In April 1979, Newsweek magazine found the story of then California Gov. Jerry Brown and rock star Linda Ronstadt intriguing enough to make it a cover story.
Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown first met sometime in 1971 at Lucy’s El Adobe, a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. They were introduced by Lucy Casada, the co-owner of the restaurant along with her husband, Frank. Jerry Brown was then California’s Secretary of State. Linda Ronstadt was in the pre-superstar stage of her musical career, not yet the mega star she would soon become. She was 25 at the time; Jerry Brown was 33.
The friendship between Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown grew gradually; they had some compatible interests and liked each other’s company. They enjoyed ethnic food, long walks along the California seaside, Japanese movies, and country music. Both were also Catholic.
By 1975, however, Brown and Ronstadt became high-profile celebrities in their respective realms – he in politics, by then California’s governor, and she, rising to the top of the music charts with her Heart Like a Wheel album. There is a lot more to their respective careers, both before and after 1975, explored later. Yet through their rising fame, and through most of the 1970s – including the glare of Brown’s presidential bids in 1976 and 1980 – they continued to see each other, with speculation at one point, mostly in the press, of a possible marriage between the two. That, however, in the words of an earlier Ronstadt/Stone Poneys song, “Different Drum,” would not likely occur, as the song’s lyrics suggest: “You and I travel to the beat of a different drum / Oh, can’t you tell by the way I run / Ev’ry time you make eyes at me…” Still, there was an interesting decade of activity between this rock star and politician, made more interesting by the swirl of music and politics of those times. What follows here is a look back at some of that history.
Jerry Brown, running for Governor of California, 1974.
Jerry Brown was born in San Francisco in 1938. His father, Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, was then District Attorney of San Francisco and later Governor of California for two terms (1959-1967). Young Jerry grew up in San Francisco and graduated from St. Ignatius Catholic High School. In 1955, after a year at Santa Clara University, he entered a Jesuit seminary, intent on becoming a Catholic priest, but left after three years. He then enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1960, graduating a year later with a degree in Latin and Greek. A law degree from Yale followed in 1964. After law school, Brown returned to California and clerked for California Supreme Court Justice Mathew Tobriner. He then went into private practice in Los Angeles. In 1968, he left his L.A. law practice briefly to join U.S. Senator Gene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. Back in California in 1969, Brown ran for and won his first elective office, the newly created Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees.
1974: Jerry Brown during his campaign to become governor of California.
The following year he was elected Secretary of State. In that post through 1974, among other things, Brown argued before the California Supreme Court and won cases against Standard Oil of California, International Telephone and Telegraph, Gulf Oil, and Mobil for election law violations. He also forced legislators to comply with campaign disclosure laws.
In 1974, he ran for, and was elected governor of California at age 36, the youngest to do so in the state’s history. Brown followed Ronald Reagan in the Governor’s office, who previously held the post for two terms, 1967-1975.
On taking office, Brown garnered some headlines when he canceled the inaugural ball and refused to live in the $1.3 million governor’s mansion that Ronald Reagan had built. He also sold the governor’s limo and wouldn’t use the jet plane. He lived in an apartment, walked to work, and had his chauffeur drive him around in his 1974 Plymouth.
November 1974: California Governor-elect Jerry Brown meeting with outgoing Governor Ronald Reagan.
Once in office, Brown pushed a landmark farm labor law and new environmental initiatives. He also made some notable appointments, including Sim Van der Ryn as State Architect, and environmentalist Stewart Brand as Special Advisor, also adding minorities and women to major government posts. He significantly boosted funding for the California Arts Council.
In 1975, Brown helped repeal a prized oil-industry tax break, the “depletion allowance,” and later in his term sponsored the “first-ever tax incentive for rooftop solar.” Brown also strongly opposed the death penalty and later in his term vetoed it as Governor, although the legislature overrode his veto.
March 1968: Linda Ronstadt on her first solo album 'Hand Sown ...Home Grown', Topanga, California. Photo / Ed Caraeff
Linda Ronstadt was born in 1946 in Tucson, Arizona, to Gilbert Ronstadt, a prosperous machinery merchant who ran the F. Ronstadt Co. hardware store. Her mother, Ruth Mary Copeman, from the Flint, Michigan area, was the daughter of Lloyd Groff Copeman, a prolific inventor and holder of nearly 700 patents, among them, an early form of the microwave oven and a flexible ice cube tray, the latter earning millions in royalties. Linda’s father came from a pioneering Arizona ranching family and was of German, English, and Mexican descent, and also a guitarist who sang Mexican songs to his children. Linda was raised on the family’s ten-acre ranch in Tucson along with three siblings. She had a pony and later a horse. As a teen, she formed a folk trio with brother Peter and sister Suzy; calling themselves the New Union Ramblers.
