'High School' Lolita

Tuesday  April 22, 2008


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by mickey rapkin

it's not like you don't know what High School Musical is, though unless you have kids, you probably skipped it. Still, this silly name—Vanessa Hudgens—has somehow wormed its way into your consciousness. (Those photos didn't hurt.) With boyfriend Zac Efron in tow, her every move has been documented by the tabloids in what amounts to a string of Facebook mini-feeds. "If you have paparazzi," says Vanessa, 19, "you know you've gotten somewhere." Whoa. Her nudie snaps—sent to a boy like some modern-day love note—hit the blogosphere in September 2007. And it was a first-class poondoggle. "Honestly, you have your ups and downs," she says now.  "But it's over with and it's done." And it is done—a testament to the power of the Hudgens brand, a brand she's all too happy to illuminate for you. Of her sophomore album—out next month, still untitled—she says, "It's definitely more grown-up. But not to the point where I'm singing I'm so hot! I'm so hot! Boys want me. I'm so hot!"

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Click here for photo galleries of Jessica Alba, Hayden Panettiere, and all the Women of GQ.

Old Rivalry, New Blood

Thursday  April 17, 2008

Old Rivalry, New Blood

Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury are both under 25. They both possess otherworldly talent. They both share a Native American heritage. Unfortunately, one plays for the Yankees and one plays for the Red Sox


fact is, Red Sox versus Yankees jumped the shark in 2005. In 2003, Boston lost the ALCS to New York on a seventh-game, eleventh-inning walk-off home run—the most hyphenated and painful defeat imaginable, right? Wrong: In 2004, the Yankees lost the ALCS to Boston after leading three games to none—the worst choke in sports, ever. Even Stallone would hesitate to write a sequel to that, but the sports media didn't balk, furiously pimping the rivalry until even fans grew tired of their own players. But in 2007, two rookies, both Native American—Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, 24, who's half Navajo, and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, 22, who's half Winnebago—made the rivalry vibrate again. In his third big-league game, Ellsbury, like some mad figure out of Negro League legend, scored from second base on a wild pitch. In thirty-three games, he'd bat .353; in the World Series, .438. And Chamberlain, who routinely lit up triple digits on the radar gun, didn't allow an earned run in his first twelve games and threw a slider that may be the game's most unhittable pitch. For once we weren't talking about Manny's wandering attention span or A-Rod's roving eye. To watch the two rookies is to be witness to something fresh, thrilling, and especially in Boston and New York, rare: baseball without baggage.


Newt Gingrich Rewrites History

Wednesday  April 16, 2008


Newt Gingrich Rewrites History

With a new novel hitting shelves, the former Speaker of the House takes a minute to talk Obama, McCain, and the state of the Republican Party

By Wil S. Hylton


Stefan Zaklin/EPA/Corbis


Ten years ago, Newt Gingrich fled the House of Representatives in a haze of ethics scandals and waning influence. Since then, he has spent much of his time rewriting history—literally—by authoring five historical novels that examine how a single change in history might have, well, changed history. The latest, Days of Infamy (out April 29th), explores the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Here, Gingrich speaks to GQ's Wil S. Hylton:

What do you want readers to take away from this book?
The idea that surprise can be extraordinarily painful. I think the reaction to 9/11 should have been vastly deeper and more complex, like the reaction to Pearl Harbor.

Why did you choose a novel to talk about these issues?
Well, first of all, writing novels is fun. But part of the goal is to get people to think about history as an active process, not just dates and facts that you memorize. History could have been different.

How does your background in history influence your political ideas?
If you think about the current situation, it helps to remember Harry Truman running in 1948, or even Sarkozy in France. Sarkozy distanced himself from Chirac without being hostile. That's what McCain has to do with Bush. And what McCain is trying to achieve by explaining the dangers of the world to the public is like what Lincoln had to do in the Civil War.

McCain doesn't exactly have Lincoln's rhetorical skills.
In style he's closer to Truman, who did not have the rhetorical skills, but had passion.

Do you think that's enough against somebody like Obama?
If you mean three weeks from now, I'd say no. But over the next eight months, I hope so. I think it'll be a question of whether people think McCain has the better argument. I f the issue is who's the better performer, Obama will win. If the issue is who is right, McCain will win easily.

Do you really think people vote based on a deep analysis of who's right?
No, they vote based on summary judgment.

And you still think McCain beats Obama?
Look, I expected Senator Clinton to be the nominee. And I thought last August that McCain was gone. So getting my insight on the future isn't going to be very helpful.

Okay, back to the past. What happened to your party over the last eight years?
They went off the rails. That's it. They took a majority that took 16 years to build and they destroyed it.

There was a fundamental misunderstanding about how to govern. The concept of red versus blue is a tactic, not a strategy. In the long run, in order to mobilize your base, you tend to become more intense and your positions become more vitriolic, and you drive away the independents. Then you are no longer a majority.

What does the party have to do to come back?
We have to remember that we are the party of reform. The Democrats should defend the bureaucracy because it's theirs. Republicans want the bureaucracy changed, not defended. Nothing we have seen on the border, nothing we have seen after Katrina, leads people to believe that this government can do anything effectively. People profoundly distrust this government. Republicans should remember that.



Marc Jacobs Doesn't Give a F---

Monday  April 14, 2008

We've witnessed his total physical transformation, read his increasingly outspoken comments, and wondered: What makes a highly successful man who's the creative vision behind a $5 billion business resolve to change his body, dye his hair blue, date a former escort, and start speaking his mind? Well, ask the man himself

by lucy kaylin


Photograph by Martin Schoeller

chances are that over the past few weeks, Marc Jacobs has done something outrageous. Maybe he’s at the center of a Spitzer-sized sex scandal or tapped Flavor Flav to be the new face of Louis Vuitton. There’s no evidence, as yet, of either, but the way the perfectly zany Jacobs narrative is hurtling along, anything seems possible. Consider the highlights of the past year: a porn star crowing online about threesomes with Jacobs and Jacobs’s former-escort boyfriend; a tune-up in rehab; allegations that his line paid bribes for use of New York’s 26th Street Armory for his shows; then starting those shows at least two hours late, turning the normally adoring fashion press into a pitchfork-wielding mob.

And yet nothing has created a greater stir than his startling new look. Where he once had long greasy locks and the pallor of a shut-in, he now, at 45, has an iridescent blue crop, honking Harry Winston diamond studs, a gallery of tattoos, and a painstakingly ripped bod. After years of hiding in baggy sweatshirts while contemplating the beauty of others—of pondering any human facade but his own—Jacobs has discovered the consuming joy of narcissism. It’s his new addiction. Some would say, his midlife crisis.

“I don’t feel like I’m in crisis, and I don’t know that it’s the middle of my life,” Jacobs says, looking a little like Jeff Goldblum circa The Fly—large, dark, worried eyes weirdly belied by a dome physique. It’s a measure of how closely he is watched and the stir he has caused that even a self-described attention whore like Jacobs is starting to weary of the scrutiny. “Why is there this division all of a sudden between people in support of me and people against me? How did this happen? I haven’t done anything to anybody! I look at Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano—everybody has their shtick. And just because this wasn’t my shtick two years ago, it’s a problem.”

As Jacobs tells it, before now he simply had no budget in his psyche for self-maintenance: “I didn’t care what I looked like, because I knew I’d be on the floor picking up pins or drawing all day.” It’s a Friday afternoon in his cluttered, loftlike office in SoHo where boxes of Wheat Thins are stashed next to packs of Marlboro Lights and cheapo lighters. His hair juts like a Mohawk—the effect is thrusting, roosterish, in contrast to the Pre-Raphaelite languor of the long-haired Marc Jacobs in the photo on the wall behind him. “I thought, Who cares about my appearance? They only care about what I’m making.

Then he got the existential bitch-slap of ulcerative colitis, the disease that led to his father’s death when Jacobs was only 7. A nutritionist, Lindsey Duncan, recommended a monastic diet—no flour, dairy, sugar, or caffeine—as well as exercise. Jacobs was so enamored of the results he made the regimen his religion.

“The thing I love about the gym is not having to make choices,” he notes. “My trainer says, ‘You’re gonna lift this; you’re gonna do that ten times.’ Okay, great—just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. It’s the same thing with my nutritionist. All I have to do is follow instructions. I love that. This is not about ‘Would it be better in red or blue?’ There isn’t a lot of abstract, circular thinking involved. And it’s great. Those times are really nice for me.”

Because it’s hard being the decider—the face of a $5 billion business, the guy whose whims about pants width and buttons and colors can create an enormously lucrative global ripple. It’s hard being him. Torture, actually, much of the time.


for years now, the Jacobs universe has been where everyone wanted to be. It radiates from that simple, ubiquitous sans-serif logo—a guilelessness, a downtown ease that never postures or preens. Consider the Jacobs signatures—retro cardigans and high-water pants with trainers for guys who look like they’ve actually read a book; slouchy, deconstructed sweaters worn with long, bulky skirts and flats for girls who don’t lead with their tits. The statement-making bags, the glamorizing of grunge, the pairing of fashion and anime…. If Ralph Lauren is a lifestyle, Marc Jacobs is an ethos. With his pitch-perfect instincts—say, using laconic, large-nosed Sofia Coppola in grainy, era-defining ads—he exerts an almost messianic pull.

But how can he be both a messiah and a mess? How can an industry titan, the most important person in fashion, be so fragile? Or is the fragility endemic to the success, the very thing that keeps us so riveted?

For a fixture in the haughtiest of worlds, Jacobs is curiously grounded about his work—he bristles when what he does is referred to as art. Whereas his competitors shroud themselves in mystique, Jacobs serves up his flaws and insecurities like canapés. “There are those gray, rainy days where it’s sad and you just think, God, I’m so lonely and it’s such a big world and there’s so much to do,” he says. According to Jacobs’s business partner of twenty-five years, Robert Duffy, “Marc is a very emotional person, and he takes his work extremely seriously. Some days it’s hard and some days it’s not—it depends on his mood swings. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with a drug addict,” Duffy tells me over the phone while Jacobs sketches a shoe a few feet away. “Even though he’s been in recovery now for a while, it’s not an easy process. There’s the continual process of staying sober.”

Jacobs’s father was an agent at William Morris and his mother a receptionist. (His uncle was the president of the company, and Jacobs worked in the legendary mailroom during high school.) When I ask him what he remembers about his father, he rests his chin in his hand and stares off. There was a trip to Puerto Rico, to the circus… And then he was gone. Thus began a chaotic period of power dating and failed marriages for his mother.

Naturally, it’s the clothes he remembers best. “I hate the term ‘bad taste,’ but my mother wasn’t, like, a very chic person,” he says. “Jane Fonda in Klute was definitely one of her role models, much to my father’s dismay. But when I’d watch my mother getting dressed up to go out on dates and she’d be putting on three rows of false eyelashes and some hideous fox-trimmed brocade coat with a wet-look miniskirt and knee-high boots, I thought she was fabulous.”

