It’s been five days since leaked audio from a 2005 taping of Access Hollywood revealed long-time NBC employee Billy Bush to be the type of man who not only laughs off stories about sexist behavior (and sexual assaults) told by powerful men, but actually joins in to get a laugh or two of his own.
The Pussygate Tape, as it’s come to be known (I guess?), led to an unprecedented mass rescinding of endorsements for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. For Billy Bush, the Lefou to Trump’s Gaston, the backlash was similarly destructive.
Though Billy has long been an annoying fact of life for the celebrities he annoys on red carpets and during formal interviews, he’s managed to keep one of the most high-profile jobs in entertainment journalism for 15 years. (He’d say this is entirely due to hard work, but I’d suggest the teensiest bit of nepotism.) But thanks to his role in Pussygate, Billy’s reputation has taken a hairpin turn from forgettable (if irritating) presence on daytime TV to universally loathed pariah.
But despite this recent drama, I find suggestions that his career is “over” to be a little much. He is a Bush, after all. They always end up just fine. Let’s take a look at the past quarter century of his life, see how he got here, and look at why he’ll almost certainly bounce back.
1971-1990: William Hall Bush (he’s Billy to you and me) grew up in Manhattan, where he was raised by parents Josephine and Jonathan Bush, former State Republican Party organizer and brother of George H.W. Bush. That final detail means Billy is the nephew of our country’s 41st President, and the cousin of its 43rd.
Wrote The New York Times in a 2002 profile:
...he went to grade school at St. Bernard’s on the Upper East Side, boarding school at St. George’s in Rhode Island and college at Colby in Maine — his personality and at times his accent seem incongruously multiborough.
1990 - 1994 : Billy attends Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He receives a BA in International Studies and Government, and makes a name for himself as a “tremendous” lacrosse player.
Said his coach to The Boston Globe at the time:
Billy is a bit of a character. He’s loose, he’s fun and he’s a great lacrosse player and person. He’s been one of our leading scorers all season long.
Billy isn’t all that big, but he has very strong legs, can run all day and he’s very clever around an opponent’s net. He scores most of his goals from in close.
I contacted a friend in the entertainment world who attended Colby and asked if they knew Billy was an alumnus. They responded:
“[Bush was one of] the only Colby alums registered in the alumni directory who works in show business. So when I was graduating, he was like the only person I could email for advice. And I was like, ‘I’ll.........pass.’”
c. 1995: Billy works as the “afternoon drive show” host for WKLZ-FM in Wolfeboro, NH. He makes $6 an hour for this gig.
c. 1996: Billy moves to Washington, DC, where he hosts the “midday show” on WARW-FM.
March 1997: Billy gets his own talk show on WWZZ-FM called Billy Bush and the Bush League Morning Show. Later that year, it wins the annual Achievement in Radio award (“in which out-of-town radio people judge the work of Washington stations”) for Best Morning Show.
The Washington Post describes Billy as “a wily youngster with an ironic streak that could curdle your morning coffee.”
The show airs until 2001.
2001: Billy joins the NBC family when hired as a correspondent on its Entertainment Tonight competitor, Access Hollywood.
June 2002: Billy is profiled by The New York Times. He is described as someone with a “steely ego” who is “relentlessly gregarious,” “cocksure but affable.” Of his TV presence, they note his “absence of gravitas” as well as “[that] Bush air of patrician entitlement.”
When he was starting out, Mr. Bush was snubbed by Hugh Grant, whom he calls “very disengaged,” and given the brushoff by Conan O’Brien.
“It was like, ‘Chill, brother,’ Mr. Bush said.
“I don’t do politics,” he’s quoted as saying at the end of the piece. “I just like to laugh.”
December, 2002: In an interview now gaining some traction, Billy interviews Jennifer Lopez on Access Hollywood. It doesn’t go well, but he doesn’t appear to catch on.
January 2003: Billy hosts the revival of the game show Let’s Make a Deal. It is “canceled after three of its intended five episodes” air.
