C.J.: Ken Barlow's life is better after revealing secret

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2013 - 4:52 PM

KSTP-TV meteorologist Ken Barlow was guest hosting on "Twin Cities Live" last week when he showed off a toy from his childhood, a Cookie Monster puppet. Barlow assured me there is no chance he'll incorporate the puppet into his weather reports: "Not after what I just disclosed!"

For the past five years, only Barlow's immediate family has been aware of a health challenge with which he's been living. His disclosure moved actor Glenn Close to send an e-mail that read, in part: "I just wanted to say thank you for having the courage to say the scary words out loud. Person-by-person... story-by-story, we'll reach the tipping point."

In addition to a health update, in this Q&A Barlow also discloses the name of the local meteorologist he had a hand in bringing to the Twin Cities market.

Q How has life changed since you disclosed that you are bipolar?

A It's gotten better. I feel like I'm not hiding anything. My wife, Theresa, used to go in the drugstore for me and pick up my prescriptions because I was too embarrassed. I've had literally thousands of people e-mail me, send me letters, cards saying "Thank you." That's not why I did it. I was sick of hiding it and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

I didn't do it on purpose -- it just came out in September at the NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness] walk. I was hosting it and was going to talk about my father, who was bipolar. I was basically going to lie to the audience [of 4,000] or not tell them the truth because I am [also]. I was too ashamed. It was like shame from my dad, passed on to me.

Q Do you notice people treating you in a different way?

A No. The funniest thing that happened, Rusty [Gatenby, the KSTP-TV traffic reporter and all-around card], when [the Pioneer Press' Amy Carlson Gustafson's story] first went on the Internet, I walked in here on tiptoes about people's reaction. I was very, very nervous. Rusty was sitting at his desk and he turned around and said, Oh, there's the nut case or something like that, to me, [and] broke the ice. It's not politically correct, but for me it broke the ice. It made me feel everything was going to be OK. [KSTP colleagues] Eric Kahnert and Ellen McNamara, everybody's been great. You know, Dave Wellstone was at the NAMI event. He and I struck up a friendship and have created a nonprofit, the Wellstone-Barlow Mental Health Initiative (wellstonebarlow.org), that goes around to organizations and talks to them and tries to get rid of the stigma.

Q What impact has this had on your relationship with Theresa?

A It's gotten stronger, because I realized when you have any kind of diagnosis that [results in] you taking medicine for a long, long time, you're in denial. And when you're in denial, you're kind of a pain in the butt. I realized I was a pain in the butt for about five years to Theresa.

Q Only five?

A Oh well, she'll argue 28. She protected me for five years because she realized I was being so uptight about it. I didn't want anybody to know.

Q As you may have heard, last year was the hottest ever. Does this mean Minnesota's going to start being like Louisiana in the summertime?

A No. I think it might be like Missouri. Remember, when they say the hottest year ever, they are just talking about when recordkeeping began, which was the 1800s. When you look at the age of the Earth, billions of years old, a hundred years is a small amount of time. In our lifetime, which is really all that matters, it has been the hottest. But we don't know if it was hotter 3,000 years ago.

Q Do you see us having a lot more storms and tornadoes?

A There have been more tornadoes noticed because people have moved places. There is more population expansion. Suburbs have grown. Where I live in Maple Grove, the farms are gone, there are houses there now. People are noticing storms and tornadoes now, more. So there are more reports of them. In 2012 there were hardly any tornadoes compared to what we had in 2011.

Q Are meteorologists "weather terrorists"?

A Like [KFAN's] Dan Barreiro says? [Laughter followed by a look directly into camera.] And thank you, Dan, for that, by the way. No, I don't think we are. All the storms have to be named on the Weather Channel. It sounds more menacing, because [previously only] hurricanes are named. That adds to [viewer anxiety].

Q Why isn't predicting the weather more precise than speculating about Oscar winners?

A Better coin flippers?

Q How do you feel when your weather predictions are wrong?

A Like crap. My wife will tell you, I'm up all night looking out the window. When I say snow overnight and it doesn't snow, I don't sleep. It really is bad. We take it that personally.

Q How many Duck Brand double draft seals are there at your house?

A I love those things. I don't own any, but I'm leaning toward getting one or two because we have those drafts under our front door and I want to try them out.

Q You grew up extremely poor. What do you find yourself doing now that you know is a reaction to your impoverished childhood?

A Good one. I save a lot of stuff. I brought a snack today in a baggie. I will save that baggie for the whole week if I'm putting the same snack in it.

Q So you'll risk salmonella to save money?

A [Laughter] That's how far I'll go. I watch our money, and so does my wife. Just because you have it doesn't mean you spend it. And I clip coupons. I also learned compassion for people. Unfortunately, a lot of people who start on the lower end of the economic spectrum forget about those down here. And they need help. That has always stuck with me. There are people out there like me, like I still am inside. Damn, that was deep. [Laughter]

Q Who is your favorite comedian?

A I love Jimmy Kimmel. The "Unnecessary Censorship" bites are my favorite.

Q Are you still jogging without your shirt on, or have you bequeathed the mantle of shirtlessness to Sven Sundgaard? [Cue "Island Sven."]

A Can I say that I was Sven's professor at St. Cloud State for broadcast meteorology? He was my intern at KARE 11. So I'm taking all the credit. And I recommended him to Tom Lindner, the news director at the time, for a job. I told him, "Somebody's going to hire this kid named Sven Sundgaard in Minnesota if you don't." So he took my advice; I'm really happy for Sven. He does it more [we're talking about doffing the shirt, showing off the bod]. But when it's 95 degrees, I do. Remember, I'm 50 years old now. When I'm washing the car with my kids or out in front of the house doing yardwork, yeah, 'cause my neighbors know me. Usually I try to stay covered -- not because I don't look damn good!

Interviews are edited. C.J. can be contacted at cj@startribune.com and see on Fox 9.

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