The feeling wouldn’t last. After she relocated to be with one husband or another, Jacobs went to live with his grandmother in Manhattan, where he attended the High School of Art and Design. At a certain point he cut ties to his mother, as well as to his brother and sister, both of whom, he says, couldn’t be less like him. Jacobs says they reached out some years ago—to borrow money. “But that’s just a little detail from a story that’s way more complicated,” he notes.

I cast around, trying to figure out what could have happened. Did they have a problem with his being gay? I ask.

Jacobs scoffs at the suggestion—as if it were anything that simple.

Not that he didn’t struggle with his sexuality, with “being the only kid in a big group that doesn’t want to play football and buy stereos and drive cars. When I went to sleepaway camp, I just kind of wanted to sit there and make an ashtray or do a lanyard necklace or paint my jeans,” he says. “And then to stand there and not be chosen for a baseball team—it’s like, force me to do something and then don’t choose me to do it. Okay, what am I supposed to enjoy about that process? How am I supposed to feel good about myself with all that going on?”

Clothes promised deliverance from all that, and Jacobs became obsessed with the possibilities. “I’d look at my babysitter and her boyfriend and long to be at an age where I could wear what they were wearing,” he says. Clothes had the stirring, transformative power of music—of rock, punk, and particularly grunge. “There was a beaten-down glamour about the whole thing,” Jacobs says, “something so kind of romantic and beautiful.”

In 1992, Jacobs, as vice president of women’s design at Perry Ellis, conjured a daring ode to grunge—Seattle plaids in silk and waffle shirts in cashmere. Though the show was a commercial failure and quickly got him and Duffy fired, the collection was a Jacobs landmark in the way it mined a cultural moment and turned alienation into something sort of beautiful. In 1997, Jacobs and Duffy were named artistic director and studio director, respectively, of the musty luxury-goods house Louis Vuitton, the chief perk of which was that parent company LVMH agreed to bankroll a line bearing Jacobs’s name.

Since then, the two have quadrupled Vuitton’s business, thanks to pure-Jacobs masterstrokes that signaled a new exuberance for the century-old house, like collaborating with the artist Takashi Murakami on a line of leather goods at the height of our collective fetish for all things Japan; Murakami’s candied, anime take on Vuitton’s stately brown logo spurred $300 million in sales in 2003. (Jacobs, the minister at the lucrative marriage of fashion and art, has collaborated on another line of bags with kitsch-appropriator Richard Prince.)

I find myself wondering if the ultimate revenge on a tacky mother is to become a worldwide fashion icon, though the theory would surely leave Jacobs cold. He is also blasé on the subject of his success, but he’s very clear on the role his own difficulties have played. Clothes, really, were the only thing he loved during a bleak and fractured childhood. “The pain,” he says, “is proportionate to the pleasure.”

I ask Jacobs if he’s ever curious about his mother—where she is, what she’s doing now. “Not at all,” he says mordantly. “Utterly cold on the subject. I never believed that idea that you’re supposed to love the members of your family. I hate the idea of obliged feelings—I just think that’s a huge waste of time. But I’ve had enough conversations with people to realize that I’m the oddball in this category. I can’t think of anyone as detached from their family as I am. Or as detached as I say I am.”


it's thursday morning at New York’s David Barton Gym, where Jacobs is starting his day in the usual way: with a two-and-a-half-hour workout. Small and wiry, he rolls up on the balls of his feet as he moves from one end of the gym floor to another, greeting strangers, inviting scrutiny.

Closely tended by his trainer, Eric “Easy” Forlines, Jacobs grabs a pair of metal rings on the biceps machine, stares deeply into Easy’s eyes, and pulls down hard.

“Exercising is fun—the best part of my day,” Jacobs says with effort. “I’m such a catastrophic thinker that when anything happens, I figure I better just live life to the fullest—buy a diamond necklace, get another tattoo, work out with Easy.”

Between sets, they compare new tattoos—Easy’s got a Smith & Wesson revolver on his flank, while Jacobs reveals a midcentury-style couch, of all things, a couple of inches long, on the taut, tanned skin above his hip bone.

On the street after the workout, they swig protein drinks while reminiscing about the time they met, a year and a half ago, after a mutual hairstylist friend suggested they do so. At the time, the name Marc Jacobs meant little to Easy.

“Because my name wasn’t Dolce or Gabbana, he had no idea who I was,” snarks Jacobs, crouching in a tweed Dior coat and a tangerine cashmere scarf, huddled like a regular around his Marlboro Light—his last vice since swearing off everything from heroin to absinthe years ago.

By the time they met, Jacobs was already dieting. “I never saw the bigger Marc,” Easy says, behind aviator shades etched with mj, a Louis Vuitton gym bag at his feet.

“The fat guy that I kicked?” says Jacobs.

“The fat guy that we’d beat up if we saw him on the street,” Easy laughs.

“The soft, blubbery Marc Jacobs,” says Marc Jacobs.

Over the course of their relationship, Easy has seen the Jacobs evolution up close. “The contact lenses were a big part,” he says. “Then the hair got shorter and shorter. Then it got really short, and he’s like, ‘Damn, it looks good.’ Then the bling started happening. I was all for it. I said, ‘Dawg, you’re a superfamous fashion designer—like, what about some bling? Let’s do it!’ I can’t do it, so I live vicariously through all the awesome jewelry that he has.”

“Nooo, you get some,” Jacobs notes.

Easy hesitates, then offers his wrist, which boasts a gold Rolex—a birthday present from Jacobs. On the back, it’s inscribed love you dawg, mj. “I’m really proud of it,” Easy says quietly.

Then Jacobs holds up his own wrist, revealing the same watch, but with a black face. They put them together like power bracelets.

“We’re BFFs,” says Jacobs, glancing at Easy—so grateful for a sherpa in the foreign land of self-love.

Jacobs is what you might call a framily man; lacking any meaningful blood ties, he’s put himself in the hands of Team Jacobs (Easy, Dr. Duncan, his shrink, Duffy—even the chauffeur he affectionately refers to as “my boss”). He forges tight, obsessive relationships with people who can handle his compulsive need to share, the residue of years of therapy. Proponents of that work know it’s all good, whatever “it” may be. Express it, get it out there, own it. Taking on Jacobs means taking on his…stuff, which includes falling off the wagon from time to time and trying to make it work with his club-loving sometime boyfriend, Jason Preston, who is seventeen years younger and has Jacobs’s name inked the full length of his forearm.

Later in the afternoon, Jacobs is in the backseat of his silver Mercedes jeep, checking e-mails. We’ve just come from a few galleries in Chelsea, where red carpets are all but rolled out when he arrives. Jacobs’s becoming a serious collector in recent years has coincided neatly with a roaring surge in the art market, although perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised; pieces by John Currin, Richard Prince, Damien Hirst, and Ed Ruscha fill his Paris duplex (his primary residence). Typically, it was the scene, not the work, that first drew him to art. “Maybe it’s the same bullshit and politics,” Jacobs says, “maybe it’s the same lies, but because it’s not my world, it seemed great and amusing and beautiful, and I felt like the lives of these artists were so charmed.”

We arrive at the Mercer Hotel, where Jacobs lives when he’s in New York. Before lunch we sit on the bench outside so he can enjoy a cigarette, Jacobs crunched up on the bench absentmindedly riveted by the footwear of virtually every passerby. Conversation turns to his ever growing collection of tattoos. When I ask the significance of getting a bright yellow SpongeBob on his biceps, a scene from Poltergeist between his shoulder blades, and of course, that couch, Jacobs pretty much shrugs—the images just struck him in the moment. He couldn’t care less about the disfiguring permanence. When people say, “What about when you’re 80?”—as in, how’s that couch gonna look then?—he says, “I don’t know if I’m even going to get to be 80. And who would want to see me at 80, anyway? But maybe somebody will—and maybe they’ll be tattooed, too.”

This constant, almost compulsive tinkering with his appearance—I wonder where he’ll draw the line. What about Botox and plastic surgery? I ask.

“I’ve learned at this point to never say never to anything,” Jacobs says. “I look at Tom [Ford] and he looks great. Whatever he’s doing works for him. And I don’t know if he does anything, but I’m not opposed. Whatever makes me feel good, I want more of. If work is going well, I want to do more clothes. If the gym thing is working for me, I want to be bigger. If getting my hair cut makes me look younger, I want to play with the color. So I could see myself slipping down that road so quickly.” He’s already had a little work done on his nose, an approximation of the swelling that resulted when he ran into a glass door. “It got so swollen here,” he says, indicating the bridge, “and I thought, This is so hot.”

Twisting and slouching in the restaurant’s banquette now, his shirt riding up to reveal a strip of diligently worked abdomen, Jacobs looks hungry—not for a meal, but for contact, connection, recognition. He scans the room—surely there must be someone he knows…. Superstar hairstylist Oribe has already come and gone; is there not a stranger here who’d care to drop by? Getting up to go have another cigarette, Jacobs turns to the woman at the next table.

“Nice dress,” he says.

“It’s yours,” she replies.

“I know!” he says, delighted.

Lunch is grilled salmon, with a side of supplements and antioxidants. “He’s never been such a healthy eater, although he still smokes five packs of cigarettes with all that healthy food,” says Duffy, who is as devoted to Jacobs as he is realistic. “There have been many times in the course of our relationship that he’s been clean and sober—it’s not my first time around the block with that, with him.”

That said, it’s a long way from the days of being drunk enough to win a contest over who can hold a lit cigarette against the skin the longest, of getting kicked off planes because he’d passed out in the bathroom. Chalk it up to appallingly low self-esteem, the kind that comes from not having a parent repeatedly telling you you’re the shit.

“I’d walk in a room and all I’d think about is, How many people in this room hate me right now?” Jacobs says. “They think I’m ugly, or whatever. It was the idea of not living in the moment, of thinking you can control results by your actions, of not feeling good-looking enough, not tall enough, not clever enough—I guess that’s how I’ve felt pretty much most of my life.”

Hence the clothes that so viscerally appeal to anyone who’s ever feinted, or compensated, or didn’t quite fit; anyone who, like Jacobs, abhors the idea of popular, mandated notions of what’s sexy or cool. But now that he’s in lockstep with the gym rats, worshipping surfaces, using Posh Spice to sell clothes...now what? Shouldn’t we all feel a little betrayed? In what sense does Jacobs, who once decried the idea of “oozing sexuality” as being too overt, too obvious, not now ooze sexuality?

“It’s still only a facade,” he says. “I’m still the same person. My sex life, my sexual interests, my libido, are exactly the same as they always were. It hasn’t changed my wiring or my instincts.” Which is to say, Jacobs is flaunting his stuff like he always has. It may look different—and it may look different still six months from now—but it’s the same impulse, the same cri de coeur, from a stubbornly neurotic genius, who turns it all into the best clothes in town. As a shrink surely told him somewhere along the line, redemption is in admitting what you’re up to.

“It’s like saying, ‘I want to look hot.’ That is such a dumb thing to say,” Jacobs notes. “But what’s so cool about it is that you can say it. Yeah, I want a bunch of muscle queens at David Barton Gym to think that my body looks dope. And I might think that was an awkward and dumb thing to say, but I still like that I’ll throw it out there. Because it’s true, you know?”

lucy kaylin is a former GQ features editor; she is now the executive editor at Marie Claire.

