees with him, they find an opponent waiting in the wings in the next primary; they find a thread to reduce the amount of funding available to them.

CROWLEY: He was eight years the whip, three now as majority leader. They call him the hammer.

STUART ROY, FORMER DeLay AIDE: Every morning when he wakes up, he's trying to figure out a way that the conservatives can win, and that the Democrats lose. CROWLEY: The hammer can pound money out of donors.

DELAY: $8,100 never trust a politician.

CROWLEY: His unofficial network of allies and former staffers so vast and successful, it's called DeLay Inc.

CARTER: Tom is like a shark. You know how a shark has to keep swimming or he dies? Tom has to keep raising money or he dies. That's how he has consolidated this power in the Republican Party by raising money and giving it to other candidates.

DELAY: Are we ready?

CROWLEY: The hammer can pound votes out of Republicans, appealing to party loyalty, calling in chits.

ERIK SMITH, FMR. DEM. CONGRESSIONAL AIDE: He always knows exactly which pressure points to hit on people. It's a rare thing to happen that a member of Congress will vote yes and a couple minutes later vote no. He gets it done all the time and it is really stunning and it goes, speaks to his power.

CROWLEY: But even as they line up behind him, Republicans worry DeLay's worldview may bite them in the rear. The problem with DeLay, said one colleague is he thinks the entire country is Sugar Land, Texas. After the death of Terri Schiavo DeLay seemed to threaten judges when he said, "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

DELAY: We will look at a garagent, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at congress and the president.

CROWLEY: DeLay may have hurt his party with his unartful, some say menacing performance in the Schiavo case. He took back some of what he said about judges, explaining he pops off when he's upset. In the end, he is the puzzle wrapped inside an enigma. He is a loner in a people job, a Washington insider trying to leave.

SMITH: He's never become part of the culture of Washington. For instance, he never spends a weekend in Washington D.C. So he has not become part of the social fabric of Washington D.C.

CROWLEY: A devoted grandfather, father and husband, who does not speak to his mother or siblings, a brass knuckles politico, called funny boy by the children of one friend, plays with the children of another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The coat's off, tie's pulled down and on the floor playing with the kids and the dogs.

CROWLEY: But on the other floor, his reputation has the warmth of a tarantula.

DUBOSE: He will feed you. He will find you, but in the end he will destroy you if you don't play ball with him. CROWLEY: With all due respect, talk about an odd couple. But he has teamed up with Hillary Clinton on a foster care bill. He is a foster father himself and gets huge props across the political spectrum as a powerful advocate for abused children.

DELAY: These children, many of them have been severely abused and neglected, have been taken from their home. They have issues that they have to deal with. Reading of the gospel.

CROWLEY: He is he a born-again Christian, warmed by the house ethics committee more than any member of Congress. He has loyal colleagues and salivating critics and they agree to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the thing about DeLay, he always bins.

CROWLEY: Tom DeLay wields great power with no apology, few boundaries. And nobody takes odds against him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Now that Republicans have rescinded rule changes made in January, the Democrats have cleared the way for the House Ethics Committee to meet again, and to investigate Tom DeLay for his part, the house majority leader says he's looking forward to meeting with the committee over allegations that he took overseas trips funded by lobbyists. He dismisses the ethics charges as politics as usual from his opponents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up next, he became the youngest British prime minister in over a century. After putting aside dreams of becoming a rock star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was incredibly enthusiastic. He did this kind of a Mick Jagger impression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tony Blair, through the looking glass.

Also, he gained stardom by playing a crack head in "Jungle Fever." But off screen he had his own battles with substance abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't there a certain irony you're in the late stages of rehab when Spike Lee is talking to you about playing a severely addicted coke fiend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The store of art imitating life Samuel L. Jackson, later on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: British prime minister Tony Blair has been America's staunchest ally on Iraq, but his support threatened to cost him dearly at home this week. British voters went to the polls on Thursday, and although they did reelect Mr. Blair, they did so amid widespread criticism of how the prime minister led his nation into war. For a moderate, famous for sticking to the middle, Mr. Blair's firm stance on Iraq is, in many ways, uncharted territory.

