This One’s for Howard

I have not posted in a while. I turned 65 earlier this year which kind of makes the whole idea of this blog kind of moot for there is a huge difference between 60 and 65. When I turned 60 all I had to do was look over my shoulder and there were my 50s, still shiny like a fully loaded muscle car that had some good drives on it. Five years later, however, the 50s are distant and dusty, like that 1985 Impala you inherited from your father that you can’t bring yourself to restore because, well, you’re not much interested in looking back. And you’re tired.

And so on and so on go the metaphors. My last posting was something of a eulogy for a portion of my life and I really was hoping to scribble something lighter with witty references to discount movie tickets and transit fares, dozing in the library with an almanac on your lap and seniors’ days at the local drug superstore. True, you find yourself at this age, doing some grocery shopping at the pharmacy because you hit the prescription counter on a fairly regular basis.

But I can’t write that right now. My friend Howard Lapides passed away last month, and I need to write about him. Not necessarily for you but for me. It’s cathartic.

We had known each other for over forty years going back to my first full time job in newspapers, writing sports for a short-lived tabloid in our nation’s capital called Ottawa Today. I had started branching out into rock criticism and being young and dumb etc. I thought it proper that I trash everything that came through town. Because, after all, Aerosmith had to be cut down to size by a 23 year-old punkass know-it-all. One day I got a call from one John L’Heury who identified himself as the local concert promoter. His advice was to “take it down to a seven Gross because you are not making any friends.” Or something like that.

Feeling guilty I decided to repay this L’Heury fellow with a feature article on a typical day in the life of a busy rock and roll impresario, such as there was in Ottawa in early 1978. I showed up at his office ready to drink in the dealmaking and constant flow of calls from the entertainment capitals of the world replete with terrific real time anecdotes about assorted Micks and Rods. Alas, not only were we long distance-free that day, I’m unsure that there was any mail to speak of.

L’Heury was a radio prodigy in his native Buffalo, changing his name from Lapides to L’Heury because it sounded so much better. He had gotten a gig in Ottawa after college and shape shifted to concerts because his boss also owned the promoting concern. And so, with little else going on, the conversation turned to stand-up comedy, the boom for which in clubs and TV specials was still years away. We had both been to the New York meccas Catch A Rising Star and The Improv and when I told L’Heury that my sister Marjorie was a young struggling standup in New York we really hit it off.

A few months later my gig ended in tandem with the not so-illustrious history of Ottawa Today. I was fortunate enough to get a job back at the Toronto Sun but L’Heury and I stayed in touch and the following spring I called in a favor when my cash poor sister took a weeklong gig in the new Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s against the advice of owner Mark Breslin who rightly predicted that Marjorie’s jokes about New York street gangs of Jewish American Princesses (“You’re not going to rumble in that are you?”) would not go over too well in the extremely provincial – read gentile – nation’s capital.

I enlisted L’Heury to check in on her and he went way beyond the call of duty, from picking her up at the airport to sitting shivah for her act which bombed every stinking night. It was the Dresden of standup.

By the time I drove up to get her, she had taken to drinking heavily. And she never drank.

L’Heury and I became a lot closer after that and even though L’Heury moved back to Buffalo, got married and changed his on-air handle to Michael O’Shea, got divorced, went back to being Howard Lapides, got into the standup business with Breslin in upstate New York, got out of business and then finally moved to Hollywood to set up a management shingle, we kept the friendship going which helped when I moved to LA for a few years with my family late last century.

And when Marjorie passed away, he remained a living link back to those days. He was managing standups and TV people (Kimmel, Carolla, Tom Green, Mike MacDonald) plus some good writers and sharing an office with Rick Bernstein (Steve Landesberg, Richard Lewis) so the lunches were great.

He got married, this time to Maria who gave him two great kids and he was a terrific dad as was Maria a mother.

When I moved back to Toronto and given to many many trips to LA, Howard was always on the itinerary whether it was breakfast, lunch (he was honored with a likeness on the wall of the old Palm on Santa Monica) or a Dodgers game. Best were the Sunday morning Buffalo Bills brunches at his house. Even a couple of Super Bowls.