Judas Speaks

Saturday  April 12, 2008


Judas Speaks

Bill Richardson on loyalty and betrayal, what he really promised the Clintons, and why he fell in love with Obama

By Lisa DePaulo


Photograph: Danny Wilcox Frazier/Redux

we flew to santa fe to find out if Bill Richardson was really Judas, as James Carville so famously dubbed him. Actually, that's not the only reason we went. We wanted to talk about all sorts of things (NAFTA, even!) with the current governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate. But it became pretty clear what Richardson really wanted to talk about: the Clintons. Specifically, whether he'd betrayed them, who was more loyal, and on and on. And on. The man had a message, and he wanted to put it out there. We interviewed him on the afternoon of Thursday, April 10, in his office at the state capital. He was serious, low-key, a little edgy, not the Mr. Happy Backslapper that Americans had come to know and love. Was it the beard—or the implosion of his decades-long friendship with Bill Clinton?

I love all your tchotchkes. What a great office.
Oh, go ahead. Look around.

You collect pens?
Yeah, I do. I'm a pen collector.

They're beautiful. What's this? [It's a boxing glove, signed.]
Oh, that's from Oscar De La Hoya. I like boxing.

And I see you have a picture with Bill Clinton.
Yeah, I still do. [laughs nervously] You know, I had all my—If you go to the governor's residence, we have a bunch of pictures with me and my wife and Bill. And we're not taking them down. You know, he's a part of my life. But he's a little pissed off.

The Obama endorsement had to be kind of painful.
Yeah. I did it because it was the right thing to do for the country, really. It is painful. But it's done.

We'll get into all the reasons why you did that, but first I want to ask you: How weird is it to not be running anymore?
Well, it's, um… I miss it. It was an incredible opportunity to test your ideas. You learn a lot about yourself, good and bad. You learn about the country. You feel—You know, I ended up feeling very good about the country. I miss it.

What don't you miss about it?
The fund-raising. You know, getting on the phone an hour a day and calling people. I just hated that. I hated it. But I did it. And we ended up raising $22 million. Incredible. Nothing like the phenomenon, Obama-and-Clinton, but…

If you were to say the one thing that made it impossible to go on—
Money. Yeah. We ran out. You need money. You need TV ads. And it started drying up after we came in fourth in Iowa.

When you drop out of a race, is there a big emotional letdown? I mean, it must be very strange.
For me, uh, it was, yeah. It was a letdown. But it was—I immediately moved into the next phase of my life. I mean, I, as a human being, I think I'm fairly secure. You know, it didn't work out. I miss it, but I love what I'm doing as a governor. I'm gonna resume my international missions. I had a feeling, even though I miss it, of…liberation? I grew a beard.

I see. You said it was—what was it? A decompression?
Yeah. It was a time of decompression, liberation. I remember every morning listening to my aides tell me to comb my hair and tuck in my shirt and get my makeup on. And I said, you know, "I'm gonna do what I feel like."

Does your wife like the beard?
No. No. Most people don't like it. I mean, we get e-mails—

I think it's a perception that politicians who wear beards are hiding something.

I've heard and read everything you've said about why Obama. But why then? There must have been something that put you over, that made you pull the trigger.
It was an accumulation of talks that I had with him.

With Obama?
Yeah. When he was calling me to urge me to endorse him. It was a two-month period. It was almost every third day he'd call. Himself, on the phone. And we got to know each other, even though I'd started to get to know him during the campaign and debates. We seemed, in the debates, to connect with each other—probably because we in many cases sat next to each other. We would, you know, trade glances. Like, if some other candidate was making an outrageous statement. I like to point out once that I was asked a question in one debate, and I wasn't listening, and I turned to Obama, and he went like that [cups hand to mouth], and he said [in a whisper], "Katrina. Katrina." So he could have thrown me under the bus, but…that was nice! I mean, most politicians would say, "Well, I'm not gonna tell you." I liked the fact, at the debates, that he was very much like me, in that I always feel it's important to shake everybody's hand no matter who they are. I think you gotta show respect to people, whether they're a custodian or… He did the same. And then, during the course of the phone calls, I found him to be very genuine. And if I can put my finger on it, this is what it is: I think there's something very good about Obama. Something around his ability to bring people together and to excite people.

Okay, you're having these conversations. He clearly had to know what a difficult thing this would be for you, given your history with Hillary and Bill. Did he acknowledge that? Would he bring that up?
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah. Every time. He says, "Hey man, I know this is tough for you. I understand loyalty." But you know what he said that I liked? He said, "But this is about the country. This is about the future."

When Hillary was calling, was she saying things like that?
No. Oh, no. Hillary and Bill were always very proper and… The discussions were more tactical. You know, "If you endorse us now, maybe we win Texas, because you're Hispanic."

I see.
And the approaches were different. With Obama, he called himself. Never "Okay, Governor, Senator Obama on the line."

Like a Hollywood agent?
Yeah. I'd pick up the cell, and he'd say, "Hey, Guv, this is O-ba-ma."

That's how he said it?
Yeah. "O-ba-ma calling." We connected well.

When you speak of these phone conversations, a few things strike me. They sound like a male-bonding kind of thing. Hillary probably couldn't have done that, right? I mean, a woman running for president probably couldn't call you up and say, "Hey, man, it's Clinton." Do you agree with that? And do you think that's fair?
Yes, it's bonding. But I joke this way with many of my friends and acquaintances, both men and women. It has nothing to do with gender. It's my sense of humor.

But you liked him more?
Yeah. Well, I knew Senator Clinton, but you know, my relationship was always with Bill. And I think it's very hard to transfer a loyalty. And I like to tell people, "I ran against Hillary, when I was a candidate myself. So I wanted somebody else. Me."

Do you remember the last conversation you had with Obama, when you hung up the phone and thought, That's it, I'm doin' it!
Yeah. It, um… I said to him, "Well, listen, I'm moving your way. I'm moving your way." And he says, "Hey, you know, that would be huge, if you endorsed me." And I said, "You know, I don't think endorsements mean much." And he says, "Yeah, it would. Yours would." And he said something to the effect, "You and me," he said, "we really can change this country." And he said, "Both of us represent something different. Because of our backgrounds. And our histories."

That got to you.
And he said, "By the way, do you mind if I keep calling you?" He'd always say that. "No, no, I don't mind. You know I don't mind. We're in this business of politics. But I don't think my endorsement will mean anything." He says, "Yeah, it would."

You mentioned that, with Hillary, it would often be the surrogates calling. Like who?
Well, there were—I don't like to get into names, but it was—I mean, yeah, it was ex-cabinet members, ex-ambassadors, and ex-funders that are funders that help her and me. It was prominent Hispanics. It was prominent—I mean, I like to contrast: With Obama, it was laserlike focus by himself. With the Clintons, it was she'd call, he'd call, and a whole bunch of surrogates would call. I'd average about eight calls a day from Clinton types, urging me to endorse. So I felt there was a little campaign going on. With Obama, it was just him.

Before you made the decision, were there people whose advice you were asking?
Well, my immediate staff. People that I relied on in my campaign—my campaign manager, my TV [person], they were all for Obama. But they knew how tough it was for me to do that. My wife wanted me to stay neutral.

And I listen to her a lot. And that was a factor.

Would you do it any differently? Was there something the other side did to piss you off?

Was there anything more to it?
Well, a couple of times they pissed me off, yeah. I mean, there were a couple of surrogates that said, "You owe him" and "You're being dishonorable by not endorsing." I said, "Well, how do you figure that?" I served him well. I was somebody before I was in the cabinet; I was rescuing hostages and bringing peace before. He gave me two great opportunities. I was loyal to him during Lewinsky. You know, when he needed friends, I was there. I've always been there for him. I helped him get elected in '92. I was elected governor without him. You know, I'm Bill Richardson.

It seems like you're saying there were loyalty tests, which you'd passed before, in your career with Bill Clinton. Would that be accurate?
Yeah. I was always there for him. He was there for me, too. But you don't transfer loyalty to another person. This is about loyalty to the country. The public wanted change.

I assume that if Hillary got the nomination, you would still—
Oh, yeah, I'd support her. But the friendship has been…frayed.

When was the last time you saw Bill? Watching the Super Bowl on your couch?
Yeah. That I saw him? Yeah.

And how did you part?
I think on very good terms. But I'd made it very clear that I wasn't gonna endorse, and his people wanted that. I said, "No, you know, I'm not ready yet, but he's my friend." Um, he wanted to get away, too, from his campaign. So he wanted to spend time with a friend.

So what did you do?
We just watched the game. As two fans. And there was a, you know, a couple times when we talked politics. And he put her on the phone.

And what was good-bye like?
It was very friendly.

Did he ask you for—
Yeah, he said, you know, "We need you." I said, "Well, I'm not there yet. I just—I'm trying to deal with this."

Do you think there's anything you owe him?
Yeah. I mean, I owe him. He gave me two wonderful appointments. U.N. ambassador. Secretary of energy. But he was paid back. And I think the country was paid back. Because I served well. And I was loyal to him as a person, just as he was loyal to me. And I think there's a—When you make a decision like who you endorse, the loyalty is to the country, not to the individual, not to the past.

Now, I don't want to get too much more into this. I want to move on. But it was reported that Bill said you told him five times to his face that you weren't going to endorse Obama.
I don't know where he gets that. I only saw him once, first of all. But there was a point, after he left—after the Super Bowl—that I was on the verge of endorsing Hillary. Because of his persuasive powers. I was on the verge. I was about to. But I said, "I'm not there yet."

You said that?
Yeah. "I'm not there yet. Please."

But you never said—
No, I never said, "I'm gonna endorse Hillary." No. Absolutely no.

The other thing that's been said, and I want to know: Did you or Hillary, in any conversation, ever say that Obama can't win?
That's a private conversation I can't talk about.

Okay. But you've described that last call to Hillary as both "heated" and "gracious." Can it be both?
Well, it was heated, and she was very gracious, but she was—you know, she was unhappy.

That had to be hard.
It was. I dreaded making that call. It was tough for me.

Was it one of those things where you walked around and said, "Ugh, five more minutes." How hard was it?
Uh, no. I, uh—we wanted to make it so that it wouldn't leak. My people said, "Look, something like this happens, it gets out." So I placed the call about 6 p.m. and was not able to reach her till 9. She called me back.

And did you get right to it? Or did you—
I said, "Senator, you know, I just wanted you to know I'm gonna endorse Senator Obama. And this is painful. But here are my reasons." And I, you know, I went back and forth. And she was gracious and proper, but she got a little heated.

Over anything specific?
I don't want to get into that.

Which was harder? Your call to her or your call to Bill?
Oh, I never talked to him. I placed a call to him, and there was no answer. But I felt the call was to her. She's the candidate.

Because he's made comments that you didn't even call him—
I called her. She's the candidate. That was the protocol.

You know him probably better than a lot of people. What is it? Is he just emotional about this now?
Well…I think he feels very strongly about her campaign. And he's invested a lot himself. So I understand why he's so emotionally involved. Um… But I—I—I've been very disappointed by their reaction. I mean, I just—you know, it's just… [heavy breath]

Put yourself in the Clintons' shoes for a minute. Can you understand why they might be livid?
I can certainly understand why they might be disappointed.