At age 18 in 1964, after meeting guitarist Bob Kimmel while attending University of Arizona briefly, the pair left for Los Angeles, joining guitarist and singer/songwriter Kenny Edwards to form the Stone Poneys. After three years the group broke up, but scored a Top 20 hit in 1967-68 with the Ronstadt-led “Different Drum.”
“Different Drum”- Ronstadt/Stone Poneys
Following her stint with the Stone Poneys, Ronstadt then began a solo career, struggling for about five years, playing with various transient and backup musicians. Owing in part to her timid nature, she had some performance and self-confidence troubles in the studio and on stage. Along the way, there were also difficult romantic entanglements and some cocaine use, a period of her life she sometimes refers to as the “bleak years.” But it wasn’t all bad.
Record sleeve cover for 1970 single with "Long Long Time" by Linda Ronstadt.
In March 1970, her second solo album, Silk Purse, was released, but it did not fare well on the music charts. However, one of its singles did – “Long Long Time,” rising in late-summer 1970 to No. 25 on the Billboard pop chart. The song proved to be an opening for Ronstadt, highlighting her voice and talent.
“Long Long Time”- Linda Ronstadt
“Long Long Time” earned her a Grammy Award nomination in early 1971, although Dionne Warwick took the prize that year for best contemporary female vocalist.
One of Ronstadt’s backing bands in her early solo period featured musicians Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, who went on to form the Eagles, one of the most successful American rock bands of the 1970s. They toured with her for a short period in 1971 and played on Linda Ronstadt, her self-titled third album. In those years she was beginning to define a new genre of music, sometimes called country rock.
Linda Ronstadt with Peter Asher in a later 1970s photo. Asher helped advance her career.
Still, by the end of 1972 Linda Ronstadt was in debt and paying commissions to two managers. Then came Peter Asher, formerly of the Peter & Gordon duet, who became her producer and manager.
With Asher, she made two albums – the first, Don’t Cry Now, came out in 1973 which would sell 300,000 copies. It also included her first country hit, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” which broke into the Top 20.
Capitol Records, meanwhile, perhaps suspecting there might be more upside business opportunity in Ms. Ronstadt’s voice than they previously believed, began digging up her older tunes and issuing them as compilation albums, one of which appeared in early 1974 under the title, Different Drum.
But the second album she made with Peter Asher, Heart Like a Wheel, became her big breakthrough album. Asher would later tell Time magazine: “Linda is brilliant musically. Her voice is qualitatively exceptional…”.
March 27, 1975: Linda Ronstadt on the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine.
Released shortly before Christmas 1974, Heart Like a Wheel hit No. 1 on both the Billboard albums chart and the Country & Western chart (C&W). The album offered Ronstadt doing a mix of pop covers and contemporary songs. One of its singles, “You’re No Good” – a song previously done in 1963 by Betty Everett (famous for “It’s In His Kiss”, the “shoop shoop song”) – was released a week after the Heart Like A Wheel album came out. That song hit No. 1 on the pop singles chart by February 15, 1975 and stayed in the Top 40 for ten weeks.
“You’re No Good”- Linda Ronstadt
“You’re No Good” was also a hit for Ronstadt in Australia (#15), the Netherlands (#17), and New Zealand (#24). The B-side, “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You,” a Hank Williams cover, hit No. 2 on the C & W chart. That song would also win her a Grammy that year for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Another song from Heart Like A Wheel – the follow-up single, “When Will I Be Loved” – a 1960 Everly Brothers hit, was also a big Ronstadt hit. In May 1975, her uptempo version of this song hit No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the country chart. A review of the song at AllMusic.com by Denise Sullivan notes, in part:
“…There was no disputing her vocal prowess, but Ronstadt’s choice in repertoire was equally important to her success, as she continually picked heartbreakers and tearjerkers like ‘When Will I Be Loved.’ Oddly, there wasn’t a shred of inauthenticity in the sung sentiments, even though Ronstadt was considered to be a hugely popular singer and sex symbol with an active personal life. Yet, she gave the song its definitive reading, even more so than the Everly Brothers…”
Linda Ronstadt, 1970s.
