Author: William C. Rempel

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The Gambler

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KIRK KERKORIAN ALWAYS SEEMED COMFORTABLE WITH RISK. As an aviation pioneer he risked his life flying factory-fresh bombers over the treacherous polar route from Canada to Scotland for the Royal Air Force during World War Two. As a businessman he relished the big deal. His enormous successes mask the fact that he also lost billions of dollars.

Win or lose, Kirk maintained the same poker face. He once called life “a big craps game.” He loved all manner of gambles…and the bigger the wager the better. On Wall Street or in a casino, Kirk never felt more alive than when he was betting it all on a roll of the dice.

Aviator Kerkorian in the 1940s
Aviator Kerkorian in the 1940s.

KIRK’S EARLY LIFE OFFERED NO HINT OF A FUTURE AMONG BILLIONAIRES. He was a child when he and his Armenian immigrant parents were evicted from the family’s debt-laden farm near a place called Weedpatch in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Running out on landlords would become a familiar pattern during lean years deep into the Great Depression. Kirk was often the new kid in school, fending off bullies bare fisted and learning English on the streets of Los Angeles. His formal education ended with the eighth grade in a school for problem kids.

kirk kerkorian 1930s teen
kirk kerkorian 1930s teen

KIRK’S FIRST BIG DREAM WAS TO COMPETE FOR A BOXING CROWN. He won a string of amateur fights in Southern California, a regional welterweight championship and a prized nickname: “Rifle Right” Kerkorian. He traded his gloves for wings when he discovered flying. He shoveled manure on the dairy farm of aviatrix Pancho Barnes in trade for flight lessons. But throughout his life, Kirk remained an avid boxing fan, promoter and a friend of fighters.

Welterweight "Rifle Right" Kerkorian
Welterweight “Rifle Right” Kerkorian
Still Rifle Right Kerkorian
Still Rifle Right Kerkorian
Kerkorian flanked by
Kerkorian flanked by “Iron Mike” Tyson (right) and Ron Falahi, Kirk’s fitness adviser and personal assistant for 30+ years.
kirk kerkorian cary grant ray anthony
Kirk Kerkorian with friends Cary Grant and band leader Ray Anthony
kirk kerkorian 1950s
kirk kerkorian 1950s
kirk-kerkorian-andre-agassi
Kirk with tennis great and namesake Andre Kirk Agassi
kirk kerkorian sister rose pechuls
Kirk and his sister Rose Pechuls, photo courtesy of Gene Kilroy
Kirk with Lisa Bonder, the former women’s tennis star, who faked a DNA test to convince the billionaire he had fathered her child. Photo from Los Angeles Superior Court case files.
Kirk in his private jet with companion Una Davis, his future wife and widow.
Kirk Kerkorian’s New York Times Obituary

Marcos Hero? Ask Dictator’s Diary

 

NEWS ITEM: Should a long-dead dictator with a record of civil rights abuses get heroic honors? That’s the emotional debate dividing the Philippines this week. The body of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos has been kept in a crypt for nearly 30 years while his family demands a hero’s burial

FM no hero
Protesters leave no doubt in the summer of 2016: Ferdinand Marcos deserves no hero’s burial.

 

Flash Back to Summer 1972

President Ferdinand Marcos felt pretty good about himself. He was indispensable to Washington. The Nixon Administration needed access to Philippine military bases to support its war in Vietnam.

But at home Marcos was frustrated. He wanted a third term in the presidential palace but the constitutional limit was two. He had hoped congress would make an exception, but the political opposition was in control. He had lobbied constitutional convention delegates to change the rules, but wife Imelda’s companion bribery campaign had blown up in scandal.

His favorability ratings were terrible.

Privately, he contemplated a radical step — martial law and suspension of civil rights. Dictatorship had always intrigued Marcos. He mused about it in his diary after winning reelection in 1969. And he claimed to be getting divine encouragement.

Finally, giving in to God’s will that he step up and save the Philippines, the messianic Marcos put in motion his elaborate scheme.

First, he met secretly with members of his Supreme Court to clarify that he would tolerate no legal challenges.He orchestrated a fake ambush of his defense minister.