If you ran into them today, what would you say?
I'd say hello.

Did you ever feel they were disloyal to you?
The Clintons? No. But I remember in— Well, it wasn't disloyalty, but in 1992, I was supposed to be named, according to his staff, secretary of the interior. And in a last-minute switch, I wasn't. So I was unhappy then. And this is after I'd worked very hard to get him elected in '92.

Who was—
Bruce Babbitt got the job.… That wasn't disloyalty. He just—I wasn't happy about that. But it was the best thing that happened to me.

Earlier on, you mentioned Monica Lewinsky. You were asked to find her a job. Did you do that out of loyalty? Would you do it again today?
Well, see, at the time, I was responding to the chief of staff, John Podesta, who said, "There's this young woman we'd like you to interview. And she's got friends here in the White House, and I can't remember her name." This is Podesta. I've testified to that. And so I interviewed her, and you know, I offered her the job, but she didn't take it. [laughs] Thankfully.

Okay, so then Carville calls you Judas.
You know, I've been through this before. It didn't bother me. But it bothered my mother, who's 94 and lives in Mexico. Very Catholic. She was very upset by that, because, you know, Judas…

To a Catholic. And she… You know, it's interesting how mothers are. She was upset at—She thought Clinton had said it. And she said, "How could he say that, after all you've done for him?" You know how moms are. They take their sides.

It does bring up this notion of friendship in politics. When is it—how does it go from colleagues to friendship? I assume there are many people you consider friends that are politicians.…
I think there is friendship in politics. You know, you have shared experiences. But sometimes friendships and political interests collide. That's the nature of politics. But I think it's important that you— I think loyalty is important. Honoring your word is important. Being honest is important. I felt that by my showing my support for Obama, I was being loyal to the country. I think he's the best candidate.

Do you miss Bill?
Bill Clinton? Well, you know, here's another factor. We have been friends. But you know, were we close friends? I wouldn't say so. I hadn't seen him—prior to debates, I hadn't seen him for like three, four years. I mean, we're friends. Obviously, the friendship has been frayed. But it's not as if, like… See, one of the problems with the Clintons is they have this sense of entitlement, that if you work for them that you're automatically part of their family. There are larger issues, broader issues that affect the country. So I think the fact that the endorsement had such a political impact is why they're mad.

When you look back, how do you rate Clinton's presidency?
As a very strong, good presidency. And I was very proud to be part of it.

I was trying to find if there was ever a time where you really hit Obama. And really the only thing was what you said about his position on Iraq—that it was "inadequate."

Has your opinion changed?
On policy? [thinks] You know, I, uh, we disagree very little.

But right now, his position on Iraq is consistent with yours?
Well, no. I still believe that we need to set a timetable for withdrawal.

Total withdrawal?
Total withdrawal. Of all forces. All American troops. And he still, I think, is of the view that over fifteen months you leave some behind. So there's mild disagreement over that.

Tell me about your first meeting with Obama. Do you remember what your impression was?
Let me see. The first time I met him… [thinks] The first time I met him was at the Democratic convention in 2004. I was backstage, and he came up with his wife. Uh, he was very gracious, and I remember I noticed—and I thought at the moment—This guy's the new phenom. I found him to be—he struck me as being very, uh, very gracious and very polite, almost too nice to be a politician. He introduced me to his wife.

What's his biggest weakness? What's the one thing you wish—
You know, I'm not trying to— But right now I see no weakness in the guy. I think this is why he's so special. His judgment, his temperament.

And what do you make of this attempt to cast him as arrogant or—
Not at all. That is so wrong. Oh, that is so wrong. Arrogant?

Elitist is the other word being thrown around.
No. Here's a guy that—I mean, we talk basketball, we've talked sports, we joke with each other. And I'm not a close friend. Not at all. I mean, here— One thing I remember. Right before we went onto the stage for a debate, we were in our dressing rooms. We came out and said hello. And there was a number of police, custodians, volunteers that were there, as we headed towards the stage. And instead of, like, the entourage leading the candidate, he went and shook hands with every person there. Said, "Thank you…thank you for your help…thank you for your help…thank you for your help." And there was one lady that was cleaning in the back. And I remember he waved at her. And then he walked over there. And it was more than just "I want every vote." It was: "You're worth something."

What do you make of Gore right now? Why isn't he making his wishes known?
Well, I think, you know, Gore is, rightfully, exercising the potential role of senior statesman. As somebody that might broker towards the end a potential end to the bloodletting. So I think he is conscious that he has the stuff to do that. And you know, I don't fault him for not endorsing. I think he probably, you know, is somebody that, uh… I don't know if he's torn. I know Gore pretty well.

Do you talk a lot?
Not a lot, but we talk maybe once every two months or so. He called me after I got out of the race.

So you're saying you think he's torn, or you don't think he's torn?
Um, I don't know if he's torn. I don't know if he's torn.

Because, I mean, he's made no secret of the fact that he didn't have the greatest relationship at the end with the Clintons.
Yeah. Yeah. It got frayed, too. You're right, you're right.

What did you think of the Bosnian-sniper-fire thing?
I thought it was an innocent mistake on her part. I think that was innocent, I really do. Having been through those before, I don't think she was trying to convey that she's been in dangerous situations. I think she honestly felt that on one of those trips, to that region, that there were some security issues.

Immigration is so important to you. What are the candidates not getting about it? What's wrong with the debate?
Well, I think both Barack and Hillary, and McCain, have good positions on immigration. Where I disagree with all three on immigration is all three have voted for a wall between Mexico and the United States. I think that wall's a big mistake. However, I believe all three would deal with immigration more realistically than this administration has or this Congress has. Where you have a combination of increased border security but not a wall. A legalization program. A stronger relationship with Mexico. And penalties for those that knowingly hire illegal workers. I think you have to have that realistic position, where you combine improving border security, keeping those from coming in, but also dealing realistically with the 12 million that are here. And I think that the debate, if anything, has demonized immigrants, and I think it's wrong.

When you look at NAFTA, and Hillary saying she was really opposing it way back when—do you believe that? And do you think it's realistic that both would like to overturn it or amend it or change it?
With NAFTA, the best you can do… First, with NAFTA, you can't change it, because it's been approved by legislatures in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. It's a trade treaty. What you can do is, there were side agreements—on improving the environment, on worker safety and job security—that you can strengthen, and should be strengthened. But you can't just unilaterally abrogate a trade deal. I think NAFTA has had its good moments and its bad moments.

But do you believe that Hillary is anti-trade agreement now?
You know, I do remember, when I was in the Congress—I was one of the Democratic whips—that I heard some buzz—I never heard it from her—that she didn't like the fact that NAFTA was coming up, and she felt that the White House should spend more time on health care. I did hear that, but I never heard her say that. I certainly never heard her say that she was opposed to it.

How do you think Obama would be received by world leaders?
When he takes the oath of office and an Arab in a souk in Egypt sees that image, along with a Nigerian in a market in Lagos, that singular moment will do more to transform American foreign policy in a most healthy way than anything else. The fact that somebody with his ethnicity and diversity and international background is sworn in, it's gonna be a huge signal to the world that America is changing.

Did that play into your decision?
Absolutely. And the fact that, you know, he's adopted my career… Not that, not because of me. He's adopted my foreign-policy credo, which is "You talk to the bad guys. You negotiate your differences with North Korea and Iran and Syria and Sudan instead of isolating them."

What non-Democratic politician do you most admire?
You mean like Republican or independent? Now?

Well, I, uh…I admire Chuck Hagel. The fact that he's so independent. I admire Mike Bloomberg, because he, you know, he's a fixer. He's a doer. He's nonideological. I admire… [long pause] You know, I like John McCain, because I know him. We've worked together on Indian issues. We always are at the same boxing matches, you know [laughs], and he and I will go into the dressing rooms of the fighters before the fight, you know, with a little help from the promoters. Um, we both, you know, came into Congress the same year. And again, I'm not a close friend, but I've always admired his independence. And I've warned—I've said, you know, "Don't take this guy for granted." You know, he's gonna touch constituencies in the environmental field, with Hispanics, with Native Americans. I like him. Do I admire him? I think Barack will be a much better president. But you know, his service to the country—McCain's—has been very valuable.

What do you think of how Condi Rice has handled foreign policy?
I think she had incredible potential to be a real mediator in the fight between the moderates and the conservatives in the Bush administration…and she didn't exercise her strengths. She's had some success, like North Korea, but on the whole she could have done so much more to make Bush a moderate president, a moderate internationalist. Instead, he's gonna go down in history as a weak foreign-policy president.

Will she leave with a notable accomplishment to speak of?
Well, she— Her legacy is affected that she is an African-American intellectual who served eight years but could have done so much more. Unfulfilled potential.

So if Barack Obama were to win the nomination and he offered you the vice presidency…
What would I do? Well, I wouldn't preclude anything. [laughs] You know, I love my job.

Okay, but—
Well, you can't, you know, you can't, uh, turn your back on something like that. But I didn't endorse him because of that.

Or secretary of state.
You can't turn your back on something like that.

One last thing. Do you see that your beard is falling onto your shirt?
Well, today, because I had a beard trim, 'cause I did a TV ad, a PSA… You thought it was falling out? [laughs] What's he, sick or something? Who was it that their hair was falling and they were sick? Who was that? I'm thinking of Roger Maris—remember? Did you see the HBO movie? 61? Well, you're too young, but Maris was trying to hit the sixty-one home runs. He was so nervous because the press was badgering him, his hair had fallen, and he had hair all over him.

Well, I'm glad it's just a trim.
Take care.

lisa depaulo is a GQ correspondent.

Karl Rove Likes What He Sees

Wednesday  April 02, 2008


Karl Rove Likes What He Sees

With his new gig at Fox and a seven-figure political memoir in the works, Karl Rove has officially crossed over from shadowy 'Wizard of Oz' territory to somewhat approachable public personality. But as Lisa DePaulo finds out, that doesn't mean he's any less…pointed with his opinions


Photograph by Gillian Laub

i can see karl rove standing outside the restaurant, on the phone, yakking, pacing, occasionally peering at me through the etched-glass window and sticking a stubby finger in the air to indicate that he'll just be just one more minute. Eighteen minutes pass. He enters brusquely, with apologies and a crack about my "bright red purse" but also with the clear message that he is in control. Uncomfortable in this position, somewhat wary, constantly checking his watch ("Gotta go soon… Gotta go… Couple more minutes…"), not diggin' it, but always in control. Karl Rove is not a guy who kicks back with a drink—even coffee's a stretch ("I'm a decaf guy," he says)—and shoots the shit for a few hours. This isn't about a charm offensive—he gives the impression that he's not even sure why he's doing this. But: To be with Rove is to listen to a man who is utterly articulate and insightful and at the same time utterly…what's the word? Plain? Normal? Caucasian? If you didn't know he used to be Bush's Brain, if you didn't know he is widely credited/blamed with leading the Republican Party to an era of total world domination, if you didn't recognize him (as numerous gawkers inside the Muse hotel restaurant do) as the man W. famously dubbed "Turd Blossom," you'd think he was a middle-management sales lackey in town to sell Ginsu knives or something. The nondescript gray suit and overcoat, the geeky glasses and bald-on-the-top-with-peach-fuzz do, the briefcase (in middle school, he was the only kid with a briefcase, which pretty much sums it up). In what ways is he cool? We can't help but ask. "None," he says. "I am the antithesis of cool." We should also point out that Rove is exceedingly polite and well-mannered and, at moments, as prickly as the little cactuses on his tie. He has the demeanor of a man who had more power than he'll ever admit but is never really far from the 9-year-old who once got into a schoolyard fight over Richard Nixon, and lost. To a girl.

karl rove: Sorry to be late. I have a lunch with the Big Boss shortly.

gq: The Big Boss?
Mr. Murdoch.