Although Ronstadt still had problems with stage jitters, she soon became a popular concert attraction. Heart Like a Wheel, meanwhile, would go on to sell over two million copies in the U.S. With this success, her first Rolling Stone magazine cover appeared on March 27, 1975 with a story titled, “Linda Ronstadt: Heartbreak on Wheels,” reporting on her earlier struggles to make it in the rock ’n roll business.
In September 1975, another Ronstadt album came out – Prisoner In Disguise – which quickly climbed into the top five on the Billboard chart and sold over a million copies. Asylum Records also issued a single from that album with a Ronstadt version of “Heat Wave,” a 1963 Motown/Martha & The Vandellas tune on the A-side, and Neil Young’s “Love Is a Rose” on the B-side. “Heat Wave” proceeded to crack the top five on Billboard’s pop chart, while “Love Is A Rose” did the same on Billboard’s country chart. With her new-found success that fall, she also bought a place of her own – reported at the time to be a $325,000 beach house in Malibu. Ronstadt by this time was also filling up her rock concert outings, as she did at the Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose, California on September 22, 1975. In 1976, a European tour — her first outside the U.S. — extended her popularity. Back in the States, meanwhile, her friend, Jerry Brown was about to make some waves of his own.
June 1976: People’s story on Jerry Brown’s presidential run: “the far out candidate.”
In March 1976, Jerry Brown began his first run at the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. However, the primary season had already begun and several other candidates, including Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, had been campaigning for a year.
The Democratic primaries that year had become more numerous and more important in the nominating process than they were previously, and Carter, for one, set out to run in all of them. He surprised political pundits by finishing second in the Iowa caucuses (“uncommitted” finished first). Rep. Morris Udall, a front-runner in early polls, came in fifth behind former Senator Fred R. Harris. Carter went on to win in New Hampshire, North Carolina (defeating George Wallace), Pennsylvania (defeating Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson ) and Wisconsin (beating Mo Udall).
However, some Northern and Western liberal Democrats viewed Carter as too conservative, and sought alternative candidates to block him from getting the nomination. Jerry Brown and Senator Frank Church of Idaho were seen by some as possible alternatives to Carter, or at least to help slow him down.
Jerry-Brown-for-Prez button, 1976.
By May 1976, Brown’s name began appearing on primary ballots, and he visited with key party leaders and bosses to improve his chances, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Maryland Governor Marvin Mandell. Brown won contests in Maryland, Nevada, and his home state of California with its 280 delegates. In Oregon, he missed the deadline, but as a write-in candidate, he took an unprecedented 25 percent of the vote, finishing third behind Jimmy Carter and Senator Frank Church of Idaho.
In the New Jersey and Rhode Island primaries, Brown supported uncommitted slates of delegates which “won” in those contests. In Louisiana, Governor Edwin Edwards backed Brown, helping him win a majority of that state’s convention delegates, besting southerners Carter and George Wallace.
July 15, 1976: Jerry Brown and Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention in New York City after Carter won the party's nomination. AP Photo
Brown’s late bid and his gathering of delegates was seen as a possible way to influence uncommitted delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July.
Still, Brown’s bid for the Democratic nomination was seen as too late by party insiders and quixotic by others. People magazine ran a June 14, 1976 cover story on Brown with the tagline, “The far-out candidate who puzzles almost everybody.”
In campaigning, Brown spoke of “an era of limits” – not typically a Democratic sentiment – while critics found his term as California’s Governor unimpressive. Yet his late-coming primary victories had been a demonstration of his voter appeal.
Linda Ronstadt with Eagles & Gov. Jerry Brown. Photo, Chuck Pullin.
May 14, 1976: From left, Don Felder, Linda Ronstadt, Governor Jerry Brown and Joe Walsh on stage at Maryland concert . Photo, Richard E. Aaron / Redferns
Despite Jerry Brown’s impressive showing in a short amount of time, he was unable to stall Carter’s momentum. At the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York city, Carter was nominated on the first ballot. Brown finished third with roughly 300 delegate votes behind Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona.
Jerry Brown, however, had his supporters during his brief presidential bid – not least of whom was a contingent of rock music stars, including Linda Ronstadt. Brown had Ronstadt’s help and others from the rock music business. Ronee Blakley, Helen Reddy, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Ronstadt all performed at various times for Brown at fund-raisers and rallies.
