In the hectic days following Tuesday, Nov. 3, when Election Day ended without a clear winner in the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and the cable news networks went to nonstop, nearly 24-hour programming to cover this extraordinary, historic election, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s biggest star, was conspicuously missing from the network’s prime time lineup.
As she explained in a brief Twitter message posted on that Friday, Maddow said that she had gone into quarantine after a “close contact” tested positive for the coronavirus. “I’ve tested negative thus far, but will be at home quarantining ’til it’s safe for me to be back at work without putting anyone at risk,” Maddow wrote. No other details were offered by either Maddow or MSNBC.
Last night, however, still at home, but returning as the host of her prime time show for the first time in two weeks, Maddow revealed that the person who had tested positive was her partner of 21 years, the artist and photographer Susan Mikula, and that the illness was serious enough that there was a point when it looked like the virus might take her life. “At one point, we really thought there was a possibility that it might kill her,” Maddow said in her roughly eight-minute opening monologue. “That’s why I’ve been away.”It was an unusually emotional Maddow last night. Though she has been openly gay since her student days at Stanford in the 1990s, Maddow rarely speaks about her personal life, beyond the occasional reference to having met Mikula when she was hired to do some yard work and that it was “love at first sight.”But on Thursday, despite a technical glitch familiar to anyone who has had to navigate the Zoom-oriented life of working from home, causing her to briefly leave the room and go off-camera, Maddow spoke openly and movingly about the couple’s two-decade relationship and the terror she felt at the thought of losing her to the novel coronavirus.
“What you need to know is that whoever is the most important person in your life, whoever you most love and most care for and most cherish in this world, that’s the person who you may lose,” Maddow said. “Or who you may spend weeks up all night freaking out about, and calling doctors all over the place, over and over again all night long, trying to figure out how to keep that person breathing and out of the hospital.”
Maddow said Mikula, 62, tested positive two weeks ago. Maddow tested negative for the virus on the same day, she said. After the test results, the couple isolated from one another and from most of the outside world. (Maddow said she has continued to test negative.) “It’s just me here alone,” she said Thursday night, joking that she probably looked pale because “I don’t know how to put on makeup … and there is nobody here to help me.”
Then, she disclosed the news about Mikula and talked of their life together. “If you know anything about me off of TV,” Maddow said, “if you know me personally at all, then the foremost thing you probably know about me is that I am in love. Susan and I have been together for 21 years … and she is the center of my life.” Then, once she had fixed and readjusted her microphone, which had begin to malfunction, she added, “As I was saying, I’m in love and Susan is the center of my universe.”
As she talked about Mikula’s coronavirus diagnosis, and how it quickly turned serious, Maddow spoke for almost anyone who has had a loved one come down with the virus over the past nine months, and the unique, heartbreaking challenges it presents: “She’s gotten sicker and sicker and I have tried to care for her while staying physically apart from her.”
Then Maddow delivered the news her viewers were no doubt waiting to hear: “The bottom line is that she is going to be fine; she is recovering. She’s still sick, but she is going to be OK. We’re not scared anymore, not like we were.”
Within minutes of the monologue airing, Twitter was flooded with emotional messages of support for Maddow and Mikula, with tweets coming from co-workers, colleagues, and viewers.
“We all loved @maddow before tonight, but this is next level love that I feel for my friend and colleague for opening her life and her home and her heart tonight,” tweeted her fellow MSNBC anchor, Nicolle Wallace. “If the humanity shown by @maddow talking about Susan’s COVID infection doesn’t grab you in the heart AND make you take this pandemic seriously you’re beyond reach,” tweeted the Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capeheart. Added the actor and director Ken Olin: “That @maddow is an incredible human being. What an extraordinary return tonight.”
Watch: Rachel @Maddow reports that she's been off the air for most of the past two weeks because her longtime partner Susan Mikula is sick with Covid-19 – so sick that "at one point we really thought that there was a possibility that it might kill her." Mikula is recovering now. pic.twitter.com/MwN7cvQBRz
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 20, 2020
As she drew to the end of her monologue, Maddow pleaded with viewers to stay home for Thanksgiving (echoing an advisory issued earlier that day by the CDC) and forego any other activities that might put them at risk of catching the coronavirus or spreading it to others.
“Don’t get this thing. Do whatever you can to keep from getting it,” she said. “For Thanksgiving next week, you really are going to have to just have it at home without people coming over. And yeah, it’s going to suck, but that’s going to suck so much less than you or somebody in your family getting this and getting sick. Trust me.”
You can see Maddow’s opening monologue here.