I was watching MSNBC late last night (for some weird reason) and they did a “Breaking News” cut-in announcing the death of Luciano Pavarotti. News over the past month was that his health was deteriorating due to complications with pancreatic cancer.
You are probably sitting there scratching your head thinking to yourself, why does Steve feel the need to write about Pavarotti? Well, here’s your answer:
Back in September of 2005, I received a call from a friend who has a limo service in Tulsa. He handled all the big names that came to town including limo service and security from tarmac to event and back to tarmac. He needed help with chauffeur service for Pavarotti’s entourage which happened to be the biggest of any event my friend had handled. I agreed to join his team for the event and so the adventure began.
Tulsa was first on Pavarotti’s 40+ concert worldwide farewell tour as a symbolic gesture. Tulsa was the location of Pavarotti’s first ever concert in the U.S. and he wanted to return to where he started.
I could tell many stories about the three days I worked with he and his group but that would take a lot of my time to write and your time to read. I’ll hit the high points.
One of the more interesting things regarded the level of security he commanded. Not only were there about 10 of us who were working as chauffeurs/security, there were Tulsa police officers involved and federal agents assigned to his “detail” throughout the U.S. portion of his tour. This is in addition to his traveling detail. All of us were wired together on the radio system and I have to admit, it was pretty cool to hear the chatter among a serious professional security detail.
I learned after the concert that there were several threats on his life overseas and they were protecting him here like they do there. Makes you wonder if it is fame-related or something darker. Oh well.
Pavarotti had very specific requests. He requested he be picked up from the airport in an S-series Mercedes (I can’t remember the exact model). He required red but all we could find was a black one at the time. His security team explained to us that no matter what, we were to stay with the Mercedes, even if it meant running red lights or cutting through neighborhoods. This kinda put us on our toes since most of us were not at all security-type people and here we were in a security detail…
Upon delivery to the hotel (Hilton at Southern Hills), Pavarotti’s detail requested that everyone on our team look away from him. I’m still unsure why but I suppose it had to do with his frail nature. He walked in to the hotel under his own power but the rest of the time he commuted by power scooter.
He requested a chef be on duty 24 hours a day for he and his entourage which included Cynthia Lawrence (his co-star for the Tulsa event), a doctor, personal assistant/masseuse, his agent, three members of his family, his personal security detail and a few others I couldn’t identify.
There was not much activity from the time he arrived and got settled in at the hotel to the time he performed, with the exception of a press conference and practice with the orchestra. Both of these appearances required a lot of planning and about 15 cars to accomplish
The night of the concert is what really I enjoyed. Backstage, the security was minimal and much more relaxed so we were exposed to Pavarotti and this time we were able to make eye contact and even talk to him if he asks a question of us.
The fact that he used a scooter to get around was a highly guarded secret. His “green room” was improvised and elevated at the stage level and a ramp was built to help him access his room. Inside his green room he had all of his entourage and a few visitors.
He also had a large television and the movie Old School with Will Ferrell was being played. The big man liked his comedy apparently.
About an hour before the concert I was offered two of Luciano Pavarotti’s personal tickets. He had 20 set aside for his personal use and did not give them all away. I called Andrea and she and her sister were able to attend. Needless to say, these tickets were some of the best in the house and likely some of the most expensive as I seemed to recognize a lot of the patrons in that seating area from my “mingle with the rich people” days in the non-profit world.
The most memorable part of the event was after his third encore and the final closing of the curtain it was time to get Pavarotti upstairs to a meet and greet dinner. This involved getting an extremely famous, huge man on a three-wheeled scooter, down a fairly steep ramp and on the waiting elevator.
As he descended the ramp his scooter got away from him a little and me and another helper had to slow it by grabbing the handlebars then continue guiding it down. As I was holding his right handlebar grip, Luciano Pavarotti looked me square in the eye and with a heavy accent said “do you have insurance for this sort of thing?” then chuckled a lot.
I have no idea why this had such a profound influence on me but it did. I remember it to this day like it was yesterday, the accent, pitch and delivery. I guess famous people have that affect on others. Either that or me thinking at that moment that I could have accidentally dropped the most famous tenor in the world, ever… And no, I didn’t have insurance for that…
The concert was an amazing experience. I heard half from the back of the house and half up front. I have no idea what the man was saying or singing about but it was absolutely incredible.
R.I.P. Luciano Pavarotti