Ah, that big boss. Does that mean you'll be getting more money out of Fox?
No, it doesn't.

Do you like being a TV analyst?
Uh, it's odd. You know, it's weird for me. But it's interesting.

Do you think Fox News is fair and balanced?
I do. I think they go out of their way to be fair and tough in questioning. I'm really impressed with the people I've gotten to know. Brit Hume is a very bright person; Chris Wallace has got a lot of integrity.

You also sold a book recently.
I did.

What'd ya get?
A lot.

And you're doing speeches, too, right? I read that you just gave one at Penn—
I like speaking to the college campuses.

And the first question, someone called you a cancer.
Right. Oh, sure.

You must get that all the time.
Uh, I get it some. When I go to campuses. But did you hear what I did? I just let him rant. And when he was finished, he had no question, he just wanted to accuse me of undermining the Constitution and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And I said, "Thanks for your thoughtful rant." And he sat down. And I said, "Now do you feel better about yourself?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, I want you to feel better about yourself." And everybody laughed, and we went on.

But is it hard when people—
No. No. Look, everywhere I go, people say nice things to me. I don't live for that. I appreciate it, and I'm grateful for their kind words, but I don't live for it. And similarly, when people say ugly things? It doesn't affect me. They want their words to affect me. And as a result, I'm not gonna let 'em.

But when people say, "You've created this climate of fear—"
I laugh.

You laugh?
Yeah. I laugh. Sure. How? What, exactly? I'm not apologetic about what this administration has done. It's protecting America. It has won important battles in a war that we as a nation better win or we will leave the future to our kids, a much darker and dangerous future.

What's the biggest misconception about your role in the Bush White House?
That it was all about politics.

If that's the misconception, what's the overlooked truth?
Look, I'm a policy geek. What I've most enjoyed about my job was the substantive policy discussions. Being able to dig in deeply and, you know, learn about something, ask questions, listen to smart people, and form a judgment about something that was from a policy perspective.

When you look back at your career, especially in the Bush administration, what's the worst thing you did?
I'm not gonna be good at answering that.

But is there anything you feel guilty about? Or wish you did differently?
[exasperated laugh] Off the record?

No! Don't go off the record.
Off the record.

Okay, let's look back, to the very beginning of the Karl Rove story, when you got handed the keys [from Bush the father, to deliver to Bush the son] until now. And you look at where the president's approval ratings are today—

What did you do wrong?
Oh, look, I did a lot of things wrong. But the main thing is, we're fighting an important but unpopular war.

You still think it was the right thing to do?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, one of our biggest mistakes was, the first time Harry Reid got up and said, "You lied and you deliberately misled the country," we should have gone back immediately and hit back hard, and we didn't. We let that story line develop. In reality, you go back and look at what Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore—I'd be happy to supply you the quotes—what they said about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction.

What are you most proud of?
Being part of a group of people I have a great deal of respect and admiration for in service of the country.

If you had to make a bet, can Hillary pull it off?
The odds are long, but improbable things have happened almost every month in this race. She wasn't supposed to win New Hampshire, and she did. So we'll see. You know, she's got a lot of strengths, and he does, too. We got two wellmatched opponents going at each other hammer and tongs. It's fun to watch.

If it's mathematically impossible for either of them to get enough delegates, how will this get resolved?
Somebody can get to a majority, but they're gonna have to get to a majority with superdelegates. Neither of them can win enough delegates to win it on just simply the elected delegates.

So if it comes down to superdelegates, doesn't that become a question of who can be more ruthless?
Well, you know, people will have to decide whether they're going to act as reflectors of the popular vote in their districts or states, or whether they're going to exercise independent judgment. I think this is the big dilemma the Democrats face: Are they going to choose a nominee who essentially is chosen, validated, by a minor aristocracy, by essentially an undemocratic group? Because, look. Does anybody think that Patrick Deval [sic], governor of Massachusetts, and Senator Ted Kennedy are gonna respect the wishes of their home-state crowd and go for Hillary Clinton, who won their state? No.

So how ugly is it gonna get?
Well, I—we don't know. We have geological ages that are gonna pass. It's not that ugly today. The wounds are fresh, but there's plenty of time for them to heal. The question is, will the wounds get deeper and more difficult to heal? We don't know. My gut tells me it happens, but I don't know.

If you could run one of their campaigns, which one would be the dream campaign to run?
Neither one.

Because I don't believe in what they say.

But just as a strategist, just to get in there and—
Yeah, well, see, for me it's not divorced from who they are and what they're all about and what they would do.

What did you think of the red-phone 3 a.m. ad?
It was a gutsy, dangerous move. She figured out that she had to do something to raise the issue of: Is he fit to be president? And this was a way to do it. I happened to be in Texas a week before the ad popped, and all of her surrogates were hitting him pretty hard on the thinness of his experience. They were pretty brutal. And this ad sort of fed into that.

Isn't that the kind of ad you would have done?
Uh, look, that's the problem. She can't run an ad—you know, the more powerful ads she can't run against him, because she's afraid of looking too moderate. He's got essentially… His argument is twofold. "Vote for me because I'll bring Republicans and Democrats together; we're not red states, blue states, we're the United States." And second of all—and he said this most passionately in the Wisconsin victory speech: "There are big issues facing the country, and it requires leadership and energy to solve them." Well, the two best counters to those are Hillary saying, "I've actually worked with Republicans and Democrats to get things done." Or McCain saying, even more pointedly, "On all the big issues where Republicans and Democrats have come together, I've been in the middle of bringing them together, and you've been way out there on the fringe. When we pulled together the Gang of Fourteen, you were out on the fringe. When we pulled together a bipartisan answer on the terrorist-surveillance program, you were way out there on the fringe. When Democrats and Republicans, regardless of where they were on the war, came together to give our troops everything they needed while they were in combat, you were way out there on the fringe." Now, she can do some of that, because she's actually tried to work with Republicans over the years. He has not since he got there. He's been coolly detached and sitting on the side. His fingerprints are on, at most, a couple of small items. And then, on the leadership issue, she can say, "Look, I've been in the middle of these big battles. I've been providing the leadership. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. But at least I've been involved." And McCain will be able to sharpen that even more.

It seems like you're talking about authenticity here. Are you saying Obama is inauthentic?
I'm saying that he has adopted two themes for his campaign that are not supported by his actions.

Do you think Obama would be easier to beat?
I try not to think about those things. Because that inevitably leads you to believe, I would like to have A or I would like to have B. You need to keep your mind open about both of them.

You've said—what was the phrase you used about Hillary? "Fatally flawed"?
Fatally flawed. I just thought her flaws would show up in the general election. I didn't know they'd show up as early and as strong as they have.

Which flaws?
Uh, calculating. You know, she went through the period where she had the calculated laugh, she went through the period where she had the calculated accents, and you build that on top of a person who already has the reputation that anything she says is calculating, you know…

Is calculating a terrible thing?
It is if people think it's phony. And that's what her problem is. That and the sense of entitlement. You know, the sense of "This is mine, I deserve it; we're the Clintons, this is ours." And I think that really caused a lot of people to say, "You know what? It's not yours." And do we really want to go back? The '90s were nice in a lot of respects, but do we really want to go back to all that drama?

There is something ironic about Karl Rove criticizing someone for being calculating.
Right. Look, it's one thing to calculate and say, "What's the best way for me to do this?" It's another thing to say, "What's the best way to do this, even if it means the sacrifice of my fundamental principles?" When she stood up there and said, "I'm in front of an African-American group in Alabama, so let me adopt a phony southern accent!" And when she sat there and said, "You know what? I need to warm myself up, so for the next weeklong period I'm gonna sit there and laugh and cackle at anything that is even remotely funny." You know, when both she and he, who are free traders by instinct, went to Ohio and said, "We're gonna renegotiate NAFTA," when they know that (a) there's no provision to renegotiate NAFTA, and (b) the Canadians and the Mexicans are not gonna want to renegotiate NAFTA, and (c) when both of them understand that trade liberalization, particularly with our neighbors, has been to our economic advantage, who are they kidding?

But when people call you calculating, do you take that as a compliment?
Look, what I'm charged with is, in politics, taking the material that I have to work with—which are the views and values, convictions and principles, of my candidate or client—and charting the best path to victory. That's different than saying, "How am I gonna take a fundamental belief or a reality of me as an individual and discard it?"

So there's good calculating and bad calculating?

If Hillary pulls it out, will Mark Penn [her chief strategist] be considered a genius?
Mark Penn is a very smart guy regardless of whether or not she pulls it out. He's a very smart guy.

But don't you think there've been a lot of mistakes?
Sure. But if you have to lay them at the feet of one person, you lay them at the feet of the candidate. The candidate sets the tone.

Are you surprised at how Obama exploded?
You know, I want to be careful—I think we need to be careful about not getting carried away with a narrative that doesn't truly exist. Like the story this morning in The New York Times about "the Obamacans"—the Republicans who support Obama.

You don't buy that?
No. Do I buy that there are Republicans who support Obama? Sure, I do. But take a look at the last four polls on which there are cross tabs available. There are twice as many Democrats defecting to McCain as there are Republicans defecting to Obama. In the Fox poll, Obama takes 74 percent of Democrats and loses 18 to McCain. And McCain keeps 80 percent of Republicans and loses 10 to Obama. And in every one of the polls, it's nearly twice as many Democrats defect to McCain as Republicans defect to Obama. And against Clinton, it's three times as many. Know why? Well, there are a lot of different reasons why. There are Democrats, particularly blue-collar Democrats, who defect to McCain because they see McCain as a patriotic figure and they see Obama as an elitist who's looking down his nose at 'em. Which he is. That comment where he said, you know, "After 9/11, I didn't wear a flag lapel pin because true patriotism consists of speaking out on the issues, not wearing a flag lapel pin"? Well, to a lot of ordinary people, putting that flag lapel pin on is true patriotism. It's a statement of their patriotic love of the country. And for him to sit there and dismiss it as he did—

You're not wearing a flag pin, Karl.
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. But I respect those who consciously get up in the morning and put a flag lapel pin on.

Do you see the elitist thing in other ways?
Obama is coolly detached and very arrogant. I think he's very smart and knows he's smart, but as a result doesn't do his homework.

