When Joe DiMaggio walked into Dr. Rock Positano’s New York City clinic in 1990 to seek help for an old heel spur injury, the physician had no idea he would develop a friendship with the iconic baseball player that would last for 10 years.
“The most important thing was to cure him and to get him well, which is what we did,” the foot and ankle specialist told Fox News.
He has recently published a book about his unlikely relationship with the Yankee Clipper, titled “Dinner with DiMaggio.”
“Once our doctor-patient relationship was over, I never thought that I would hear from him again,” said Positano, who was 32 at the time when he met the centerfield, who was 40 years his senior. “And then a few months later, he literally shows up at the office and goes, ‘Hey kid, do you want to grab a cup of coffee?’ That’s pretty much how [our friendship] happened.”
While the sports champ was notoriously private, Positano said he quickly became a part of DiMaggio’s “Bat Pack,” a handful of friends allowed in his inner circle. Over dinners in restaurants throughout New York City in the mid-‘90s, DiMaggio would share his most intimate thoughts during the final years of his life, including those involving his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, Positano claims.
“The most important thing that he always told the group was that she was an amazingly intelligent, talented, gifted actress and he had a problem with people seeing her as this dumb blonde,” explained Positano. “He made it clear to our group that she was anything, but a dumb blonde… She can learn scripts faster than most people could. And he always found that to be an amazing part of her make-up. Going way beyond her physical beauty, he felt that she was a smart professional.”
DiMaggio married the Hollywood star in 1954, but they would split just nine months later. Their romance was one filled with passion, Positano said.
“He made an allusion to the fact that when they would get together [in the bedroom] it was like the gods were fighting,” said Positano. “There was thunder and bolts of lightning. Of course, he never got graphic because let’s face it, Joe was a gentleman. He wasn’t going to discuss certain things with our group or anybody else for that matter. So I think he was just speaking as one man to a group of men that were listening to him.”
Positano added that no one questioned him for more details on the iconic sex symbol.
“We never, ever, ever brought up Marilyn Monroe at the dinner table,” he stressed. “If he brought her up, he brought her up… and of course, no one dared ask a follow-up question.”
DiMaggio’s love for Monroe endured even after her death at age 36 in 1962 from an apparent overdose, but he did have some issues with the star, according to Positano. DiMaggio reportedly complained that she “wouldn’t take a bath for days” and that their marriage may have ended due to her inability to have children.
Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller after her breakup with DiMaggio. That marriage would last from 1956 until the pair divorced in 1961.
Positano also believed that fame played a role in DiMaggio and Monroe's split.
“I think the biggest reason why, from what we gathered in our conversations with him, was that you had two iconic people,” he said. “He was the most famous American sports star... She was the most famous iconic Hollywood actress. And let’s face it, there’s always competition that goes on between two people like that, regardless of how much they love each other or even care about each other.
"We felt that their careers may have led to the issues that they had… but Joe had a tremendous amount of love, respect and concern for her. And I think at the end of the day, Joe was more concerned about making sure that she was in a good place and good position. That she was cared for and loved. That was really his biggest concern.”
Still, Monroe and DiMaggio remained friends until the end. When Monroe died, it was DiMaggio who claimed her body and took over funeral arrangements. And for 20 years, DiMaggio had roses delivered to Monroe’s crypt three times a week. For years, rumors have long spread that if Monroe didn’t pass away, the former lovers would have remarried.
Positano isn’t so sure.
“He clearly did not mention to any of us during any of those dinner conversations that there was ever anything in the works about a reconciliation,” he said. “It’s hard to say what could have happened. Did he care about her up until the day she died? Well, yes. He clearly did. But it’s hard to say if there was ever going to be a reconciliation, a remarriage or anything like that.”
DiMaggio never remarried.
“He had a crush on [model] Elle Macpherson,” Positano claimed. “He also had a crush on [TV journalist] Elizabeth Vargas. Joe liked intelligent, active, pretty women."
Positano also added that women were just as intrigued by the mysterious DiMaggio.
"Let’s face it, even into his 70s and 80s, Joe was a very attractive guy," he said. "A lot of women found him to be irresistably charming and handsome. He had that effect on people. He definitely thought Elle Macpherson was beautiful and stunning. He always found her to be very sweet and very kind.”
However, DiMaggio preferred to dedicate his time to a cause that was dear to him.
“He loved children,” said Positano. “That was the most important thing in his life, his commitment to children. Forget about his winning streak — his biggest legacy was getting the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital off the ground in Florida because he was always concerned that kids who didn’t have parents with means were not able to get the best healthcare. His whole legacy was really based on his ability to make sure that kids in America, no matter their circumstances, would always be well taken care of.”
DiMaggio died at age 84 in 1999, nearly five months after undergoing surgery for lung cancer. Positano hopes his book will reintroduce DiMaggio to a new generation of readers.
“I think the problem that we’re finding is America’s youth... Kids do not know who Joe DiMaggio is or was. I think this is a way to reintroduce Americans, especially American kids, to Joe DiMaggio, who’s really our last American hero.”
When asked how DiMaggio, who spent his life guarding his privacy, would have responded to the book, Positano said he felt that the star “would have been OK with it.”
“The things that we discussed, for the most part, were discussed in the presence of other people,” he explained. “He wasn’t guarded in that respect. Of course, there were certain things that he did discuss with us that would not be for public consumption ever.”