I was interviewing TMZ founder Harvey Levin earlier this month, talking about how he gets celebrities to open up on his Fox News show, “Objectified,” when I asked about President Trump, who had been Levin's first guest, in November 2016, just after Election Day.
“You must’ve gotten to know him in a way that a lot of other observers have not,” I said.
Levin let out a breath and said nothing for a long time.
“Or perhaps not,” I offered. “Maybe he was kind of walled-off.”
Levin finally arrived at this: “We talked about his brother’s death and his fear that he might become an alcoholic because he might have a gene. You rarely hear him describe his own fears.”
Indeed, the story of Freddy Trump is one of the only things that triggers a display of emotion by the president — in front of reporters, anyway.
It happened again on Thursday, when Trump reflected on his older brother's addiction during a ceremony at the White House, where he signed an order declaring the national opioid epidemic a public health emergency.
“I learned myself,” Trump said, speaking to families touched by substance abuse, in front of journalists. “I had a brother, Fred. Great guy. Best-looking guy. Best personality — much better than mine — but he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me, 'Don't drink. Don't drink.' He was substantially older, and I listened to him, and I respected.
“He had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol, believe me,” the president added, appearing misty-eyed. “Very, very tough life. He was a strong guy, but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through.”
The Times's Jason Horowitz wrote that “for Mr. Trump, a presidential candidate whose appeal is predicated on an aura of toughness, personal achievement and perpetual success, the story of Freddy, a handsome, gregarious and self-destructive figure who died as an alcoholic in 1981 at the age of 43, is bleak and seldom told.”
Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News, asked Trump about Freddy in an interview in May 2016.
“When I say his name, what does that bring up for you?” Kelly asked.
“Well, he was great,” Trump replied. “He was the most handsome person. He was a really smart guy, a really, really smart guy. He had everything.”
Later, Kelly asked, “Has anyone ever hurt you, emotionally?” Trump returned to Freddy.
“Well, I think the big thing would be, maybe, the death of my brother,” he said. “That was, you know, the hardest thing for me to take. That was very tough because, you know, it's unnatural. And he saw a certain potential in me.”
Trump appeared to choke up.
Kelly tried to get Trump to name an emotional wound besides his brother's death, but the future president wouldn't go there.
“I can say this,” he said. “It would be something I could certainly think about and, you know, come back with.”