So the Dems have two rattled candidates?
Right. Now, you got one candidate who's got an appeal to the blue-collar Democrats: Clinton. I call them the beer drinkers. And then you got the white-wine crowd, which Obama appeals to. There's a brilliant article by Ron Brownstein in the latest issue of National Journal in which he charts the change in the nature of the Democrat-primary vote, and it's becoming younger, more affluent, and more liberal. And that means that blue-collar Democrats, whatever's left of them, are on their way out of the Democratic Party.

What do you make of this whole thing where Hillary was talking him up as a vice president and he came back saying, "Wait a minute, I'm winning—why are you asking me to be your number two?"
Very calculating on the part of the Clintons, and a mistake for him on his part.

Because they wanted him to get down to their level. They want him to look like, you know, not the golden inspiring figure but instead, you know, like an average ordinary pol who's got three years in the United States Senate. So they lay it out there. And rather than having it be dismissed by a surrogate, instead he goes out there! And rather than having an inspiring, forward-looking message, instead he's out there as an ordinary pol saying, "Hey, I'm number one, I'm in first place! I won more states than she did. I won more delegates than she did. What the hell's she doing offering it to me? That's insulting." And he did it in an arrogant way that I don't think made him look that good.

So you don't think his response played well?
No. Take a look at the footage. Turn the sound off and look at it. You can tell that he is arrogant, and you can tell that he's a little bit angry, and you can tell he's very dismissive. He takes his hands and he sort of, you know, waves his hand like, "I'm dismissing something." That was the moment to say, you know, "Look, I know what my opponents are saying, but you know what? I'm focused on one thing and one thing only, which is to help bring Republicans and Democrats and independents together to move America forward." Instead of "Hey, lemme just remind you, I'm winning! I'm beatin' her!"

So he took the bait?
He took the bait.

Have you gotten to know Hillary or Barack to any degree?
Yes, I have.

What have been your dealings with them?
Well, you know, I used to have her office at the White House. And I got to know [Obama] because we have a mutual friend, Ken Mehlman, who was his law-school classmate at Harvard. And so as a result, whenever in the last three years he's been around at the White House, I've gotten to see him, and we sort of would hang around and chitchat about things. I'm actually in his book. He wrote that "people like Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Ralph Reed, and Karl Rove say we are a Christian nation." And I did not say that. I confronted him about it. At the White House.

And what did he say?
Well, first he denied that I was in the book! And then he denied that it said that I said that it was a Christian nation. And then when I pulled out the thing [he had a copy of the offensive page with him] and showed it to him, he sort of blah-blah-blah-blah-blah- blah-blah. And I thought, That's who he is. I mean, look, he may claim that he's for a different kind of politics, but that was a cheap shot. And I'm not certain if any of the four said it either. But it was like, you know, Let's just strap it in there and see if it goes someplace. Another example: Him saying, "We honor John McCain for his fifty years of service" was a cheap shot. He was going out of his way to say John McCain's old.

Is John McCain too old?

Do you think Obama's gotten a free ride from the press?

How so?
I don't think they hold him to the same standards. You know, look, his Web site is full of all kinds of proposals written by academics galore. But he's not required to defend them. He's not required to explain what it is he wants to do. Now I think that's changing. I think, when you have an editorial in USA Today that says, in essence, Where's the beef, what's the substance? When reporters start asking him tough questions about his relationship with Tony Rezko—you know, what was the value of the lot? What was the price that you paid? How many fund-raisers did he do for you? How much money did he raise at those fund-raisers? When they start asking him those questions, then it starts to change. I mean, the kind of questions that have been routinely asked of other candidates—about their background and associations and involvements—have only recently begun to be asked of him.

I get the sense you respect Hillary more than you respect Obama.
Off the record?

Please don't go off the record.
Off the record… [Yeah, it's good. Sorry.]

Damn! Now say that on the record.
No. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Let's try again, then: on the record. I get the sense you respect her more than him.
Uh, I know her better than I know him. And I just, uh—she has been around public life a lot longer and has demonstrated, you know, more involvement than he has.

Let's talk about Bill. You've gotten to know him better, right?

What do you think of him now?
He's a very entertaining rogue. He's a larger-than-life character. You can't help but sort of like him. But boy, he has made some missteps in this campaign.

Yeah, what's up with that? He's supposed to be this political genius. What's going on?
He's all wrapped up in it. He's lost his detachment. Sometimes you can be more detached about yourself than you can be about members of your family. He's all revved up about her and making mistakes.

Do you buy any of the pop psychology that there's a part of him that's sabotaging her?
I—I—that is way beyond. I have never… I don't have a couch that anybody could sit down on, and… I don't know, I don't know.

But you were surprised to see how he handled the South Carolina thing?
Well, it may have been calculated, I don't know. Maybe they made a calculated decision that, Hey, we need to send a message that all he can do is win states with African-American voters. But I don't think it played—even among Democrats.

Recently, in a meeting with some people from the Republican National Committee, you said, "Do not use 'Barack Hussein Obama.' "
Right, right. Um, in politics—

Is that because it's not right?
It's wrong. But not only that, it's counterproductive. In politics, there are arguments that are seen as not factual and not fair, or trivial, and they blow up in your face. And this is one that people look at and say, "You're trying to imply something about him that's not true. I think you're going a bridge too far, and I'm reacting negatively." I mean, he didn't pick his middle name, somebody else did. And he doesn't go out of his way, like Hillary Rodham Clinton to, you know, emphasize it.

You probably never thought, eight years ago, that John McCain would be the nominee.
You know what? In politics, second acts are either really bad or really good. And so the question was gonna be, Who might want to succeed Bush? McCain was always a possibility. He's always harbored a desire.

What do you think of him now?
I like him. We bonded in the '04 campaign.

Do you have to hold your nose to vote for him?
No, no, not at all. I enthusiastically voted for him. I just sent in my absentee ballot [in Texas], and I gave him $2,300.

So what's your life like now, Karl? Are you based in Washington still?
We're splitting our time between Washington and a place we have in the panhandle in Florida. And a little place in Texas. We're looking to be in Texas more permanently starting this fall. We've enjoyed Washington, but look, I don't wanna be like… I got a guy, lives around the corner from us in Washington, who had a prominent role for six months in the Reagan administration, and he's still living off of it twenty-some-odd years later. I don't intend to do that.

What do you intend to do?
I'm trying to figure that out. I've got a couple years between the book and the speeches and Fox and my Newsweek column and my writing for the Wall Street Journal and some things I'm doing in politics under the radar.

What do you do for kicks?
I read and go hunting. And travel with my wife.

Tell us about your wife.
She's a terrific, courageous person.

Is it hard being married to you?
Uh, I don't think it's hard being married to me. I think it's hard being married in public with me.

Let's talk about the last couple of scandals you've been involved in. Don Siegelman in Alabama [the Democratic governor whom Rove was recently accused of trying to sabotage by forcing U.S. attorneys to bring corruption charges against him prior to an election]. What happened?
[rolls his eyes] Will you do me a favor and go on Power Line and Google "Dana Jill Simpson" [the Republican lawyer who told 60 Minutes that Rove asked her to take a picture of Governor Siegelman cheating on his wife]? She's a complete lunatic. I've never met this woman. This woman was not involved in any campaign in which I was involved. I have yet to find anybody who knows her. And what the media has done on this… No one has read the 143-page deposition that she gave congressional investigators—143 pages. When she shows up to give her explanation of all this, do you know how many times my name appears? Zero times. Nobody checked!

Then how did this happen?
Because CBS is a shoddy operation. They said, "Hey, if we can say 'Karl Rove,' 'Siegelman,' that'll be good for ratings. Let's hype it. We'll put out a news release on Thursday and then promo the hell out of it on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday." And Scott Pelley—the question is, Did [60 Minutes correspondent] Scott Pelley say to this woman, "You say you met with him. Where? And you say that he gave you other assignments earlier. When did he begin giving you assignments, and what campaigns did you work with him in? What evidence? I mean, this woman, she said she met with him: Okay, you met with him—where? Did you fly to Washington?" Now she says that she talked to me on the phone and she's got phone records. Of calls to Washington and Virginia. But what's Virginia? I don't live in Virginia. And it's 2001. What is in Virginia? It's not the Bush headquarters; that was in Austin, Texas. What is in Virginia? So—but look, she's a loon.

What about the U.S. attorneys? Should you have had a role in hiring and firing?
[a little peeved now] What was my role in firing those U.S. attorneys?

Your position has been—and tell me if I have this wrong—that you basically relayed complaints?
To the counsel's office. Correct.

And that was an appropriate thing to do?
Oh sure. Sure it is. Sure it is.

What's your relationship with the president now?
Good. Really good.

Do you talk a lot?

Did you know that Laura called you Pigpen?
Yeah. [laughs] Laura Bush intimidates me. All the Bushes—well, most of the Bush men marry incredibly strong women, and they all intimidate me. Barbara Bush I've lived in fear of for thirty-seven years.

What's your goal with this book? You intend to set the record straight, as you see it?
Absolutely, absolutely. Sure. You bet. I intend to set the record straight.

I imagine you're going to have a lot to say.
Yeah, exactly. Available soon for $29.95…. I gotta go! I gotta go!

Wait, quickly: Do you believe Roger Clemens?
Um, yes, I do.

If he gets nailed on perjury charges, is that the kind of guy Bush might pardon?
I'm sorry?

Do you think if he got nailed, that would be the type of person Bush would pardon?
I'm not gonna answer that. I mean, he's done nothing wrong.

Should Scooter Libby be pardoned?
I'm not gonna answer that. Just not. Just not. But thanks for asking.

lisa depaulo is a GQ correspondent.

What You Can Learn From Top Chef's Top Chef

Tuesday  April 01, 2008

What You Can Learn From Top Chef's Top Chef

Tom Colicchio explains what every man should keep in his fridge, why real cooks don’t need recipes, and why cans rule, whether you’re talking diet soda or tuna.


My three fridge essentials: “Always good cold cuts, like prosciutto, because that’s an easy snack. Fresca in cans. I remember years ago drinking it and loving it; then, all of a sudden, my wife started bringing it home and it was like, Wow, this is great. And always a hunk of Parmesan cheese. You can make a simple dish of olive oil, black pepper, pasta, and Parmesan, and that’s all you need.”

I can’t live without my… “Breville conical-burr coffee grinder. And the burr part is really important. The difference is, a blade cuts the beans; a burr grinds them.”

Best cut of steak: “Rib eye. It’s the most flavorful. You have to deal with a certain amount of fat, but fat’s good.”

If you’re going to own one knife… “Make it a ten-inch chef’s knife.”

My shaving technique: “Braun electric clippers. I use them on my head and my face. My beard is actually the same length as my hair, but it doesn’t look that way because it’s darker; my hair is all grayed out.”

Use more vinegar: “A lot of people don’t cook with vinegar, but it’s something we do at Craft. Like when you’re basting something with butter, add a shot of vinegar. It introduces a layer of acidity and cuts through the fat.”

Don’t have an oil crisis: “If you’re going to buy olive oil, buy it in something small. Most people don’t realize how quickly oil goes rancid.”