Here's Jonathan Mann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He's been one of the most successful politicians in British history. When Tony Blair first took office in 1997, he became the fresh face of British politics, returning his labor party to power after an 18-year absence. But lately, the lights have dimmed on Tony Blair's golden career. Since committing Great Britain to the war in Iraq, his popularity has slipped mid endless attacks by a British electorate who feel he betrayed them, and lied to them.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: He has been weakened by being seen as somebody who is too dependent on George Bush, too willing to do his bidding.

MANN: Blair campaigned vigorously to remain at number 10 Downing Street. Even as some in his own party looked to remove him.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of labor members don't like him. They don't trust him. The left certainly has always mistrusted him.

MANN: Now after a grueling campaign, Blair has managed to hold onto power, becoming the first labor leader ever to win three consecutive terms. It's the latest victory in a career built on political savvy. Tony Blair was born in Edinburgh Scotland, on May 6th, 195. His father, Leo, was an active communist, who later turned to conservative politics and law.

When Tony was 1, his family left Scotland for Adelaide, Australia. Three years later, the Blair's moved to Durham, back in Northern England. Leo Blair was doing well enough to send Tony and his brother to the Chorister School, where Tony excelled academically, skipping a grade.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We had a preferably good, average, middle class standard living. I was very lucky in my background. I got a decent education. One of the reasons I think education is so important.

MANN: At the age of 40, Leo Blair was nearing his dream of landing a conservative parliamentary seat but his political career came to a sudden end on July 4th, 1964, when he had a stroke. 11-year- old Tony was devastated. Leo Blair lost his ability to speak for three years. It was during this period that Tony was sent to Fettes College, an elite boarding school in Scotland. But he didn't like being away from home and rebelled against some of the traditions still being upheld in British schools.

JOHN RENTOUL, BIOGRAPHER: He got into trouble with the authorities at school a lot. That posture of being a sort of rebel drove him to the left in politics, I think. MANN: Tony was not a straight "a" student, but he did well enough to be accepted as a law student at St. John's College in Oxford. But Tony wasn't ready to go back to school. Instead, he decided to take a year off and move to London, where he managed rock bands. This eventually landed him a gig as a singer in a group called Ugly Rumors. Band mate Mark Ellen remembers Tony's audition.

He did this Mick Jagger impression sitting in an armchair, sticking the chin out, stabbing the finger into the air and microphone plugged into the record player. We thought if this guy could dance so well sitting down he'll be sensational standing. Get him in. 'S our man.

MARK ELLEN: He sort of did this Mick Jagger impression.

MANN: Oxford was still recovering from the politically charged student revolt that it swept across Europe and the U.S. when Blair arrived there in 1972. But as a student Blair wasn't active in politics. Instead he chose a spiritual path.

RENTOUL: He met this renegade priest called Thompson, who sort of had these chats about putting the world to rights late into the night and that sort of got the young Tony Blair going on a crusade to change the world.

THOMPSON: Basic motivation, the belief in social justice, the notion that a fairer, for decent society helps the individual. To me that is a Christian as well as a socialist idea or ideal but I don't preach God to people and you don't like politicians that do and it's something I'm, you know, it's a part of me.

MANN: Tony Blair had just graduated from Oxford in June of 1975 when his mother, Hazel, died of throat cancer at the age of 52. Later that summer, he joined the labor party, a party formed by trade unions to fight for workers' rights. In the fall of 1975, Tony Blair started preparing for his bar exam while applying for a scholarship to sponsor his law residency program, he found himself alphabetically contender seated next to him, named Cherie Booth.

RENTOUL: I don't think she had much time for him, because she thought he was too posh and didn't have a lot of time for white middle class men who had been to elite universities, but he's got charm.

MANN: Cherie Booth's background was very different. Her father Tony Booth was one of the stars of the 1970's BBC series "Till Death Us Do Part." He walked out on his family when Cherie was a child. Cherie and her father have since reconciled. Tony and Cherie were married in Oxford on March 29th, 1980. In 1983, at the age of 30, Tony became the youngest member of Labor in Parliament.