At one “Brown For President” benefit concert event held at the Capital Center in Maryland in mid-May 1976, Brown joined Ronstadt, The Eagles and other performers on stage briefly, waving to the audience. Although Jerry Brown’s run for the presidential nomination ended, and he went back to being Governor of California, there would be more Jerry Brown presidential politics in the future.
Linda Ronstadt, meanwhile, in a December 1976 interview with Creem magazine, appeared to be having some second thoughts about mixing her concert gigs with political advocacy:
“I’ve retired from politics…. For a while, I thought it might do some good working for someone I believe in, like Jerry Brown, but now I’m only going to do benefits for concrete causes in the community that I live. Right now that happens to be Los Angeles.”
“I just got tired of mixing up the message. I mean, if kids are there to listen to music, I don’t want to ram politics down their throats. It ruins the magic of the music. I just think it’s taking unfair advantage of the audience to sort of slip in some specific political message while they’re captivated by your music. Politics should not be run like a circus.”
Still, Ronstadt appeared to be a person who stayed informed on the issues of her day, noting in late December 1976 that she was a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. She would not likely be retired from politics for very long.
Dec 2, 1976: Linda Ronstadt as photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone.
Ronstadt’s musical career, meanwhile, was heading into the stratosphere. In August 1976 she released Hasten Down the Wind, an album that included her version of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” the single for which hit No. 11 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts. It also rose to No. 27 on the Billboard country chart. Hasten Down the Wind also included a cover of Willie Nelson’s classic “Crazy,” which became a Top Ten country hit for Ronstadt in early 1977.
Hasten Down the Wind was Ronstadt’s third straight million-selling album – a feat no other female artist had then accomplished. The album earned her a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. It was her second Grammy. In early December 1976 she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone for the second time, as photographed by Annie Leibovitz. That Christmas season, Ronstadt issued a Greatest Hits LP that also became a top seller. And while Jerry Brown was not the Democratic Presidential nominee that political season, Ronstadt was invited to sing at Jimmy Carter’s presidential inaugural in January 1977. Meanwhile, the notices on her music kept coming. By late February 1977, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine (see below right) with the cover-story tagline: “Linda Ronstadt: Torchy Rock,” referring to her love-hurts balladeering in the rock ‘n roll age. Said Time: “Ronstadt has used the driving energy of rock and the melancholy of country music to transport …her audiences into a region…rarely explored by a mainstream singer in the past two decades. …[S]he has the neural-overload generation…screaming for a kind of music that … goes back to the cabaret singing of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee. Linda has made the Stones’ people listen to a torch singer. Try a new name: torch rock.” Time also added that Ronstadt was “a superstar on the verge of becoming …a Big Superstar.”
February 28th,1977: Time magazine cover, “Linda Ronstadt: Torchy Rock.” Photo, Milton Greene
As a rising rock star – and “rock star cover girl” – Linda Ronstadt was also dealing with issues involving her image, both in how she appeared to the public as well as backstage, in the male-dominated music business. The December 1976 Rolling Stone cover story and photo shown above earlier, also included a couple of photographs inside the magazine of Ronstadt at home – photos taken by avant garde photographer Annie Leibovitz. One of the photos of Ronstadt that ran in the Rolling Stone story, included her sprawled across her bed at home in a skimpy red slip and underpants (shown below). However, Leibovitz had refused to grant any veto of the photos that would run in the December 2, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone, which incensed Peter Asher, Ronstadt’s manager. Asher reportedly kicked Leibovitz out of the house when she visited to show them the photographs prior to publication. Ronstadt would later explain: “Annie [Leibovitz] saw that picture [sprawling on the bed ] as an expose of my personality. She was right. But I wouldn’t choose to show a picture like that to anybody who didn’t know me personally, because only friends could get the other sides of me in balance.” Not all of the photos Leibovitz took appeared in the magazine (However some of them did appear later in the tabloid, Modern People of January 28, 1979, and possibly others).
Linda Ronstadt as photographed by Annie Leibovitz, 1976.
But it wasn’t just Leibovitz and Rolling Stone. With Ronstadt’s February 1977 Time magazine cover photo using the “Torchy Rock” banner, shown above, Ronstadt also felt manipulated. For one, the photographer pushed her to wear a dress, which was an image she did not want to project. Some years later, in 2004, Ronstadt was interviewed for CBS This Morning and stated that this image was not her because she did not sit like that. Ronstadt said she hated the image the Time cover photo of her projected.
