A few years ago, not many people had heard of Glenn Beck. Nowadays, the conservative commentator seems to be everywhere. Over the past two weeks, he's performed before sold-out crowds on his comedy tour. He's had several New York Times No. 1 best-selling books (a new book, "Glenn Beck's Common Sense," is due to hit stores next week); 8 million listeners tune in each week to his radio show; and now he's the host of his own television show on Fox News.
Watch John Stossel's interview with Glenn Beck on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
It's a wild show -- complete with dead fish, parodies of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" documentary and other stunts, like one in which Beck pretended to pour gasoline on a guest to illustrate the onslaught of government growth.
Oddly enough, all these wild antics are paying off. Beck's audience has exploded. The show airs in the ratings desert known as the late afternoon, yet it now has a bigger audience than every prime time show on all the other cable networks.
How does he do it?
He works constantly, starting at dawn with a commute into Manhattan. He works the morning preparing for his radio and TV shows, and then he spends three hours live on the radio. After that, the work continues. He'll spend a few hours approving book covers, hosting Web chats with fans on his Web site and rewriting the script for his comedy tour. And then he has his hour-long television show.
With the third most-listened-to radio and television shows in the country, those best-sellers and his comedy tour, Beck, people might assume, is just a narcissist desperate for attention.
"Please like me! Please," he joked. "I'll dance! Give me the cymbals."
Beck began his career when he was just a teenager dreaming of becoming a Top 40 disc jockey. He won a contest and was given his first radio show when he was only 13 years old.
"It just shows how low the standards are in this country," he joked.
He kept at it and worked his way up the radio ladder, eventually reaching well-paid jobs at big radio stations. Yet his personal life spun out of control, with problems stemming from his teenage years, when his parents divorced and his mother committed suicide.
"[My mother] was an alcoholic and a drug addict," he said. "When I hit 30, I was going down that same path."
He believes the word "jerk" would be the kindest way to describe him at that stage.
"I fired a guy one time for bringing me the wrong kind of pen," he said remorsefully. "I was beyond a jerk.
"I hated myself. Hated myself," he admitted. "I tried for two years to stop drinking. I'd look myself in the mirror and I'd say, 'You're not an alcoholic, you don't have a problem.'"
Beck didn't admit he had a drinking problem until one morning when he was unable to remember a bedtime story he had drunkenly told his children the night before. And so, that evening, he attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
"I don't know what I expected, but you guys don't look like alcoholics," Beck recalled telling the attendees. "This lady, she must've been 70 years old. She was wearing a sweater set and pearls. She was sitting right in front of me, and she just leaned back and she said, 'Oh, honey, we're all drunks in here.'"