In the early '80s, I worked at The Starwood, West Hollywood's most notorious rock club. The owner, Adel Nasrallah aka Eddie Nash, was a drug dealer and gangster who allegedly masterminded the infamous Wonderland Murders, which involved porn star John Holmes.
By the time I started, the Starwood was already a hot spot of rabid partying and debauchery which attracted the faceless and famous to its sleaze-tinged aura. My post was just outside the main room with a clear view of the parking lot, managing the VIP door.
The job gave me a position of make-believe power and it never ceased to surprise me what some people would do for a VIP hand stamp. In other words, it was a fun gig that didn't pay much but the perks more than made up for it.
Rock stars like David Lee Roth and Devo were a regular part of the scene. Even Brian Wilson made a rare appearance one night to see his ex-wife Marilyn perform with her 1960's band The Honeys. Several groups including The Go Gos and Motley Crue made their bones playing there before hitting the big time.
During my 18-month tenure, an eclectic parade of notable night crawlers also passed through my door—from game show host Richard Dawson to Liza Minnelli to the comedian Marty Feldman. While most passed through without incident, others created scenes right out of the paparazzi's wet dreams.
One night, a black stretch limo pulled in to the lot just outside my door and out popped Zsa Zsa Gabor. She marched straight at me and in her dah-ling accent announced that she "van-ted" to go inside to look for someone. As this was punk rock night, I couldn't imagine who she was looking for, so I said what the hell and let her in. She pushed through the sea of mohawks and slam-dancers and then darted over to a young punk-garbed girl. After a short heated exchange, Zsa Zsa grabbed her by the arm and opened a can of whoop-ass on her in full view of everyone. She then dragged her out of the club to the waiting limo, tossed her in the back seat and quickly drove away. To this day, I have no clue who the girl was.
On another crazy night, John Belushi, Bette Midler and Penny Marshall showed up together to see their friend Marsha Hunt perform. They were all partying up in the balcony until an inebriated rocker, probably confusing Belushi with his "Animal House" character Bluto, thought it would be hilarious to shove a cheeseburger into the actor's face. Belushi didn't agree and had to be restrained by his tablemates until I had security toss the drunk out.
Some celebrities preferred to remain incognito, like a tall, mysterious man who tried to avoid giving me his name one night. "I'm a guest of the club," he said in a hushed New York accent. When I asked for his name, he replied, "I'd rather not say. Couldn't you just let me through?"
People often tried to weasel their way in and always had an excuse ready why their name was not on the list. In fact, I had my own Top 10 list of excuses written on a pad and when some scammer would try to slip one by me like, "My secretary must have screwed up—she's so fired!" I'd pull out the list and say, "Oh, you mean number seven." But this guy had a new one. "I don't want anyone to know who I am," he whispered, peeking over his shoulder at the line behind him.
"OK, but I still need to see your ID," I said. He flashed his driver's license long enough for me to read the name: Gene Simmons. "Just keep it to yourself, please," he said rushing past me. At the time, the Kiss frontman had never publicly appeared without his demonic makeup.
My favorite celebrity encounter was with—of all people—Carol Burnett. She wandered in with some friends one night and asked me the cost of admission. I explained this was the "guest list" entrance but since I was such a big fan of her TV show, I would be honored to let her party in as my guest. A few minutes later, she returned carrying a vodka and cranberry (my regular drink) as a thank-you. I've had people send out drinks to me before, but Carol Burnett had the class to make it personal.
Every now and then, I'll see someone from the Starwood days. Some will smile, wave hello, others will shoot me a dirty look. Those crazy nights feel like so many lifetimes ago, but also like it was just yesterday.