Paula Deen speaks to Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.Today/NBC
Paula Deen cries as she speaks to Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.Today/ NBC
NEW YORK – Paula Deen went on "Today" Wednesday morning to tearfully defend herself against allegations she is a racist, as her multimillion dollar food empire teetered on the brink of collapse.
Recently fired by the Food Network, Smithfield Brands and Caesars Entertainment over her admission in a sworn deposition that she had once uttered the N-word, the emotional celebrity chef thanked the companies who have stood with her and lashed out at her critics.
"I is what I is, and I'm not changing," a teary Deen told host Matt Lauer. "If there is anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard that it kills me."
Deen was adamant when she told Lauer that she had only uttered the N-word once.
"The day I used that word, it was a world ago," she said. "It was 30 years ago."
Rather, she insisted it was her critics and negative press that had blown her story out of proportion and painted her as a racist.
"There’s someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it," she exclaimed.
But Deen said her empire -- estimated at $16 million before the controversy-- has not totally crumbled yet, emphasizing that not all of her business partners have left her side.
"I’m so fortunate that so many of my partners that know who I am have decided to stand by me," she said. "QVC has not dropped me… There’s only two that have dropped me."
QVC recently stated: "We are reviewing our business relationship with Ms. Deen, and in the meantime, we have no immediate plans to have her appear on QVC."
It seems at the time of her appearance, Deen was unaware that Caesars Entertainment, which hosts Deen-themed restaurants at four of its properties, announced they too decided to end their business relationship with the star.
“While we appreciate Paula’s sincere apologies for statements she made in her past... we have mutually decided that it is in the best interests of both parties to part ways at this time,” Caesars Entertainment said in a statement on Wednesday.
During her interview, Deen implied that the Food Network and Smithfield were wrong to sever their ties.
"Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No," she said.
The 66-year-old cook also called for usage of the N-word to stop altogether.
"It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens, and I hear what these young people are calling each other," she said. "I think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl."
Deen also insisted that her sweet, Southern TV demeanor is not an act.
"What you see is what you get. I’m not an actress," she declared. "I have apologized... I have never, with any intention, hurt anybody on purpose. And I never would."
At the end of the day, Deen said she is relying on her faith to get her through these trying times.
"If God got us to it, He’ll get us through it," she said.