PETER MANDELSON, FMR. BLAIR CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The party was in a state of civil war. We were tearing ourselves apart, and heading for many successive electoral disasters. And into that situation Tony Blair was elected to Parliament, and started his assent up the political, greasy pole. MANN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, Tony Blair climbs the greasy pole of British politics, and gets some tips from another rock 'n' roll political from across the pond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns in a moment, but first, here's what's happening now in the news.

A cold case squad is reinvestigating the string of 29 child murders that terrorized the Atlanta area a quarter century ago. A local police chief contends Wayne Williams was wrongly convicted.

In Baghdad today a suicide car bomb blew up next to an SUV convoy. Two American contractors were among 22 people killed. There have been an increased number of attacks since the new transitional government was announced last week.

A former Lebanese general who opposed his country's occupation by Syria is back home after nearly 14 years of exile. Tens of thousands turned out to give Michael Aoun a rousing welcome in downtown Beirut today. Supporters see him as a symbol for Lebanese independence.

A Baltimore private school stool teacher faces sexual assault and abuse charges involving three students. That is not all; the school knew he was a convicted murderer. How could this happen? Details next hour.

More headlines in 30 minutes. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Now back to more PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I therefore there fore declare that Tony Blair is elected leader of the Labor Party.

MANN: In 1994, Tony Blair was elected the party's leader. Blair, now the voice of his party was on a mission to redefine it and take back power. He renamed the party new labor and borrowed some ideas from a new friend.

SCHNEIDER: The third way, that's what Bill Clinton and Tony Blair supposedly had in common. Neither left nor right, but the third way they borrowed some things from the left and some things from the right.

MANN: On the campaign trail in the spring of 1997, Blair was riding high on the wave of a new generation of young and trendy pop groups, fashion designers and restaurants. The press called it cool Britannia and Blair's youthful image fit right in.

MANDELSON: We started from the experience of Clinton in '92. MANN: In 1996, his campaign manager, Peter Mandelson, visited the U.S. to see what he could learn from the success of the Clinton campaign.

MANDELSON: Clinton had a lot of confidence, gave me a lot of insight. We tailored it to British circumstances and British needs. They talked to us about modern communications.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to sound like an intervention.

MANN: A sluggish economy and the repeated discovery of corruption from its senior ministers left Prime Minister John Major on shaky ground. Blair took to the offensive.

BLAIR: Isn't it extraordinary that the prime minister of our country can't even urge his party to support his own position? Weak, weak, weak.

MANN: Eighteen years of conservative rule in Britain ended with a whimper on May 1st, 1997. Britain's looking elsewhere for leadership, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Tony Blair. At 43, he became the youngest prime minister since 1812.

BLAIR: A new down dawn has broken, has it not?

MANN: Bow in office, Blair continued preaching and practicing his old mantra -- family values.

BLAIR: If you don't make the time for your family, then I think your politics actually becomes much less effective.

MANN: Tony and Cherie had three children when he became prime minister but moving into 10 Downing Street didn't seem to disrupt his personal life as much as one would expect. On day 20th, 2000, Leo Blair was born, making Tony Blair the first British prime minister to have a child in office in more than 150 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Its that been a lot said about how different you are.

MANN: When George Bush became president in 2001, there seemed to be little common ground between the two leaders.

BUSH: We both use Colgate toothpaste paste.

BLAIR: That's enough to go on with.

MANN: But 9/11 and the Iraq war soon brought the two leaders closer.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: On the level of policy, they needed each other, because there weren't many other people around who were prepared to support the war in Iraq.

MANN: Blair has paid quite a price for being Bush's close ally. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This house is now suspended. People have been disillusioned with Tony Blair on the question of Iraq. After all, it was brought out bigger protests on the streets of Britain than anything we've ever seen in British history.

