Denise Rich | Michael Jackson | Betty Everett | Jeff Salaway  

Did Denise Stiff Hillary Post-Pardon?

It seems as though Denise Rich — songwriter, fundraiser, Democratic donor, and ex-wife of former federal fugitive Marc Rich — reneged on a $40,000 pledge to the Hillary Clinton Senate campaign. 

In an article written by yours truly in the September issue of Gotham Magazine, sources who worked for the Hillary for Senate campaign told me a most interesting story regarding Denise and a bill she promised to pay for the campaign. 

The money has to do with Hillary's birthday celebration last October at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. The fabulous (is there anything else to call her?) Cher required a private plane to bring her in from California so she could perform a couple of songs at the star-studded show. The plane cost $40,000. Denise, according to the organizers, pledged to pay the bill as one of her ongoing donations to various Democratic party needs during the last election year. 

But Denise never anted up. According to sources who worked on the event, by the time the invoice was presented to Rich, it was after January 20, 2001, when President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich. "Denise stiffed us," one organizer told me. "The campaign wound up paying the bill rather than going after her. It was clear she wasn't going to pay once Marc got his pardon." 

In fact, after pouring money into Democratic causes for four years, Denise Rich has made not a single political campaign donation in 2001. Her supporters point out that she may be afraid of having her checks returned, but in reality it's hard to remember any politician of any party sending money back to donors unless a campaign is cancelled. And even that's stretching it. 

Some other revelations from the Gotham article include the news that Denise's incarcerated ex-boyfriend, Dr. Niels Lauersen, has a grown son and grandchild living in California. This came as news to almost everyone who knows Lauersen in NewYork. Previous press reports indicated that the fertility specialist was childless. But his son, a medical student, was the product of what they used to call out of wedlock (Lauersen wasn't married to the mom). Ironically, the son himself had the same situation one generation later, producing a baby at the age of 17 without the benefit of a marriage license. 

Friends of Lauersen told me they are appalled that when Denise could have exacted a favor from the White House to get someone a pardon, she didn't use it for the doctor but instead for Marc Rich. Lauersen is in prison for attempting to procure a passport after being arrested and indicted for insurance fraud. The same friends say that Denise's Fifth Avenue triplex penthouse apartment used to be cluttered with pictures of her with Lauersen. "But every single one of them are gone," the source told me. On the other hand, there are pictures of Denise with Bill Clinton "everywhere, still to this day."

Michael Jackson Rocks the World 

In my absence for two weeks, Michael Jackson's long-awaited single, "Rock My World," was leaked to radio stations last Friday. 

How did this reporter know? I heard it on a French station in the middle of Provence at 10 a.m. last Friday. This was before it was played in New York. The French got it on satellite from Sony Music. They then broadcast the song with much fanfare — clearly arranged a few days before with a full audio package that accompanied it — every hour on the hour all weekend long. 

The package included a promotion for the September 7th and 10th Madison Square Garden shows. So much for lack of interest from radio stations in the single. 

I was amused when quotes started popping up criticizing "Rock My World" as "sounding like a Michael Jackson record." What did people expect it to sound like? A Led Zeppelin record? 

I wrote several weeks ago that I feared for the pressure on Jackson if the first single off of the Invincible album didn't have something extraordinary — I don't know what that would be, though…the sound of doves screeching in Sanskrit? Monkeys playing digital flutes? Macaulay Culkin on bass guitar? 

The fact is, even with the build-up and hype, the $30 million budget and the rest of the rumors, a Michael Jackson record is going to sound like a…Michael Jackson record! I mean, that's why people want to hear it, isn't it? We can't have it both ways, you know: We can't decry him for making records and for not making records. And if he's going to make records, let me tell you something: They're going to sound like he made them. Sorry to disappoint you. 

