In 30 years of running Sunset Boulevard hot spots, Mario Maglieri has
seen Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and many others destroyed by life's
vices. But he is a survivor.
In a place
known for its shimmering excesses and non-stop partying, Mario Maglieri
is an anomaly --- a silver-haired father figure who, at 70, maintains
order amid the chaos of the Sunset Strip. Maglieri works from sunset
to sunrise, keeping watch in West Hollywood over his glittery corner
of the famous boulevard.
After 30 years as a proprietor of the Whisky, the Roxy and the Rainbow
Bar & Grill - - - clubs considered the cradle for rock giants such
as the Doors, David Bowie and Janis Joplin - - - Maglieri has seen it
all. He bought Joplin a bottle of Southern Comfort three days before
she overdosed. He discussed world politics with John Lennon in the parking
lot of the Roxy. And he lectured Jim Morrison about using too many drugs.
Some of the people around him were destroyed by life's vices, but Maglieri
has survived. Perhaps that is why, at an age when many others have retired,
he stays on the Strip -- offering advice and an occasional stern lecture
to the rockers and revelers who walk through his doors.
On a recent night at the Rainbow, Maglieri is in fine form. A couple
of weeks earlier River Phoenix, 23, collapsed and died of a drug overdose
outside the Viper Room, another Strip hot spot. But Sunset Boulevard
continued its dizzy indulgences. As thundering music billows from the
Rainbow's dark upstairs disco, Maglieri mingles with the patrons. "All
these young people want to get high," he tells a visitor. "High,
why? Where are you going? You've got to face reality. If you don't,
you're gonna die. This boy, River Phoenix, he shouldn't be dead. Only
23 years old......."
His words fade into the music, but he continues to speak. "I'm
seventy years old and I've never smoked a joint in my life," Maglieri
boasts. "People ask me and I tell them, 'Dope is for dopes.' People
want to fight me on that, I'll fight them. I've seen too many lives
destroyed by drugs."
When Maglieri moved from Chicago in 1964 to help friend Elmer Valentine
operate the Whisky, drugs were openly used. Maglieri said he can remember
telling Morrison and Joplin --- among many others --- to clean up their
acts. Both later died of drug overdoses. "Jim Morrison was just
like a big kid," said Maglieri, who still speaks with a tough Chicago
accent. "He was a good boy. It's too bad I couldn't straighten
him out, because I tried awful hard." "He would look at me
all goofed up, and say, 'Oh Mario, I love you.' The reprimanding I gave
him didn't do any good. But I tried my best."
As for Joplin, Maglieri said: "She was a raunchy broad. Her fingernails
were full of dirt. Her hair was always strung. But she was a beautiful
girl. Very down to earth." Before a show, Joplin would demand Whisky.
"I would bring her Southern Comfort on the rocks," he said.
Mimicking Joplin's gravely voice, he added: "She would say, "I
don't want that. I want the whole f- - - - - - bottle."
And then there was Terry Kath, lead guitarist for the rock group Chicago,
a house band at the Whisky in the early days. Maglieri and Kath became
so close that the club owner stood as godfather of Kath's daughter.
Maglieri said he tried, without luck, to persuade Kath to give up his
cocaine habit. In 1978, Kath killed himself when he put what he thought
was an unloaded pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. "Sometimes
they don't listen," Maglieri said. "They have to hit rock
bottom first. Some of them make it and some of them don't."
Even before moving to California, Maglieri was no stranger to the club
scene. While working as a bail bondsman in Chicago, Maglieri operated
a lounge in the city at night. He agreed to come in as part owner of
the Whisky in 1964 after Valentine, who is also from Chicago, complained
his employees were stealing from him, Maglieri said. In 1972, the two
men opened the Roxy and the Rainbow, located about a block west of the
Whisky. Unlike the old days, when Maglieri and Valentine picked the
bands that played the clubs, production companies are now responsible
for booking acts. Still, Maglieri says he receives dozens of tapes a
month from young musicians looking for a big break. He tells the bad
ones to "keep on practicing."
Although Maglieri no longer selects the musical talent, he still takes
care of some of the clubs details. "Some people go play golf. I
come here," he said. "What are you gonna do? You gonna sit
at home with your old lady holding hands? You gotta get out."
Maglieri wakes up shortly before 1 p.m. and drives to the produce market
in Los Angeles. There, he picks out fresh vegetables for the evening
dinners at the Rainbow. Later, he returns to his Laurel Canyon home,
where he works out for an hour in his gym before taking his wife, Scarlett,
to the club for dinner. "He has become a workaholic through the
years," said Scarlett, who has been married to Maglieri for 48
years. By 7:30 p.m., Maglieri is on the job. As Maglieri sits near the
door of the Rainbow, sipping a glass of wine, a record producer stops
by to say hello. "Do you remember me, Mario?" John Rhys asks.
"I was with the band Rastus. 1968. It's good to see you."
Maglieri grins and nods.
Mike Kelley, 37, who runs a small record company, gives Maglieri a hearty
handshake. "Mario is like a favorite uncle," Kelley said.
"He has a presence about him. Sort of firm and sober. It runs counter
to the whole scene." Kelley said he started visiting Maglieri's
clubs in the late 1960s. "All the places on the Strip have changed,"
Kelley said. "The bands have come and gone. I can let years go
by and I come here on any night of the week and Mario still is here,
a smiling face."
In the '60s and '70s, Maglieri forbade his own children to hang out
in his clubs, knowing the temptations of the Strip all too well. Nowadays,
however, his children and grandchildren are helping him run the business
so he and Scarlett can spend time at their second home in Las Vegas.
"What keeps you young is the young people," said Maglieri,
who has three children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
"I still enjoy a lot of the music. Well, some of that stuff, ugh!
But you gotta give these kids an E for effort. I don't put anyone down."