MANN: Throughout he's remained a steadfast supporter of Bush. But some in Britain feel Blair hasn't received anything for his loyalty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what a lot of British commentators and politicians and voters say, what have we gotten from this? We've gotten trouble in Iraq. We've gotten a huge expense. We have been isolated from Europe just as the United States has. What have we really gotten?

BLAIR: What we have shown...

MANN: But even his unpopularity over Iraq and public distrust couldn't deny Tony Blair a third term as prime minister. Surviving has become a familiar theme at number 10 Downing Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He keeps going to the brink, and when his own survival is at stake, he always knows what buttons to push, how to play the press, how to spin the story, so that he survives. It's been a politically amazing tightrope walks his entire career.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Despite suggestions that he might not serve his full third term in office, Prime Minister Blair has now made it clear that he has no intention of retiring early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, he's the multitalented actor, whose activism nearly got him expelled from college.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: When the black power movement started and I had my big old afro and my disk around my neck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the civil rights movement to the silver screen, the story of Samuel L. Jackson is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ZAHN: If you've been to the movies at all over the last ten years you've likely seen one with Samuel L. Jackson. The prolific actor has appeared in more than 40 films since 1994. His latest, his "XXX: State of the Union." Though Jackson is now known as Hollywood's king of cool, he has paid his dues and then some. I recently sat down with him for a candid discussion about racism addiction and recovery.

JACKSON: That's what we're going to be. We're going to be cool.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN (voice over): Hands down, he's one of the coolest actors in Hollywood.

KENNY LEON, ARTIST DIRECTOR, TRUE COLORS THEATER COMPANY: If you look in the dictionary under cool, I think you'll see a picture of Sam Jackson.

JACKSON: I'm super fly TNT.

LEAH ROZEN, FILM CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: We like Sam Jackson because he's a really terrific actor, because he's really versatile, and because he is uber cool.

ZAHN: "Pulp Fiction" to "Jungle Fever" Jackson has a staggering 70 plus movie credits under his belt and films have grossed more than $6 billion. His movie roles have made him a pop culture icon.

JACKSON: Yes.

ZAHN: What is a Samuel L. Jackson role?

JACKSON: I see a guy who can't be pigeon hold, who is capable of doing a wide variety of things.

ZAHN: He's intense, intelligent, and so oh, so smooth, but Samuel L. Jackson's road to stardom has been a long one.

JACKSON: I had numerous opportunities to die and it didn't happen.

ZAHN: A journey through alcohol, drugs a diction and recovery.

LEON: I admire him for everything he's gone through personally and how up front and honest he's been about his discovery, about the beauty of life.

ZAHN: Samuel Leroy Jackson was born in Washington D.C. on December 21st, 1948. His father left the family early on, causing Jackson and his mother to move in with her parents on Lookout Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

JACKSON: I grew up in a neighborhood that my grandparents had lived in forever; all the families knew each other. So I was very well supported in that segregated society.

DR. CLARK WHITE, FRIEND: Sam was a person, when we were growing up, who would push the envelope. It f it was a swimming contest; he may swim the Tennessee River.

ZAHN: Though life in the neighborhood seemed blissful, Jackson learned about racism at an early age. What was the first time you felt discrimination for being black?

JACKSON: Oh, that happened early on in life. There were white kids that passed through our neighborhoods and they would yell thing at us, or when we were going to school, we were on the bus and we were walking. There would be a loud choruses of nigger, nigger coming out of the bus.

ZAHN: Wouldn't that make you angry?

JACKSON: There was no need to be angry because to show anger meant that I mean I might be killed.

ZAHN: Jackson graduated Riverside High School in 1967 and enrolled in the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta. Though he had performed in plays growing up, he had no plans to study acting. A chance visit to the performing art center at nearby Spellman College caused Jackson to rethink his future.

DR. CLARK WHITE, ASSOC. PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY MOREHOUSE COLLEGE: They were having a rehearsal for a play and all of the women that were at the rehearsal had on camisoles and garter belts and stockings and that's when he discovered that he may have potential for being an actor.

ZAHN: Jackson also found another incentive at the all-female college -- theater major La Tanya Richardson, the two later married in 1980. In 1969, at the height of the civil rights struggle, Jackson became active in the black power movement.

