Pop Culture

Patti Blagojevich: I’ll do reality TV for my family

She insists she’s not a celebrity, but the wife of former Illinois governor Rod Blogojevich says she’s willing to be on the reality show “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” anyway. The reason, she says, is simple: Her family needs the money.

“I don’t feel that I’m a celebrity …[but] In this terrible economic time, I feel it’s necessary to go to work and help support my family, so, yes, that’s the primary reason for doing the show,” Patti Blagojevich told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Thursday via satellite from Chicago when it was announced she would appear on the reality-TV series.

The bar on just who’s a celebrity may be getting lower in an era when that distinction is granted to spoiled heiress Paris Hilton; O.J. Simpson’s house guest, Kato Kaelin; and a back-up dancer like Kevin Federline.

By that criteria, being the wife of a disgraced and indicted former governor qualifies, Entertainment Weekly’s editor at large, Ken Tucker, told NBC News.

Rumble in the jungle
The reality show, which will begin airing June 1 on NBC, puts 10 celebrities in the Costa Rican jungle. In an earlier and short-lived version of the show that aired in 2003, the B- and C-list participants contestants faced such challenges as putting insects, worms and rats in their pants, sitting in a tank of leeches, and wading through a swamp populated by snakes and eels.

The show originally wanted Rod Blagojevich to swelter in the jungle, but on April 21, a federal judge denied the disgraced former governor’s request to leave Illinois to participate in the show, suggesting that he was a risk to flee the country and the possible 30-year jail term he faces if convicted on all the charges against him.

NBC, which is carrying “I’m a Celebrity...,” offered to hire two security guards to watch Blagojevich 24 hours a day while he was doing the show, but the judge said the ex-governor needed to concentrate on his legal defense.

Blagojevich burst into national prominence last December when federal prosecutors indicted him on 16 counts involving using his office as governor of Illinois to trade favors for cash. The most prominent accusation accuses him of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Blagojevich refused to resign as governor, but was removed from office in an impeachment trial.

After the trial, the producers of “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” contacted him to participate in the show with actors Lou Diamond Phillips, Stephen Baldwin, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag; wrestler Torrie Wilson; model Janice Dickinson; retired NBA player John Salley, and former “American Idol” contestant Sanjaya Malakar. But when the judge put the kibosh on that idea, Blagojevich instead filmed a promo for the program.

On Thursday the ex-governor told Vieira he may play some role in the production without leaving the United States: “There may be some surprises in store for you and frankly for me. I’m not sure what role NBC might have in mind for me.”

‘Very blessed’
The Blagojeviches married in 1990 and have two daughters: Amy, born in 1996, and Annie, born in 2003. Both parents asserted that they have to pay their bills and provide for their family.

“I do want to say how proud I am of Patti. She’s willing to step up and do something, like go into a jungle,” Rod Blagojevich said. “Both of us have our responsibilities to raise our children and try to keep our family intact. We’ve had a unique opportunity that most people in America who are losing their jobs don’t get. We’ve been very blessed by the offer.”

When the producers were attempting to get Blagojevich on the show, reports of what he would make ranged from $80,000 to $123,250 per episode. The Hollywood rumor mill has not cranked out any figures for what his wife will get for communing with creepy crawlies in the jungle.

Patti Blagojevich was not charged in connection with the influence-peddling case against her husband, but she is portrayed by prosecutors and by the Chicago media as a “Lady Macbeth” figure plotting behind the scenes and pushing her husband. The indictment charging the ex-governor also alleges that Patti Blagojevich helped hatch the purported plan to sell President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat and tried to trade her influence with her husband for high-paying spots on corporate boards.

And Mrs. Blagojevich is not a stranger to the brand of hardball politics for which Chicago is famous. Her father is former alderman Richard Mell, a powerful ward boss who once accused then-Governor Blagojevich of selling political influence. She has had several jobs, and was once a real estate agent whose client list included convicted money launderer Tony Rezko.

“Patti is a loving wife and a wonderful mother. She’s not what she’s been characterized,” Rod Blagojevich said. “She’ll have a chance on this program to let America see who she really is. She’s willing to go into the jungle for her kids. This is not her choice. I was invited on. We do have a commitment to NBC. We’d like to keep it, and Patti is willing to step up and do something. I think it speaks very well for her.”

The former governor also took the opportunity to predict that he will prove his innocence and to give his own opinion of how he should be viewed.

  • Slideshow Photos

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    A look at Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s career and the recent charges against him.

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    Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves the federal building with his wife Patti, right, in Chicago, Dec. 7, 2011, after being sentenced for 14 years on 18 corruption counts.

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    Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media at the Federal Courthouse June 27, 2011 in Chicago. Blagojevich was convicted of 17 of the 20 charges against him, including all 11 charges related to his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. At right, is his wife Patti.