No salt, thank you: “The only reason they salt butter is to preserve it. You’re better off buying unsalted butter and adding salt to taste. For the home cook, I like Vermont cultured butter.”

Hooked on tuna: “It’s called American Tuna—great stuff. We started using it at ’wichcraft. Six fishing families in San Diego run it. It’s all pole-and-troll caught. They fillet the fish, seal the chunks in the can, and cook it in the can. No water, no salt, no oil, nothing. It’s really flavorful.”

Kitchen footwear: “Dansko clogs—rubber bottom. I’m not a Crocs guy. Actually, you know where I wear them? On my boat. Great for fishing. All the fishing guys I know wear them.”

My boat: “A yellow Contender, twenty-five feet. My biggest catch? A 170-pound striped marlin in Mexico. Threw it back. I only keep it if I know I’m going to eat it.”

Technique is king: “If you just follow recipes, you’re not teaching yourself how to cook. Once you understand technique—how to roast something, how to braise, how to sauté properly—you won’t need recipes anymore. You can start cooking your own food.”—AS TOLD TO ADAM RAPOPORT


Tuesday  April 01, 2008


When James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006, he left behind a fortune worth tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars. The problem is, he also left behind: Fourteen children (pending DNS tests); Sixteen grandchildren (and counting); Eight mothers of his children (that’s a low estimate); Several mistresses (the man was a rock star); Thirty lawyers; A former manager; An aging dancer; A longtime valet; And a sister who’s not really a sister but calls herself the Godsister of Soul anyway. All of whom want a piece of his legacy. And when the dust clears, there might be nothing left of the (supremely talented, extremely careless, and massively troubled) Godfather of Soul. Selections from GQ's April 2008 issue

By Sean Flynn


Photograph by Robert Knight; Courtesy of Retna


On the current legal claims to the James Brown estate:

Mr. Brown was not wholly unprepared to die, either. Several years earlier, in August 2000, he’d drawn up a will in which he bequeathed his “personal and household effects”—his linens and china and such—to six adult children from two ex-wives and two other women. He was very clear, too, that those were the only heirs he intended to favor. “I have intentionally failed to provide for any other relatives or other persons,” he wrote in the will. “Such failure is intentional and not occasioned by accident or mistake.”

Everything else he owned, including his sixty-acre estate in Beech Island, South Carolina, and his catalog of 800 or so songs, was to remain in a trust, which in turn was divided into two funds: one to educate his grandchildren (seven among those six named children, plus the daughter of his son Teddy, who died in 1973) and a much larger one to pay tuition for “financially needy” students who attend school in South Carolina or Georgia. How much is that trust worth? Hard to say, because Mr. Brown’s best assets are of a sort that can be marketed and managed in perpetuity as opposed to simply liquidated for cash. But the lowball estimate is $20 million, which, with proper promotion, could be multiplied many times over for many years to come. Elvis has been dead for three decades, after all, and he’s still pulling eight figures annually.

In other words, Mr. Brown left a fortune to poor strangers.

Fifteen months later, none of those poor strangers have seen a nickel. Nor will they for months, and more likely years, to come, by which point there may be little left, after the creditors and the lawyers are paid. The first attorney was hired barely thirty-six hours after Mr. Brown died, and the first legal challenge was initiated less than two weeks after that. The lawsuits and lawyers rapidly multiplied—there are now more than thirty lawyers suing in three different courts—which has had the predictable result of resolving…precisely nothing.

For such a simple little will—all of five pages, and mostly boilerplate at that—there are a stupefying number of issues to resolve.

Mr. Brown’s ostensible widow and the mother of James Brown II wants at least a third and perhaps half of his riches—though, as a matter of law, she is almost certainly not his widow nor, as a matter of human physiology, the mother of his biological child. Five of the six children named in the will want the trust dissolved and the will invalidated, which would entitle them to equal shares of the entire estate; that puts them at odds with the sixth sibling, Terry, and his boys, Forlando and Romunzo, who want the will and educational trusts to stand. At least two other daughters whom Mr. Brown never acknowledged also want a share of the pot, as well as eighteen years of back child support. Four more potential children—Jane and John Does I, II, III, and IV in the court records—might have similar claims. The three men Mr. Brown named as trustees have resigned, though two of them, Albert H. “Buddy” Dallas and Alford Bradley, want to be reinstated, because they say a judge bullied them into quitting. That same judge, Doyet Early, wants to put the third former trustee, David Cannon, in jail for not repaying $373,000 in misappropriated funds. Cannon says he can’t afford it, which looks bad considering he spent almost $900,000 in cash to build a house in Honduras last year. State investigators are working a criminal case on Cannon, too. The two special administrators Judge Early appointed to replace those three men, meanwhile, are being sued in federal court by Forlando Brown, who argues that they were illegally put in charge and are improperly attempting to shift assets from the trust to the estate, from which their $300-an-hour fees could be paid. The administrators, Adele J. Pope and Robert Buchanan, have in turn sued Bradley, Cannon, Dallas, entertainment lawyer Joel Katz, his firm (Greenberg Traurig), and Enterprise Bank in state court, alleging a years-long conspiracy to swindle millions from Mr. Brown. All of those people have lawyers, and many of them have more than one. Tomi Rae Hynie, the widow who’s probably not technically a widow, has five. Her son has his representative, a guardian ad litem, and the guardian ad litem has his own lawyer. Pope and Buchanan have lawyers. Even the anonymous beneficiaries of the trust, all those needy and deserving would-be students, have a lawyer—the attorney general of South Carolina—and they used to have two until Judge Early tossed out the Georgia attorney general.

And those are the relatively dignified legal proceedings.

Outside the courtroom, the family has bickered over absolutely everything, including the disposition of Mr. Brown’s body, which for a time was kept in a gold-plated coffin inside a climate-controlled room in his house. When it was finally decided that the corpse would be put in a crypt in daughter Deanna’s yard in early March, daughter Yamma nearly missed the private ceremony because police in Atlanta had arrested her the night before for stabbing her husband in the arm with a butcher knife. Since then, Forlando Brown has accused those two aunts, Deanna and Yamma, of swiping mementos, checks, and tens of thousands in cash from his grandfather’s house, and in court he called their lawyer—who used to be his lawyer—a liar and a forger, or at least an accomplice to forgery. Yamma, Deanna, and half-brother Daryl accused the former trustees of hunting for “certain assets” when the trustees photographed the woods around Mr. Brown’s house, an obvious reference to cash Mr. Brown is believed to have buried in the yard. Tomi Rae Hynie, who prefers to be called Mrs. Brown, was locked out of the house, and she insists someone—the adult children or the former trustees, or a combination thereof—shredded more recent wills, which she believes left half of Mr. Brown’s assets to her and her son, and took all of her jewelry and most of Mr. Brown’s clothes. “They looted everything,” she says. “You’re dealing with nothing but liars and thieves and cheats who would throw a widow and a 6-year-old child out on the streets.” She also believes, along with several other people, that Mr. Brown was killed, though by whom and how neither she nor anyone else will say. “I can’t comment on that right now,” she says, “for the safety of myself and my son.” Even the lawyer who drew up the will and trust that are now being contested is a tawdry little sideshow: He’s in prison for the 2006 murder of a strip-club manager who’d bounced him for nakedly masturbating while waiting for a $300 lap dance.

Wait, there’s more.

There are claims against the estate from creditors and would-be creditors. The funeral home wants $17,995 for the programs it produced for the services. One of Mr. Brown’s managers wants a $200,000 cut of royalties he was promised. Buddy Dallas would like $624,876 in fees he says he was shorted over seven years. The Pullman Group, to which Mr. Brown mortgaged his royalties in 1999, wants $31 million (the refinancing of that deal is the subject of yet another lawsuit). A doctor wants $8,500 to reimburse her for, among other things, all the times she packed Mr. Brown into a limo to rehab in Atlanta; she’d like an additional $14,000 for two African carvings he never returned to her, or failing that, the carvings. Roosevelt Johnson, too, would like to get paid. “We were always told by Mr. Brown we would be taken care of should anything happen to him,” he wrote in his claim. “We, meaning myself, and his group should have at least got two weeks severance pay. Myself for over 30 years of faithful service should get 2.5 million for a lifetime of service as he promised.”

Maybe Mr. Brown did make that promise. But he never put it in writing, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he had. Somebody surely would’ve sued.


On Brown’s sexual habits:

“You’d have to grow up in a whorehouse to understand how James Brown felt about women,” one of his confidants says, which is apt because Mr. Brown did, in fact, grow up in a whorehouse. His mother walked out on his father when he was 4, and two years later, he was sent to live in his aunt Honey’s brothel in Augusta. He shined shoes for the soldiers from Fort Gordon, danced for nickels and pennies they’d flip at his feet, watched them shamble into Aunt Honey’s to fuck the women, watched them shuffle back out.

When Mr. Brown grew up, when he was a famous performer touring the world forty, fifty weeks a year, he fucked a lot of women. That is a deliberate term, fucked, because Mr. Brown was not a man who made love or even had sex. Mr. Brown fucked. “He did not know about the soft,” a longtime friend says. A lot of times, he’d let one of his cronies deal with the preliminaries, make small talk with a girl, get her a drink, keep her company. “She ready?” he’d ask. “I ain’t got no time now. Make sure she ready.” He’d hop on, roll off. Straight missionary, straight to the point. He never saw a reason for much else. “Why’s a white man eat a woman?” he once asked a white friend. “What’s he get outta that?” Hell, the man was in his sixties before he discovered doggy style on the Playboy Channel. He called up Roosevelt Johnson at three in the morning to tell him about it. “You sittin’ down, Mr. Johnson?” he asked, which is what he always said when he had an astonishing new fact to report. “Black man don’t know nothing. Black man don’t know a damned thing. A white man, he get up in his woman from behind.” Johnson pretended to be surprised by that. (“You had to go there with him,” he says, “because you didn’t know anything Mr. Brown didn’t know.”)

So how many women? How high can you count? Mr. Brown always kept a few girlfriends on the side, some for decades, and he always found a woman or two in whatever city he happened to be playing. “There’d be times, literally, when one would be coming in the front door while another one was going out the back,” says Buddy Dallas.

Naturally, some of them got pregnant.


Former lawyer Buddy Dallas on Brown’s financial struggles and eventual vasectomy:

Buddy Dallas met James Brown in 1984 at a political reception in Augusta, Georgia. It was a brief and unremarkable encounter—Dallas mostly remembers that his 2-year-old daughter liked the little man with the funny hair—but the next day, the phone rang in Dallas’s office. It was Mr. Brown.           

“Mr. Dallas,” he said, “I need you to represent me.”

“But Mr. Brown,” Dallas replied—it was somehow automatic that James Brown was Mr. Brown—“I don’t know anything about the entertainment business.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “I’ll teach you about the entertainment business. But I need you to represent me now.”

Mr. Brown’s immediate problems didn’t involve entertainment. Mainly, he was broke. He hadn’t broken the Billboard 100 in seven years, and he was playing shows for $7,500 that cost him $9,500 to produce. The IRS wanted $20 million in back taxes and penalties, the phone company had cut his line, and the founder of the Sacramento chapter of his fan club was after him for child support. “Mr. Dallas,” he said a week after they’d met, “I hate to ask you this, but I really, really need some money.”

