This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," May 17, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: My next guest has recently taken the time to reflect on how he became accomplished professional in several fields and, eventually, he made a run to be the president of the United States. Let's take a look.
HANNITY (voice-over): Fred Thompson has worn many hats: lawyer, actor.
FRED THOMPSON AS D.A. ARTHUR BRANCH ON "LAW AND ORDER": No deals, Casey. Do your job; prosecute the crime.
HANNITY: Senator, presidential candidate.
THOMPSON: It's about the future of our country.
HANNITY: In his new book, "Teaching the Pig to Dance," Thompson recounts his colorful and admittedly lucky life.
Growing up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, Thompson was raised by hardworking middle-class parents. After becoming the first in his family to graduate college, Thompson went on to law school and, despite protests from his mother, he became a lawyer.
Soon after, Thompson started his political career, becoming Tennessee Republican Senator Howard Baker's campaign manager during his 1972 re-election campaign. He was then appointed minority counsel to assist Republican senators on the Senate Watergate committee.
In 1977, Thompson made headlines when he filed a wrongful termination suit against Democratic Governor Ray Blanton. Now Thompson helped expose the cash for clemency scheme that eventually lead to Blanton's removal from office. The case became the plot of a novel, which eventually was made into a movie. When the director cast Thompson to play himself, thus began the start of his long acting career.
In 1994, Thompson was elected to finish the remaining two years of Al Gore's U.S. Senate term and was re-elected two years later.
In 2007, Thompson threw his hat into the ring for the presidency but withdrew after a tough primary race in 2008.
Although Thompson admits he is lucky, he says it's the foundation that his parents and the small Tennessee town provided that truly set him up for success.
HANNITY: And joining me is the author of "Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances," which comes in bookstores all across the country tomorrow. Former U.S. senator, actor, friend, Fred Thompson.
How are you?
THOMPSON: I'm doing great, doing great. A little walk down memory lane there. That's nice.
HANNITY: I thought you looked good in a couple of those shots there.
THOMPSON: You liked the hair?
HANNITY: I liked the one with the pipe. You smoked a pipe for a while?
THOMPSON: Oh, yes.
HANNITY: I remember my father would be there with that constant lighting that pipe all the time. You know?
THOMPSON: I smoked a pipe. Howard Baker saw that and said, "I'm going to try that," you know? The next day, everybody said, "Why you got to do everything Howard Baker does?"
HANNITY: Is that true? Is it you copying him?
Alright, teaching you Latin. By the way, you were a little troublemaker growing up in your life. What happened? You haven't changed much.
THOMPSON: I was a big troublemaker, almost — I would have gotten kicked out of high school if they had found out things that I'd done. But barely graduated from high school, had to take my French test twice in order to get out. And you know, just — like to have a good time. Irresponsible. And somewhat of a guy in trouble from time to time.
HANNITY: And you got married in high school?
THOMPSON: Yes, yes. I had to wake up — I had — I had a cold dose of reality in a hurry. I got injured playing football, so that — I was going to be a jock. You know? So...
HANNITY: Sports was big for you.
THOMPSON: Big for me. That ended that. I got married the next year. We had a little boy. All that happened before I got out of high school. And the embarrassment of almost flunking out. So I had to shape up in a hurry.
And thanks to — to great parents, good friends, a young girl who saw something in me at the time, my little girl I married. I say little girl; I was a little boy too. I had an opportunity. I had a second chance. And I had to hit the ground running to make up for lost time. Learned multiplication tables and things like that in college.
HANNITY: Is that — is that where you picked it up? I don't know why they were teaching Latin at that early age. That was mandatory.
THOMPSON: That was fruitless. That's why I named the book what I did. You know, they say back home that, you know, when you're engaged in a totally fruitless endeavor, it's kind of like teaching a pig to dance. It's a waste of your time and irritates the pig. And that's the way my teachers, parents, preacher, everybody felt about me for a long time.
HANNITY: You — but you changed — you tell a story, for example, as when — I found this particularly interesting, and I don't know why. When you married this high-school sweetheart of yours. Her father never talked to you.