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  • Image: Blagojevich Speaks During Closing Arguments At His Impeachment Trial

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    A quote taken from a taped converstaion of Blagojevich is displayed during closing arguments in the impeachment trial at the Illinois capital building Jan. 29, 2009 in Springfield. Blagojevich has been accused by federal authorities of corruption including offering to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. The state senate found him guilty and he was removed from office the same day.

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    Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks during a press conference in Chicago on Jan. 23, 2009 as his spokesman, Lucio Guerrero, listens. in Chicago, Illinois. The Illinois Senate is scheduled to begin an impeachment trial for the Governor on January 26.

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    Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich listens to a caller while on the air with radio talk show host Cliff Kelly at WVON in Chicago, on Friday, Jan. 23, 2009.

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    Facing his jurors, Gov. Blagojevich, top center, presides over the state Senate on Jan. 14, 2009, in Springfield, Ill. Blagojevich is required to oversee the swearing-in of the Senate, which will decide whether to remove him from office after he was impeached by the House.

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    Members of the Illinois House of Representatives meet to consider the impeachment of Gov. Blagojevich on Jan. 9, 2009, in Springfield, Ill. The House voted to impeach the governor with only one member voting no.

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  • Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks during a news conference in Chicago

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    Gov. Blagojevich points to a group of his constituents during a news conference in Chicago on January 9, 2009. He argued that he had helped them and other Illinois residents with decisions he had made as governor and that the state legislature was neglecting the people's business as it tried to boot him from office.

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    Roland Burris, right, takes questions from reporters after Gov. Blagojevich announced on Dec. 30, 2008 that he'd selected Burris to fill Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. Senate Democratic leaders at first vowed they would not allow Burris, or anyone appointed by Blagojevich, to take the seat, but they relented and Burris was sworn in on Jan. 15, 2009.

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  • Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich speaks publicly for the first time since his arrest on corruption charges.

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    Gov. Blagojevich tells reporters that he plans to fight corruption allegations made against him by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Blagojevich was arrested at his Chicago home by FBI agents on Dec. 9 after Fitzgerald filed a criminal complaint alleging a conspiracy by the governor and others to extract money and other benefits in exchange for Blagojevich making an appointment to the Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated after he won the 2008 election.

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  • Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arrested on corruption charges

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    Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announces a criminal complaint against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Arrested at his Chicago home by federal authorities on Dec. 9, Blagojevich has been charged with attempted bribery and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

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    Gov. Rod Blagojevich, center, stands before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Nolan in Chicago on Dec. 9 in this courtroom artist's drawing. Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, is to his left and federal prosecutor Reid Schar is on his right. The FBI arrested Blagojevich and Harris Tuesday in Chicago, alleging the Governor sought favors to influence his choice for President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

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    Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich discusses his plans for filling President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat the day after the election, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008 in Chicago.

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    Rallying support on Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Gov. Blagojevich gives the thumbs up to a crowd, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008.

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    In June, 2008, Gov. Rod Blagojevich surveyed flood damage from a helicopter. The Mississippi River had flooded its banks near Quincy, Ill.

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    Gov. Blagojevich and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger smile during a press conference at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2007 in Berkeley, Calif.

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    Gov. Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley with Sen. Barack Obama during a rally in Chicago, April 16, 2007.

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    Gov. Blagojevich dances with his wife Patti on Jan. 7, 2007, during the Inaugural Ball in Springfield, Ill.

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    Gov. Rod Blagojevich takes the oath of office in Springfield, Ill., as his wife Patti looks on, Jan. 8, 2007.

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  • Visitors Enjoy Country Delights At Illinois State Fair

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    Amy Blagojevich kisses her father during a visit to the Illinois State Fair Aug. 17, 2005 in Springfield,

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  • Midwest Gets First Taste Of Tornado Season

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    Gov. Blagojevich talks to the press after surveying tornado damage April 21, 2004 in Utica, Ill.

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    Gov. Blagojevich speaks with President Bush following the dedication ceremonies for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum April 19, 2005 in Springfield, Ill.

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    Gov. Blagojevich throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the home opening game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers on April 4, 2003 in Chicago.

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    Gov. Blagojevich appears before Abraham Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield , Ill., before talking about plans for expansion at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

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    Then Governor-elect Blagojevich jogs past the Illinois' Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., the day before his inauguration, Jan. 12, 2003.

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“Neither one of us are celebrities,” he told Vieira.” I prefer to be compared to people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and others in history, not some of these comparisons.

“I’ve been wrongly accused. I will be vindicated.”

Some legal analysts have suggested that Patti Blagojevich could jeopardize her husband’s defense and even herself by things she might say during the show.

But she told Vieira: “I’m not worried about that, because my husband and I haven’t done anything wrong. My husband’s an honest man. I truly believe that he will be vindicated ... I know what to say what not to say. I feel confident I’m not going to be hurting him or myself on the show.”

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