JACKSON: I had my big old afro and my fists around my neck, and I was, you know, reading all these books and talking to people like Stopey Carmichael and Rat Brown.

ZAHN: That year Jackson took a stand that nearly ended his days at Morehouse.

WHITE: Sam Jackson was a part of a group of students who decided that direct action in terms of locking up the board of trustees at Morehouse College may in fact move us closer at Morehouse College to having a black studies program.

ZAHN: One of those trustee members in the nearly two day lock down was Martin Luther King Sr. Jackson was suspended but later returned, graduating in 1972. Soon after, the future king of cool made his television debut, hocking hamburgers for Crystal. It was during this time Jackson first began experimenting with drugs.

JACKSON: My first acting professor, bless his soul, Dr. Baldwin Barrows, when I told him I was going to be an actor, and there was like a group of us. He said if you're going to do it, you have to learn to do it like all the great ones. We would drink with him in the mornings and smoke marijuana.

ZAHN: So it was encouraged?

JACKSON: Yes, it was just part of what you do.

ZAHN: In 1976, Jackson headed to New York, joining a famed theater company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, a Negro ensemble company was the home for many artists that we know today, you know, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Art Williams, Denzel Washington, it was the place where African Americans to perform.

ZAHN: He appeared in several productions, including "A Soldier's Story." But admits, he was under the influence during some of his performances.

JACKSON: Things were drilled into us, like you know, down stage left, down stage right, up stage, down stage, counter crosses, being able to be in a dominant position, being in a submissive position, being able to know your lines, even in the midst of a fog, everybody's lines, not just yours.

ZAHN: How could do you that toasted?

JACKSON: I have no idea. I have no conception of how that worked but we did. I like getting high.

ZAHN: When our story continues, Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of an addict, both on and off screen.

JACKSON: I started doing speed, so I was the guy who was up all the time, plus I liked doing acid. I loved acid at the time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: On this edition of "Breaking Big" weaving old material into new success.

SANDY CHILEWICH, FOUNDER & CEO: Our focal point, our textiles and primarily vinyl for a number of reasons, it is durable, stain resistant, washable and gorgeous. By simply redesigning it, adding color to it, we've created a whole different world.

ZAHN: That world consists of vinyl place mats, floor mats, bags, decorative cubes and innovative flooring product Sandy Chilewich developed with her husband called plynyl. Last year the eight-year-old company's sales volume increased by 38 percent.

JOE SULTAN, PRESIDENT: What happened over the last year, year and a half, is there's been an overwhelming acceptance of the product.

CHILEWICH: The criteria for me as a designer and how the business will go in the future,' not just about something being beautiful. It's really about it being beautiful as well as functional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Breaking Big" is sponsored by the Principal Financial Group. We understand what you're working for. For the latest on small companies ready to go large pick up the latest edition of "Fortune Small Business" magazine on newsstands now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN (voice over): In the late '80s, 40-year-old Samuel L. Jackson was working steadily as a stage actor in New York. However, his substance abuse was holding him back from starring roles on Broadway and in Hollywood.

JACKSON: When I went to auditions, I was very good in the audition, my eyes were a little too red or maybe I did smell like that beer that I had before I went to the audition, or maybe I wasn't as kempt as I thought I was in my mind.

ZAHN: From beer to marijuana, from tequila to cocaine, as time went by, Jackson's substance abuse escalated.

JACKSON: I had deviated my septum, snorting cocaine, so I realized OK, I can't snort cocaine anymore but I can smoke it, so I started smoking it, and that's like a quick, quick slide downhill.

Anybody move I'll blow your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head off.

ZAHN: Jackson had found some success on the silver screen, acting in bit roles in movies like "Coming to America."

JACKSON: Who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is this (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

ZAHN: But in 19990, Jackson hit rock bottom at a bachelor party in New York.