We were there for each other as good ears and hearts as the travails of life visited us. The laughs were always healing, and he was generous soul. I even rented office space from him for a time at the Ventura Avenue penthouse he ruled. His people were great, we tried to knock around some business ideas. We even had our battles. I put out Tom Green’s DVDs, heedless to his warnings about the rights. He was right but never punished me. Tom remains friendly to this day. He even helped my son with admission to his beloved alma mater – Emerson College.

So Howard liked his food and was never in shape. There were occasional visits to the hospital and three years ago he was diagnosed with colon cancer through which he fought. But a few years older than me, Howard then slowed, and his business was boiling down to his long-standing client, Dr. Drew Pinsky or Loveline fame. His face was the color of “concrete” as Breslin observed. But he was still Howard, hooking me up with some business, dragging his ass out to the Dodgers with me, talking about his kids.

I was in LA on business in July and we had breakfast at our new hangout, Uncle Bernie’s in Encino. He bought because it was his turn. Neither of us ate too much but it was a nice hang has we say, and we even thought up a new piece of business for Pinsky. Howard had stopped driving, so I drove him a few blocks to his rental for he had sold the big ranch house up the hill.

We talked some more and when he got out of the car, he leaned in the passenger side and said, “What I really want to do is retire.”

We exchanged some texts on the idea a couple of weeks later. I took my daughter to see the Stones in New York that week and when I got off the plane, I got a text from a mutual friend to say that Howard had passed away the night before. Maria had taken him to the hospital on the weekend and they released him, but he had some kind of abdominal clot that burst, and he bled out.

Howard Lapides was 68. There was a wonderful memorial that I was going to fly out to, but I just couldn’t pull it together. I am reaching out to people for my own mini-memorials.

With Howard went the last piece of my sister in LA. Her name usually popped up in conversation. After she died the trips to LA became a little more elegaic. Now, with Howard gone, they will be missing something special. Forever.

Good news is, as of this writing, the Bills are undefeated. Hope he knows.

  1. Have to share one great story when Howard (yes that’s my name) worked in Ottawa as a concert promoter. We met back in 1978 and Howard was a Bruce Springsteen fan. I’ve been a Bruce Nut since 1975 and Mr. Lapides and I connected in Ottawa. Long story short, I did a Springsteen Special on CKCU-FM, an Ottawa radio station (based on Carleton University’s campus). We were playing bootlegs. Howard calls the show and challenges the show, if we play Bruce’s version of Pretty Flamingo (a song written by Manfred Mann), he’d donate $500 to CKCU. I was not working at CKCU at the time, I had a bootleg version and we played the song. Mr. Lapides made good on his pledge, here’s the kicker……Bruce gets very upset and the CRTC sends CKCU a letter to never again play Springsteen bootlegs and the story about the bootlegs being played ends up on the cover of Billboard Magazine, the biggest music industry trade magazine in the world at the time.

    Now it wasn’t Bruce who was upset, it was his management team….but that’s one of several Howard Lapides stories I remember. Howard was an amazing guy, thanks to Howard I did security for the shows in Ottawa for 15 years

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like
Read More

In Memoriam 2022

I have been eulogizing my own ‘In Memoriam’ entry every year for the past few, tallying up the physical losses that come with time. I knew that if I kept up the blog I would have to eventually write something about my father, Jules Pinkus Gross, and the time is now because he passed away on Canada Day this past year. It happened early in the morning and he was by himself which is sadder than sad but he went quietly at the wonderful age of 98 years young.
Read More
Jonathan Gross
Read More

Reflections in a Glass Vacuum Tube

This month my little company will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. No small feat given that turnover in the film distribution business is fairly brisk, and that yours truly will not be lecturing at the Harvard Business School anytime soon, such are my skills in running any sort of organization. We will celebrate at one point with a party for our friends and perhaps something for our loyal customers. In my mind, it’s going to be a little bittersweet as I wonder where the decades went along with the life force I put into something that was never a Plan A, or even a Plan B. It’s A Wonderful Life indeed.
Read More
Read More

Critical Crotchety Theory

I am spending way more time in the drug store than I am on the ski hills these days. Having said that, the winter solstice was managed in the ‘Land of Our People’ so I got just one day on the slopes with my daughter during a visit home in February. It was liberating although I almost needed assistance boarding the aircraft the next day.
Read More