A special team of military loyalists arrested his most popular political rival – Senator Benigno Aquino, the man almost certain to replace him in the next open election.

That same night his police and military rounded up dozens (and ultimately hundreds) of prominent Marcos critics in congress and the media, as well as liberal priests and student activists.

Only then, as the city slept, were all independent media outlets seized and padlocked.

Manila woke up in the firm grip of a Marcos-controlled military. All voices of opposition and independent criticism were in jail, closed down or coerced into timidity. He had made free speech a crime.

Overnight political debate ceased. Democracy ceased. Silenced criticism left the illusion of Marcos popularity. A delusional dictator treated that fiction as fact. Marcos took credit for restoring law and order in Manila, writing in his diary:

September 25, 1972: “I am some kind of hero.”

 

BELOW: Filipinos previously dealt harshly with the deposed dictator’s heroic image

Biographer William Rempel visits tourist site circa 1991
Author William Rempel reporting in the Philippines, circa 1991
Later, destructive signs of public resentment
Later, destructive signs of public resentment toward Marcos image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Hiding from Drug Lords — But Now in the Spotlight of a Spanish TV Series

A rare photo of Jorge Salcedo
From a rare published photo of secret witness Jorge Salcedo
circa 1984

Fame in Witness Protection? It’s Complicated

For Jorge Salcedo, who made vengeful enemies of the most notorious crime bosses in the drug world, hiding has been a way of life for nearly two decades.

He was chief of security for Colombia’s Cali cocaine syndicate when he fled cartel assassins and corrupt police hit men for safety and a new life in the U.S. witness protection program. It was September 1995. Yet, after all these years, he still remains in danger.

That’s why, despite the fact that my book about his life has been a bestseller in his native Colombia,  Salcedo can not go home again. He still can’t appear openly in public or the media anywhere. It seems the drastic precautions that have kept him and his family safe — somewhere in the U.S. — may never be relaxed, not even as the book continues to make Salcedo something of a celebrity back home in Bogota.

Salcedo in disguise during a TV appearance
Salcedo in disguise during a TV appearance

And what is already a decidedly awkward sort of fame figures only to grow in the months ahead.

Later this year, Salcedo’s incredible story is coming to Colombian television as a high-profile, 80-episode telenovela. It will be based on accounts of his cartel years as told in my book – At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel.

The book was released in Spanish under the title: En la Boca del Lobo (In the Mouth of the Wolf) — its title for Spanish television.

The dramatic series is backed by Sony-Teleset. Filming began in October 2013, mostly on location in Cali and Bogota.  No air date has been set, but the  program is expected to debut late this summer. It will be broadcast over the Colombian television network RCN, and later throughout Latin America and the U.S. over Univision.

Salcedo has rarely stepped forward publicly since arriving in the United States in 1995. Even as the author of a book about his life, I don’t know his new name or where he lives. After At the Devil’s Table was released in the U.S. and U.K. in 2011, Salcedo agreed to an occasional radio interview, but only under tight security restrictions that he controlled.

His lone TV taping was in disguise on a news segment broadcast by Univision. He has made no other public appearances, except as a witness in U.S. federal courts.

Actor Luis Fernando Hoyos will play Jorge Salcedo
Actor Luis Fernando Hoyos will play Salcedo

Colombians curious about Salcedo will finally get the chance to see at least an actor’s version of the mystery man when the series appears sometime next summer.

Although the names will be changed to avoid legal complications in Colombia, the role of a character based on Salcedo will be played by an accomplished Latin American actor, Luis Fernando Hoyos.

Among other casting choices, the role of a Cali cartel financial adviser will be filled by  Cristobal Erruzuriz. The top cartel accountant in the book was the real-life Guillermo Pallomari who, like Salcedo, is tucked away somewhere in the U.S. witness protection program.

Meanwhile, Salcedo’s story also makes its debut in Brazil with publication this month of a Portuguese edition titled: A Mesa com O Diabo. Besides versions already in print in English, Spanish, and Dutch, a new Polish-language edition is planned by 2015.

Coming soon to bookstores in Brazil
Portuguese version comes to Brazil

As for Jorge Salcedo, whose story is finding ever-widening audiences, hiding as a way of life keeps getting more and more complicated.