THOMPSON: No. No.
HANNITY: You'd sit in the living room, watch TV and read book, and not a word was ever spoken.
THOMPSON: Somehow, he didn't consider me an excellent conversationalist, I don't think. But that's the way he was. He was kind of quiet anyway.
THOMPSON: He wasn't exactly delighted with me marrying his daughter. As one of their family friends told Sarah's parents, "I'm afraid Sarah has led her ducks to a dry pond."
THOMPSON: And so that's kind of the way everybody looked at this. Her grandfather took me under his wing. He was — he was an old country lawyer. He said, "If Sarah sees something in that boy, then I think there's probably something there."
HANNITY: You know the song by Tricia Yearwood? You didn't have a row to hoe. And her Daddy said you ain't worth a lick.
THOMPSON: That's right.
HANNITY: And when it came to brains, you came up on the short end of the stick. That's you. That whole song is you.
THOMPSON: Oh, yes.
HANNITY: You're describing it. I'm not saying all that about you.
THOMPSON: But the funny things that happen. You know, one of the things I tried to do. My dad was the funniest guy I ever met. I grew up in a family with humor. My grandmother, you know, she had a goiter taken out of her neck like the size of an egg. She was around the next day showing it to her friends around — walking around the square in a napkin, you know, just characters. We'd watch wrestling together.
THOMPSON: So funny things that happened but tragic things, too.
HANNITY: Your dad.
HANNITY: He smoked 50 years? They took out a piece of his lung. The story he wrote "sue"?
THOMPSON: Yes. Yes, we were coming out of the operating room— you had to know my dad. Well, first of all, he was lying there. The nurse said, "Well, Mr. Thompson, don't feel too bad. I smoked 10 years before I could quit."
And he thought. He said, "You know, I smoked about, I guess, 55 years, two, three packs a day. You know, I was just getting good at it."
And so they took — they took pretty much one of his lungs out, most of his lung. And rolling out on the gurney, you know, he was — had tubes everywhere. He was barely conscious. And he motioned he wanted pen and paper. The doctors and everything were there. We were walking down the hall. And he wrote, "S-U-E, sue." You know, the doctors. I was laughing. You know, he was — he was in bad, bad shape. And I was laughing uproariously in the hall. But that was the Thompson clan.
HANNITY: This is a book about, in many ways, redemption. It's about second chances. And you talk about. And one — you raised a great question in the book that really struck me and something I have pondered. To what extent — you come up with a conclusion here. To what extent are we just destined to be who we are? You know, or to what extent is it an effort? And you've come up with your answer.
THOMPSON: Well, I tell a story about the preacher walking up to the old farmer who just cleared ground and was tired and worn out and everything. The preacher said, "The Lord sure has blessed you with a wonderful ground here."
And the old boy said, "Yes, but you should have seen it when the Lord had it by himself."
HANNITY: It's a great line.
THOMPSON: So luck and chances and the good Lord, you know, open some doors for you, but you've got to walk through. And having the guts and the foolhardiness sometimes to walk through when you don't know what's on the other side, that's all up to you. And you can sit back and be afraid and concerned, or you can give yourself a chance to be lucky, which is what that is.
HANNITY: I — I — the analogy I use is everyone at different points in their life, you're on the high board, and you're looking down. And you're scared. You've got to jump. You've got to jump to live.
THOMPSON: There's no question. And I didn't have any alternative after awhile. I mean, I had — I had to change or disappoint everybody who believed in me, prove everybody right who didn't think I'd ever amount to anything. And I learned some basic things then that are so basic and yet, they're so true. When you do bad, bad things happen to you. When you do good things, good things happen to you. And ultimately, you're responsible for you.
HANNITY: A different mentality we have today.
I can't believe you ate possum. You ate possum? What is with that?
THOMPSON: Only with chocolate gravy.
HANNITY: Chocolate gravy? Every week you said you ate it.
We've got to run. Senator, good to see you, my friend.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
HANNITY: Appreciate it. And it's in bookstores everywhere.
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