The Politics of Fame, Fortune and Vice Versa

There is an old African adage. It goes like this: “When you’re up, they are up with you, and when you are down, they are done with you.”

A few years ago, I watched Ernest Evans ” Chubby Checker” walk the entire length of the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal. That would have been impossible in the heyday of the TWIST. That was Chubby Checker’s hottest dance craze and hit record from August 1961 where it remained Billboard’s No 1 hit –the first 45 hit record in two different years. Then, his tunes topped every chart on every radio station in the U.S. There he was, years later, fit as a fiddle, but walking without being mobbed by millions of screaming fans. He was pleasant and easy to talk to. He was so comfortable in his own skin–unlike many former super stars whose luster have faded somewhat. At the same Port Authority, about one week later, I ran into Henry Winkler who played the Fonze. Put it this way: “Maybe I have met a few less interesting people.”

A few months before that incident, I had passed Abe Beame, former mayor of New York on the streets. I watched him walk from 5th Avenue to Lexington Avenue. When I realized we were taking the same train, I went over and said hello. He seemed to enjoy our brief chat. I thought about the fact that from 1974-1977, Abe Beame was one of the most fiscally-responsible mayors of any city. Every statement he made as mayor of New York was headline news. He had chauffeured limousines and perhaps only rode the subways for photo-ops. From 1978 to 1990, just before his heart attack in 1991, it was his preferred mode of transportation. During those 12 years, thousands of people passed him on both sides of the streets. Yes, he had aged somewhat, wore a hat, and seemed comfortable in his role as an investment adviser. I wonder how many people remembered him?

I once owned a very hot international nightclub many years ago. I also had a record company. I used to call up past stars-those who belonged to the ‘good-friends’ category. I stopped. It got too depressing communicating with many who are not at the height of their game anymore. Many cannot handle being passed on the streets without the greetings, the shouts, and the adoration. Drugs and booze are the crutches of many.

We had a saying in the music business years ago. No artist can be ready for fame and fortune unless he/she had survived at least 9 rejections. When I read of Brittney’s near meltdown last year, I wondered out loud if the pundits of yesteryear were still around whether or not those youngsters would have been exposed to the politics of fame and fortune so young.


Anyone can achieve fame. Some do for the wrong reasons: we call that type notoriety. However, when we combine fame and fortune-that takes a lot of skill and political savvy to control and to steer over the bumpy road of life. Talent, good looks, the right breaks-all those are intangible and temporary assets that fade with the seasons of fickle-minded fantasy-seekers.

I built the Atmosphere International Night Club on the island of Antigua–part of the twin islands of Antigua/Barbuda–known internationally as the playground for the rich and famous. Annually they host the biggest and richest International Sailing Yacht Regattas–known as Antigua Sailing Week. On that island, celebrities and the local people hang out and intermingle so frequently that local people do not seek autographs. Most stars love being able to go to the market, to a ball game, to a local party and be one of the natives. One night at my club I had an international line-up: a reggae band, a calypso dance band along with two International artists. I had no room to sneeze. I was sold out.

How in heaven cold I find a table for two dozen people who arrived by yacht that afternoon, but decided to come by 3 hours after my function began? The former diva–not mentioned in the article–told me how influential she was in the entertainment industry. She was going to make sure that no one else came to my nightclub. I was called some things that are not printable–all because I had exceeded my authorized capacity and could not accommodate one, much more to find a table with seating for 24. Fortunately for me she was not able to keep her promise because Shalamar headlined the following weekend and I was able to have capacity crowds until I closed my nightclub to get into the hotel and yacht chartering business.

Years ago, Whitney Houston was an undisputed diva. A few bad headlines and boom–her social stocks fell long before the market crash. Brittney Spears’ resilience is being tested as I write this article. Her youth and her ability to listen to the wisdom of wiser and older loved ones might just be the catalyst for her social re-election.

I am very nervous when I see how the music and fashion industries pressure younger and younger faces to be pied pipers for young people with much disposable incomes. Teenagers are spending billions of dollars on fashion: shoes, bags, pearls, discs, records, cell phones. They are a financial force to reckon with. Naturally media moguls are targeting younger and younger standard bearers; so naturally more little hands are saying: I am the next Brittney Spears. I am now hearing and reading that Miley Cyrus, at 16 is ready to write her memoirs. So far, she has starred as Miley Stewart / Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel Original Series, had at least two number 1 albums, and is a major movie star. If there is any truth to the rumour, I hope she clarifies for the public if she felt that Radiohead dissed her at the Grammy’s or vice versa.

Having spent a few years as a journalist/reporter, it is sad to see how quickly stars fade. When stars are hot, reporters stalk, rush, push and even pay for their company. When their lights fade, occasionally they may get a sentimental interview. The cold reality is that most times, their calls are not returned: “when you are up they are up with you; when you are down, the industry is done with you.” IT IS ALL ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEIR RATINGS.

I hope I will not have to change the words of Jimmy Cliff Cliff’s song: “The harder they come, The harder they fall ” to “The Higher They Soar, The Harder They Fade.” My advice to those craving for fame and fortune is simply this. Take your time, walk carefully, and listen to older and wiser heads–especially those who rose and fell quickly.