ATLANTA, GA - MAY 04: Gary With Da Tea (Gary Hayes) speaks on stage during TV One's "Rickey Smiley For Real" season 2 Q&A session at SCADshow on May 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for TV One)
Photo: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for TV One
Photo: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for TV One

Gary With Da Tea interview: carefree and cancer free

Originally posted Thursday, November 1, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Gary With Da Tea is now cancer free and feeling grateful he’s still around to entertain folks on the syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show, “Rickey Smiley for Real” and “Dish Nation.”

Gary, whose real name is Gary Hayes, was diagnosed earlier this year with stage 2 colon cancer. He did chemo and radiation treatment for several weeks but continued to show up at work every day without complaint.

“I’m about 80 percent,” he said, sitting comfortably last week in the common room of his Midtown apartment building. “I’m walking better now. When I get up, it feels funny but it doesn’t hurt like it used to. I’m down to one pain pill a day.”

And Gary is only taking Ipubrofen. He was offered Oxycontin which is considered super addictive but said “it only helped for like three minutes.” 

He unobtrusively wore a chemo pump (”Nobody knew I had a pump until I told them”) and would have radiation treatment after work at 2:30 p.m. each day. He said it didn’t even hurt while it was happening but the burning stung later.

Earlier this year,  after a surgery was not healing properly, a gastro-enterologist recommended he get a biopsy. Gary said he felt lucky the cancer was caught relatively early and his regimen didn’t have to be super aggressive.

“I promise you, everybody else thought it was worse,” Gary said, of his cancer. “With my faith, I was not worried. I didn’t worry about it. I just kept it moving.”

And he grinned when he noted that some friends in the business expressing concern for his health were clearly ready to “apply for my job if I had to leave. I know the game. Trust me! Radio is cutthroat and fickle!” 

Now he’s just thrilled to have a fun job to go to each day that also includes time on TV One’s “Rickey Smiley For Real,” which is currently in its fifth season. He has been on the set of other reality shows and appreciates how efficient TV One is in comparison.

“We tape in 30 minutes,” he said. “Some shows take hours and hours. ‘Real Housewives’ can take all day. Just ask Porsha [Williams]!” [That’s his “Dish Nation” cast mate.]

He’s currently in his eighth season with “Dish Nation,” which airs locally on Fox 5 at 7 p.m. weekdays, where he literally spills the tea. He admits he doesn’t do much actual original reporting. He simply takes what’s given to him and they react to whatever is going on in the world, be it Kanye West or Cardi B or Kevin Hart

“It’s delivery,” he said. “I hone my craft. I know how to do my delivery and make it work and make it entertaining... We microwave the news and make it juicy and messy.” 

The entire production of “Dish Nation” moved from Los Angeles this year to Atlanta to take fuller advantage of the tax credits, he noted. But they are on another floor of the building. It doesn’t change his job any, he said. 

Don’t expect to see Gary plopped in front of the TV at 7 p.m to watch himself. “I don’t even like to hear myself,” he said. “I don’t even like my own voice!” 

He has always watched his pennies and made sure he has enough money in case he gets canned, which he said may very well happen one day. 

“I have f*** you money,” he said. “I can’t be stupid. I’ve been doing this 30 years. When this s*** is up, I get to move back home in Dallas! Everything comes to an end eventually.”

Fortunately, the Rickey Smiley morning show is doing just fine in its 13th year with about 65 radio affiliates. It’s one of the top morning shows in Atlanta on Hot 107.9. 

“I will do this as long as I could breath and have health and strength,” Gary said. 

Believe it or not, Gary at one point went to school to be a registered nurse. And if he needs to go back to that profession, he’s open to it. 

And he doesn’t have siblings who need his money. “Hell, no!” he said. “They live better than me. One of my brothers is in IT. Another is a supervisor with the Port Authority. My sister recently retired as a casino dealer.” 

Even when Gary dies, he said, he’s prepared. He has pre-paid for his funeral and plot already. (His father was a mortician.) “I’ve paid for the police, the car. I’m going to have a regular funeral,” he said. “Just a normal basic casket.” 

The only thing missing in his life, he admits, is someone to enjoy it with. “Rickey Smiley For Real” has tried to hook him up with folks but he finds it hard to meet qualified singles in Atlanta. 

“I would love to be in a relationship,” he said. “Aretha Franklin said this is the house that Jack built. I have the house. I don’t have Jack!” 

And while he has hobnobbed with a multitude of big name celebrities, he has yet to meet his Idol Diana Ross though he has talked to her on the phone and seen her in the front row at a concert. “Every gay like Diana Ross,” he said. “She’s a classy grand lady. She’s the epitome of womanhood.” 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.