So the first thing Dallas did as Mr. Brown’s lawyer was give him $12,000, two grand in cash, the rest in checks paid to his creditors. Less than a year later, Dallas put up his own Lincoln as collateral for another $18,000.

The second thing he did was straighten out the child-support mess in Sacramento. “Mr. Brown,” Dallas told him when the paperwork was settled, “you’re going to have to be more careful.”

“Well, Mr. Dallas,” he said, “we’re not going to have to worry about that no more.”

What he meant was there wouldn’t be any future paternity suits: Mr. Brown told at least six people he’d had a vasectomy earlier that year. But that was too little and much too late: One reason his estate is such a disaster is that he left so many heirs who could lay claim to his wealth.

His first wife, Velma, bore three sons in the 1950s, of whom two survive, and a backup singer had a fourth boy. Another singer gave birth to a daughter in 1965, and his second wife, Deidre, had two girls, one in 1968 and the other in 1972. The fan-club woman in Sacramento had her son in 1968.

That’s seven children from five women.


Singer/songwriter Jacque Hollander on Brown’s sexually abusive behavior.

The idea of a trust—specifically, the I Feel Good Trust, which is what the fund meant to send poor kids to college is called—dates at least from 1988, when Mr. Brown performed a charity concert in Augusta to benefit a local children’s hospital. The woman who produced the show, a songwriter and singer named Jacque Hollander, made a video about one of the sick kids at the hospital, a little girl with cancer. Near the end of that tape, after Hollander had made a wrenching case for a worthy cause, she announced the creation of “the I Feel Good Children’s Trust Fund.” Hollander was not acting on a whim. “This was discussed with Mr. Brown and with Buddy Dallas,” she says now. “I mean, it was there.

Well, almost there. Papers to establish the trust were never filed. Yet around the time the tape was made, she sat in an office with Dallas and listened as Mr. Brown outlined his plan for it. “I want everything to go into that trust,” he said. “My house, my royalties, everything.”

“Mr. Brown,” Dallas said. “You’ve got kids.…”

“Dammit, I ain’t giving them a stepping-stone to make history,” he snapped. “They all got education. I been supporting them. I ain’t givin’ them a dime.”

Dallas remembers that conversation almost verbatim, which is notable because Hollander didn’t speak to him for twenty years after it took place. And Hollander certainly has no motive to soften Mr. Brown’s image now. In fact, she says he raped her later that same year, drove her deep into earlier woods, high on PCP, and told her to take her clothes off. When she refused, he said, “I’m not going to ask you again. And if you don’t, I’m gonna.” Then he put a shotgun in her face. “He told me, ‘If you try to run away, I’ll kill you,’ ” she says. “He told me he owned me. He told me he was giving me a blessing.” (She never brought criminal charges, but she later passed two polygraphs, including one administered by a twenty-seven-year veteran of the FBI.)

Also, she’s glad he’s dead. “His death was the most unbelievable Christmas present God could have given me,” she says. “Is that a horrible thing to say?” Not really, considering. But she does like to believe that Mr. Brown called his fund the I Feel Good Trust because he remembered the first one, that he chose that name to cleanse his sins.


On maintaining his mystique and creating his legacy:

The truth? No one knows the truth about James Brown, not the whole truth, because Mr. Brown never let anyone close enough to reveal the full measure of himself. He could make you believe you were close, make you believe that you, and only you, had been blessed with a glimpse of his soul. But that’s merely charisma. Or manipulation.

“People were his confidant in that area of his life where he was dealing with them,” Sharpton says. “All of us—all of us—were consequential to his self-image.”

And that’s from a man who was closer than most to Mr. Brown. He toured with him in the 1970s, lived with him for a while in the early 1980s, wrote the introduction to his autobiography. He’s called Mr. Brown his surrogate father, and Mr. Brown likened him to a son. Yet he has no illusions, either. He knows he was also a useful prop, a gifted black preacher Mr. Brown could mold and brand as a protégé, help smooth the friction with the civil rights establishment (Mr. Brown, after all, endorsed Richard Nixon). “He saw me as his answer to Dr. King,” Sharpton says, and then he drops into a pretty good impersonation: “I’m gonna make my own Dr. King.”

(Decades later, Mr. Brown still saw his reflection in Sharpton. “One of the proudest moments of my life,” he told the reverend in 2004, “was when you walked out at the Democratic National Convention with that James Brown hairdo and brought James Brown into mainstream national politics.”)

For all that, Sharpton doesn’t claim to have known the total man. “Only tell people what they need to know, Rev,” Mr. Brown told him long ago. “And anybody want to know anything outside their lane, don’t trust ’em.” Mr. Brown trusted Al Sharpton because he stayed in his lane.

Everyone saw in Mr. Brown only what he let them see. A mistress saw a frustrated old man trying to get hard while whacked out on PCP. His pastor in Augusta saw a spiritual man who quoted Scripture, especially Matthew: “Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Forlando Brown saw a grandfather who read through his college applications and checked his grades every semester. Buddy Dallas saw a captivating performer, an astute businessman, and more than that, a man who survived poverty and prison and drugs and the IRS. We rather die on our feet / Than keep living on our knees / Say it loud / I’m black and I’m proud. That’s what Buddy Dallas saw.

But none of them saw it all. Indeed, you can tell how close someone was to Mr. Brown by how readily they admit that fact.

“Mr. Brown was an exceptionally slick, conniving, brilliant man,” says Charles Bobbit, his friend for forty years and his manager from 1966 to 1977 and again from 2000 until Mr. Brown died. “And he made sure—made sure—he was misunderstood.”

Yet there was one matter on which he clearly wanted to be understood: his legacy.

Mr. Brown told people for twenty years how he wanted to be remembered. A few small details would change now and again, but his general wishes were consistent.

For instance, he didn’t want his children getting his money. Why depends on who he was talking to and what his mood was at the time. Partly, he was a detached father. Blame the constant touring, blame the multiple divorces, blame whatever demons crawled around his head. “He was never much of a family man,” Bobbit says. “But I guess you got that.” Sometimes he’d say that being James Brown’s child was enough of an inheritance, that the name alone was worth more than anything he had growing up. He worked for his wealth, and they could, too. If he was in a foul mood, he’d be blunter: “They ain’t gettin’ rich off my back,” he told at least four people over the years. “They ain’t gettin’ a damned dime.”


Gloria Daniel, Brown’s former mistress, on his paranoia and drug use:

To be fair, Mr. Brown did, on occasion, lapse into utter lunacy. He was terribly paranoid, convinced the government had bugged the armoire in the den, placed tiny cameras in the curtains, pointed satellites through his window, even wired up the yard. “See them trees,” he’d say when the wind blew and the branches swayed. “That’s them. They watching me.” And he would occasionally flat out lose his mind. “Motherfucker was crazy,” says Gloria Daniel, a girlfriend he kept on the side for forty years. “It was the drugs.”

Mr. Brown smoked his drugs—PCP, until that got hard to find, then cocaine—mixed with tobacco from his Kools. “You sitting there rolling tobacco out of a cigarette—that’s a woman’s job—and you sitting there naked so he can look at you ’cause he getting ready to fuck you,” she says. “Yeah, right.” She rolls her eyes. The drugs, to say nothing of the diabetes and the prostate cancer, made him impotent. “He tried like hell, though,” she says. “He’d wear you out. That man died trying to come.”

One night in the summer of 2001, after he’d slathered her in Vaseline (“He liked you all greased up,” she says. “Like a porkchop”) and wore her out trying to come, he gave up and left the room, and Gloria dozed off. When she woke up, Mr. Brown was standing at the foot of the bed in a full-length mink coat over his bare chest, a black cowboy hat, and silk pajama pants with one leg tucked into a cowboy boot and the other hanging out. He had a shotgun over his shoulder and a white stripe of Noxzema under each eye. “I’m an Indian tonight, baby,” he announced. “C’mon, let’s let ’em have it.” Then he dumped a pickle jar of change on the floor, told her to get a machete, and went out to the garage. He took the Rolls, drove ten miles to Augusta, weaving all over the road, clipping mailboxes, smoking more dope, and screaming about being an Indian. Gloria kept thinking she should flag down a cop, say she’d been kidnapped.

Like she says, motherfucker was crazy on drugs.


Charles Bobbit, friend and former manager, recounts Brown’s final moments:

The tour after Christmas was going to be the last one. Mr. Brown would play his final show in Anaheim, then pack it in after fifty-seven years. “When we finish this little thing, we going on a vacation,” he’d told Bobbit. He was going to take Tomi Rae and go to San Francisco, a few other towns, spend some money. “Then we going to Vegas, and I’m gonna marry her again. She’s my wife, I love her, and I ain’t gonna punish her no more.”

But first they had to do the shows, and for that Mr. Brown needed new teeth. Getting implants screwed into the jaw is a brutal procedure, and Mr. Brown didn’t think he could stand the pain. He wanted to be put under. But the man was sick. His knees were shot and his feet were swollen, his stomach hurt all the time, he was constipated and couldn’t pee too well, either. Now he had a bad cough, and he was losing weight.

Bobbit was waiting for him when Washington drove Mr. Brown to the dentist in Atlanta. Bobbit had a physician with him who gave Mr. Brown the once-over and then told him he might not ever wake up from anesthesia. He checked him into the hospital that Saturday, December 23. He rested all night and the next day, the doctors checking him, trying to clear out the pneumonia. Bobbit and Washington stayed with him. And then, late Sunday, just before midnight, Mr. Brown told Washington to leave the room.

“I’m gonna leave here tonight,” he said.

“If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about,” Bobbit said, “that’s a trip I can’t make with you.” He was trying to lighten the mood, not ready for Mr. Brown to die, not believing he could die.

Mr. Brown stayed serious. “I want you to look out for my wife, if you can,” he said. “And I want you to look out for Little Man, if you can. And look out for Reverend Sharpton.”

He always called Tomi Rae’s son Little Man. He knew he wasn’t his son, but whenever someone told him to get a DNA test, he said no, not while he was alive. Because he loved Little Man, loved him as his own, almost as if he was finally going to be a proper father, make up for all those years and all those other children. Bobbit thought that’s why he called him Little Man. “It was his ego,” he says. “Like, ‘Look at him, look at that little man—he’s just like me.’ ”

Bobbit settled into a chair at the foot of the bed. Mr. Brown lay back and dozed. Then he bolted upright, grabbed at his chest. “I’m on fire, I’m on fire,” he said. “I’m burning up. Burning up.” He flopped across the bed, and his gown rose up, exposing him. Bobbit got a blanket to cover him up. He was leaning down, his face close to Mr. Brown, still holding the blanket. He heard Mr. Brown take three short, weak breaths, saw his eyes open wide for an instant, then close. “As God is my witness, I don’t know why,” he says, “but I looked at my watch and it was one twenty-four.”

The doctors worked on his body for another twenty-one minutes, but James Brown was already dead.


To read the full article, pick up the April 2008 issue of GQ.