JACKSON: We drank a lot of tequila at that party and I said to myself I got to get some cocaine so I can level out. I got in the cab, I don't remember going and buying the cocaine, I don't remember going home and cooking it. But when I did wake up, that was the time when there was the cooked cocaine on the table, and I passed out on the floor. And you know she didn't berate me or anything else she said you're going to rehab and I said OK.

ZAHN: You didn't fight rehab?

JACKSON: No, I was tired.

ZAHN: You were ready?

JACKSON: I was real, real, real tired of doing what I'd been doing.

ZAHN: A rehab clinic in upstate New York followed, along with the hopes of getting clean. While in the clinic, Jackson got an offer from director Spike Lee whom he worked with several times before. But this time, the role mirrored Jackson's personal fight, a crack junkie in "Jungle Fever."

JACKSON: I like getting high. Why do you think I got room here at the Taj Mahal?

The counselors were telling me they didn't want me to do it, it wasn't' the right thing to do. You know you're handling lighters and pipes and you will right back here in two weeks. I said if for not other reason I'm not going to get high again it's because I never want to see you again.

I really hate to resort to having to knocking elderly people in the head for their money.

ZAHN: Checking out of rehab her arrived on Spike Lee's set. The performance was nothing short of remarkable.

JACKSON: I doing it, you know, I do it I like getting' high.

ROZEN: He was alternately charming and funny and the scariest things you had ever seen.

ZAHN: And on May 20, 1991, a canned film festival created an unprecedented best supporting actor award for Samuel L. Jackson's work. Isn't there a certain irony you're in the late stages of rehab when Spike Lee is talking to you about playing a severely addicted coke fiend.

JACKSON: Yes, well, I mean, god puts things in your way at the right time. You know, I had numerous opportunities to die, and it didn't happen.

ZAHN: After 20 years of acting, Hollywood had finally discovered Samuel L. Jackson.

JACKSON: My whole life changed, and --

ZAHN: How did you it changed, what changed?

JACKSON: What changed? Hollywood called. All those years I've been waiting on Hollywood to call; Hollywood finally calls when I get clean.

ZAHN: And Jackson answered the call. He appeared in nearly 20 movies over the next three years.

JACKSON: What country are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?

JACKSON: What ain't no country I ever heard of. They speak English in what?

ZAHN: But it would be his role as super cool hit man Jules Winfield in 1994's pulp fiction that would put Jackson on Hollywood's "a" list and it also earned him his first Oscar nomination.

JACKSON: Say what again. I double dare you (EXPLETIVE DELETED), say what one more time.

LEON: I think if you take Sam Jackson out of that movie it's not a movie. "Pulp Fiction was" was when I said OK, the world has to reckon with this guy. ZAHN: Jackson's performance also earned him the nickname, the king of cool, from both his on and off screen personality and unmatched fashion sense. And more importantly, he's maintained his sobriety since leaving rehab.

JACKSON: I say the same prayer that I learned the first day I went into rehab. God, grant me the strength not to drink and drug today. I roll out of bed every morning and I say that.

ZAHN: But Samuel L. Jackson still has some vices. Let's talk about your latest obsession, golf. How addicted are you to it?

JACKSON: I love playing golf. I play it every day when I'm not working, and I have a clause in my contract that says I have to play twice a week when I'm working. They have to find a golf course for me to play and pay for it.

LEON: He's very competitive. He makes much more money than I make, but you know, when you're playing golf with him, it's pay up, you know? Leon, you owe me $1.

ZAHN: And Jackson isn't finished yet. He is appearing in four movies over the next year.

CARTER: If he isn't the hardest working actor in Hollywood I would like to know he who is.

JACKSON: When people come up to me on the street they always say, "I really love your work." That's more important than people say, "I just love you." Because it means they are paying to attention to what I'm doing and how I do it. That's the best compliment in the world I could get.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Samuel L. Jackson is reprising his role in the upcoming "Star Wars" film "Revenge of the Sith." And it's wildly known that his character was killed in this episode. The ever cool Jackson says he made sure that he didn't go out like a "punk." That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, U2, what has kept the world's biggest band together all these years? I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for more PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, please pick up a copy of "People" magazine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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