June 2004: Billy is promoted to co-anchor of Access Hollywood. A provision in his contract “prohibits the program from even mentioning his connection to the president.”
July 2005: Billy is profiled by Esquire’s Tom Chiarella in a piece entitled “The Bob Woodward of the Red Carpet.” Allow me to share its best lines.
On Billy’s appearance:
“He’s a compact guy, prone to getting red-cheeked, and generally past due a shave, so he looks both cherubic and a little grizzled all at once. Annoyingly handsome, like the asshole boyfriend in an eighties teen flick.”
On Billy’s nicknames:
“Women call him Billy; men call him Bushy. Bushy is excited. He wants to move, to get working.”
On Billy’s relationship with the Access Hollywood crew:
“He jovially calls out the first and last name of each person [from the Access Hollywood crew] who follows, as if each arrival makes for a better party. He knows and is beloved by them all, and from highest to lowest, they are all the same to him. He asks after kids, he gives hugs. He is a hugger.”
On, uh, this:
On the red carpet, he is relentless and unafraid. Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly called him an “idiot”...He got a forearm swat from J.Lo’s bodyguard when he chased her backstage at the Grammys. Bush laughs it off.
Billy, on his career:
“Since 1993, I’ve been working at this. Me. Just me. I’ve earned my fucking stripes...New Hampshire, Washington, New York, L. A. Alone. I’ve always tried to separate myself. I have a contract clause with NBC that states that they can’t mention the connection in any publicity,” he says, his voice rising a little. “What’s the story anyway? That I’m a Bush in Hollywood? Blue state? That I’m surrounded? It seems pretty obvious. Is that what you came for? Yeah, I’m surrounded.”
2004-2010: Billy does so much, oh my goodness. NBC sends him to cover the Athens Olympics in 2004, the Beijing Olympics in 2008, several Miss USA pageants, several Miss Universe pageants, and—my personal favorite—the 2008 Golden Globes. Remember? The ones during the writers’ strike? He was “forced” to host the event by NBC.
From a Washington Post report at the time:
The 65th Golden Globe Awards had no red carpet, no screaming fans, no acceptance speeches — because there were no stars. The Writers Guild of America refused to let its union members work for the show, and so the actors boycotted the proceedings rather than cross a threatened picket line.
Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards announcement was covered not only by NBC, but by E! and TV Guide Channel. NBC never cut to the news conference; the network put its camera on Billy Bush and Nancy O’Dell, the two hosts of its syndicated celebrity show Access Hollywood and hung on for dear life.
He also, of course, interviews Donald Trump during this span of time.
2010: Billy begins hosting Access Hollywood Live (which is exactly what it sounds like) alongside Kit Hoover.
August 2016: After my queen Willie Geist leaves NBC’s Today, Billy is hired as his replacement. Rumors about Billy being “Mean Girled” by his new coworkers (chief among them, Al Roker, Matt Lauer, and Natalie Morales) begin almost immediately. While covering the Rio Olympics, he reportedly spends more time with Kit Hoover than any of them.
During that same trip, Billy lands an exclusive interview with Ryan Lochte in which the Olympian claims he was robbed at gunpoint by thieves in Rio.
Lochte’s story is immediately denied by police in Rio, and is ultimately revealed to have been a lie. Billy, unconvinced, argues about Lochte with Al Roker live on Today.
“He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. There was no robbery, there was no pull over. He lied.”
Bush responded, “He certainly lied about some details,” but was interrupted by Roker, who said, “No.”
October 7, 2016: Pussygate.
October 9, 2016: Today anchors announce Bush’s suspension from NBC on the air, adding that it’s “pending further review.” Witnesses claim Bush “bragged” about the existence of the Access Hollywood tape while in Rio—suggest its discovery was partly his fault.
October 10, 2016: Page Six publishes this particularly damning report:
Meanwhile, Kathie Lee Gifford doesn’t even want Bush to “throw” the show to her and co-host Hoda Kotb. “She has Jesus in her life and feels this is just not right,” we’re told. Reps didn’t comment.
Meanwhile, THR reports a number of publicists have said they will not have their clients not work with him.