Julie Jordan
December 03, 2012 12:00 PM

Steve Harvey leans back into an overstuffed chair in the living room of his new penthouse in Chicago and sighs. After retiring from stand-up in August, the comedian, 55, admits he’s struggling with having just had a work-free weekend for the first time in 27 years. “Between Saturday and Sunday, I must have taken at least 10 naps,” he says, laughing. “I didn’t know what to do. But I’m going to get used to this.”

He’s also adjusting to being the new toast of daytime television. While still hosting his syndicated radio program every morning at 5 a.m., as well as the TV game show Family Feud since 2010, the bestselling author of two books (Straight Talk, No Chaser and Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man) is basking in the breakout success of his talk show Steve Harvey. The program draws more than 1.8 million viewers daily and often ties with Katie Couric in daytime’s most coveted female audience demographic. “I’m a man’s man, but I’ve always championed women,” he explains. He’s not about to take his good fortune for granted either. “I have a serious appreciation for a roof over my head,” he says, looking out at a panoramic view of the city. “And I’ve got some nice roofs.”

He credits his work ethic to his late father, Jesse, a construction worker: “He always said, ‘Don’t be lazy,'” Harvey recalls. And so he agreed to relocate his family, including his third wife, Marjorie, and two of their combined seven children, from Atlanta to Chicago to tape his show. His approach to standing out in a crowded field? “I decided since I was one of the few men on daytime television, I was going to be honest,” he says. “I talk about marriage, my children, my faith. Especially about the mistakes I’ve made. I had to have all that happen in order to be this today.”

Raised in Cleveland, Harvey started as an insurance salesman before finding his way to comedy in the mid-’80s. While his first wife, Marcia (they divorced in 1994), and their twin daughters Karli and Brandi (now 30) remained in Cleveland, he struggled on the road trying to make it on the comedy show circuit, “living out of my car” from age 30 to 33. “I was in a dismal place in my life, and my comedy was filled with pain. But I am the most afraid fearless person that you’ll ever meet.” After working so hard for his stand-up career, leaving it behind has been daunting, he says, but “I know God didn’t bring me this far to leave me.”

Harvey credits his devout faith and wife Marjorie for his evolution. “The Lord saved my soul. Marjorie saved my life,” says the comedian, whose second wife, Mary Shackelford (they divorced in 2005), made headlines last year after posting several videos on YouTube criticizing Harvey. “You’ve got to be in a bad relationship to really understand what a great one is. Marjorie changed the way I existed. I’d never been in a healthy adult relationship. I’d never been loyal, I’d never been fully respected.” Agrees his wife, 48: “We’re best friends. It’s the first time either of us has had someone we can talk to about everything.”

For now, Harvey has no plans to stop juggling all of his other showbiz jobs. “When I see my family laughing and playing, I think, ‘Okay, I’ll keep working hard to make this happen,'” he says. “If it were just for me, I’d slow down.” After all, his journey has already been full of lessons. “Hey, I’ve been homeless,” he says, recalling those early days in comedy when his bed was his backseat. “I know I can make it for a lot less. I just need a car!”

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