At 69, Gayle King Is the Cover Star of Sport Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue


The “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King had just started a live interview with two cover stars of the 2024 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue on Tuesday when she received a bombshell on air: The new swimsuit issue, which marks the publication’s 60th anniversary, has a cover with Ms. King posing in a bathing suit, too.

“It’s not a dummy cover? This is going to be on the newsstands? Oh my God! Oh my God!” a beaming Ms. King cried after the model Kate Upton, her fellow cover star, handed her a copy of the magazine showing Ms. King posing in a colorful printed Evarae one-piece and matching cover-up beneath the Sports Illustrated logo.

Ms. King, 69, whose solo cover portrait was photographed in Cancún, Mexico, in December, explained during the TV segment that she had thought the picture would appear on inside pages.

Though Ms. King and several other women were also photographed in evening wear for a group cover of this year’s swimsuit issue, getting her own cover along with models like Ms. Upton, Chrissy Teigen and Hunter McGrady came as a shock — especially considering that Ms. King had thought “somebody was playing a joke” when she was initially approached to appear in the publication, she said in an interview on Wednesday.

“I was actually on the fence when they first asked me,” Ms. King said, adding that MJ Day, the editor of the swimsuit issue, helped persuade her to participate after explaining that the focus of this year’s edition was on legacy, longevity and women who were at the very top of their careers.

“I didn’t want to look foolish or like I was trying too hard, but I did think it could be fun,” Ms. King said. She received further encouragement from her “kitchen cabinet” — her children, Kirby Bumpus and William Bumpus Jr., and her longtime best friend, Oprah Winfrey, who, Ms. King said jokingly, “pointed out that the two of us often have quite different ideas of fun.”

Fears that she might need to “lose a rib” or “20 pounds” for her swimsuit photos were quelled by assurances from the Sports Illustrated team that Ms. King should look like herself. Consequently, she said, her preparations for the shoot in Cancún included eating a cheeseburger the day before and performing the exercise routine she typically does before filming her morning show.

In her swimsuit shots, Ms. King looks relaxed and breezy, like a woman happy in her own skin on vacation — which is exactly how she said she felt.

She credited her comfort on set to the photographer Yu Tsai, who she said helped soothe her nerves by hyping her up and guiding her on how to pose. Ms. King was so pleased with the final images, she said, that she asked for minimal retouching — except on an inside photo of her leaning against a palm tree wearing a plunging yellow Eres one-piece and gold jewelry.

“I wasn’t bothered by things like dimples, I don’t have hangups about my age,” Ms. King said. But the yellow swimsuit was “a little too boobalicious,” as she put it, so she suggested retouching the photo to show less skin.

“I love tasteful cleavage,” Ms. King said. “But I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to flash people.”

Ms. Day, since becoming editor of the swimsuit issue in 2012, has been known for her efforts to diversify the publication and to make it more than a collection of pinup-style photos. Martha Stewart, 82, appeared on a cover last year, and Maye Musk, 76, a model and the mother of Elon Musk, graced a cover in 2022.

In a phone interview last week, Ms. Day said her time overseeing the swimsuit issue reflected her desires to promote diversity and to change perceptions of beauty at Sports Illustrated, which published its first swimsuit issue in 1964 and has spent recent months in turmoil amid mass layoffs and a tussle over publishing rights.

Ms. Day said that Ms. King, a former magazine editor and the first TV anchor to appear on a swimsuit issue cover, was “one of the elite journalists of our time.”

“She’s a Black woman and she sits where she sits because she’s so passionate, smart and strong willed,” Ms. Day said. “She is a mature leader. Having a cover star who is not in the model universe is also a conversation we want to continue to host as a title. No one would imagine that she might want to do something like this, but the fact that she does and she’s proud of herself is important for women to see.”


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