"Rock My World," if you've escaped it, is in fact very catchy, well-produced with a lot of melodic hooks, and a good chorus. It contains Michael's trademark "woops" just to remind us he's back. He also sings very strongly, maybe better than in a long time, with a voice that shows no hint of his silly in-person Jackie Onassis whisper. What he doesn't do is pander to the contemporary fad of warbling each note like a yodeler lost in the mountains. There's no nonsense in the performance. I thought hearing it on the radio for the first time was kind of exciting. If the rest of Invincible sounds similar, then it's not Michael's fault if it doesn't do well. And I think Sony has made a sensible decision to delay the release until October 30th — well after this year's Grammy deadline. By next year at this time, the initial sales or the first response by critics won't be a factor in nominations. 

It will just be the music.

Betty Everett: It Was in Her Voice 

I was saddened to read of the untimely death of Betty Everett last week. The legendary R&B singer was 61. Her hits included "Is It in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)," "You're No Good" (the same one Linda Ronstadt made famous much later), and "Getting Mighty Crowded." She also had several duet hits with Jerry Butler including "Let It Be Me." You can read all about her in Jerry's autobiography, Only the Strong Survive: Memoirs of a Soul Survivor

I know that Betty was chronically ill and living in Milwaukee with family members. She made a rare appearance with Butler last year, but was reportedly in poor condition. Early success as a singer, with little remuneration from record companies, had combined to do her in. Such is the case with many of the great singers whose records we enjoy and take for granted on the radio. For records made before 1977, those singers received not a penny for the millions of times their voices are heard performing hit songs from the 1950s onward. Betty's greatest hits are available on CD, but I would wager a guess that it was a long time since she saw any money from the sales. 

As a side note, for her splendid syrupy belting and soothing ballads, Betty Everett did receive a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in Washington, DC. This year's Pioneer ceremony, which will be held at the Apollo Theatre in New York on October 4th, honors among others the eccentric Al Green, and the wonderful Fontella Bass, who sang the appropriately titled "Rescue Me." The Foundation continues to need support from singers of all colors and genres who have succeeded financially. Last year Aretha Franklin generously pledged $50,000 and wrote the check instantly. I'd like to see Diana Ross come to the Apollo this year, checkbook in hand.

Owner of Famous Hamptons Eatery Dies in Tragic Accident

Jeff Salaway, the owner of Nick & Toni's famous eatery in East Hampton, NY, died this morning at 3:30am. Friends say he was driving home from the restaurant and swerved either trying to avoid a deer or from falling asleep at the wheel. Jeff, who just about everyone who's anyone from Steven Spielberg to Ronald Perelman knew and respected him. He was married to Toni Ross, daughter of the late founder of Warner Communications, Steven Ross. They have a son and daughter, ages 11 and 7. 

Those are the facts and yet no one I've spoken with today can believe what's happened. The Hamptons have gained a reputation as kind of an awful place for the rich and powerful over the years. But Jeff, who was darkly handsome with a winning smile, could not have been more genuine, affable, and welcoming. Considering the caliber of celebrity clients who flocked to his creation over the last decade, Jeff never used his clout or mistreated new patrons whose names were not in gossip columns. Over the decade, so many children of the patrons started sprouting up that Jeff used the kids' school artwork to decorate the back of the restaurant and the menus. 

From Nick & Toni's in the Hamptons, Jeff launched several other successful ventures including the Manhattan branch of the restaurant on the West side, plus Rowdy Hall, a funky hamburger and coffee place on Main Street in town, and several small hotels in East Hampton that he was refurbishing. Two years ago he catered the big gathering for Bill Clinton at the home of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, co-hosted by the Spielbergs. I can still remember him there, inside the little greeting area, waiting his turn with wife Toni to meet and greet the President. He was just as excited as everyone else and patiently waited, refusing to jump the line. 

There will be a lot of tributes to Jeff in days to come, and all of them will be deserved. His death is absolutely heartbreaking. Our condolences to his family, his friends, and all the folks out in East Hampton who knew him and loved him. Services are Sunday in East Hampton.

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