Still, at least part of Ronstadt’s image in her heyday was that based on her sex appeal, exploited by more than Rolling Stone and Time, also seen in her mid-1970s album covers as well as her nightclub and rock concert attire, which could run to hot-pants-and-heels for some performances. But Ronstadt was also a women’s rights advocate, especially in her profession. Peter Asher, for one, called her “an extremely determined woman, in every area. To me, she was everything that feminism’s about.”
In the October, 14th, 1977 issue of New Times magazine, John Rockwell wrote a piece titled “Linda Ronstadt: Her Soft-Core Charms,” a piece that covered Ronstadt’s career and persona at the time, quoting her during an ongoing interview. In the piece, Rockwell noted: “Even before her 1970 Daisy Mae, Moonbeam McSwine album cover on Silk Purse [her second album] Linda was regarded as a sex symbol. Then it was braless bouncing and bare feet; today, it’s more sophisticated and complex, though no less overt…” Then Rockwell added there were “problems in being a sex goddess,” and that Linda was mindful of those, quoting her as follows:
Linda Ronstadt in photo by Annie Leibovitz that appeared in the Dec. 2nd, 1976 issue of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, over which Ronstadt and her manager reportedly had no veto.
Linda Ronstadt, circa 1970s. Photo, Mark Kauffman.
“…I don’t know how good a sex symbol I am, but I do think I’m good at being sexy. The sexual aspect of my personality has been played up a lot, and I can’t say it hasn’t been part of my success. But it’s unfair in a way, because I don’t think I look as good as my image. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, sometimes I feel embarrassed about it, sometimes I feel I have to compete with it. But that’s part of the fun, too- that’s part of the charade. When you look at somebody like Jean Harlow real close, she really did have an exquisitely formed face and beautiful hair and beautiful skin and a real gorgeous figure, and those are things I just don’t have. But I don’t think they’re essential to being attractive. Sometimes they’re more of a handicap than a help. I think vitality is what is attractive to people. That’s why there are a lot of pretty girls that are kind of boring to look at. If I get a hot romance, my sexuality is likely to work whether I curl my hair and put makeup on or not. When it’s successful and I’m at my shining best, I like to think of it as sassiness that incorporates sexuality and strength. It’s aggressive without being intimidating. As long as there’s strength in my attitude, I like it.”
Still, some years later, in a September 2008 New York Times piece by Patricia Leigh Brown, Ronstadt explained of her rock ‘n roll years that she was marketed as “this sexualized being, somebody else’s version of me walking around with my name. It became a strange distortion. Eventually I had to put out the complete version of who I was.” Which she eventually did, both in her later personal life and through her demonstrated musical diversity. As John Rockwell would note in his 2014 Rock Hall of Fame biographical essay on Ronstadt, in which he would make special mention of Ronstadt’s vocal range and versatility: “People may have loved her looks, but they bought her records because of the sounds she made.”
Cover sleeve for Linda’s Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” single from her 1977 album, ‘Simple Dreams’.
Back in 1977, meanwhile, Ronstadt’s eighth studio album, titled Simple Dreams, was released in September. Two months later it had replaced Fleetwood Mac’s long-running No. 1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams stayed atop the Billboard albums chart for five consecutive weeks.
On the Billboard country chart, Simple Dreams knocked Elvis Presley out of the No.1 slot. The album would sell over 3.5 million copies in less than a year in the U.S. alone, and would also hit No. 1 on Australia and Canada’s pop and country charts.
“Blue Bayou”- Linda Ronstadt
Simple Dreams also spawned a string of hit singles including covers of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”; Buddy Holly “It’s So Easy,”and up-and-coming songwriter Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” Of the three, “Blue Bayou” – which included Don Henley of the Eagles singing backup – was the biggest hit, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart in late 1977, where it held for four weeks. It also hit No. 2 on the Cash Box chart, No. 2 on the country chart and No.3 on the “easy listening” chart. “Blue Bayou” would become one of Ronstadt’s signature tunes. It sold more than 1 million copies by January 1978, and would later surpass the 2 million mark, becoming a worldwide hit with a Spanish version as well.
Oct 24, 1977: Linda Ronstadt, National Anthem at World Series.
By October 1977, Linda Ronstadt was pretty much at the top of the rock world. She had turned out five straight million-selling albums, was grossing something on the order of $60 million from those albums, and had much more music ahead. That fall she was also asked by the Los Angeles Dodgers to sing the National Anthem on October 24, 1977 at game three of the World Series as the Dodgers hosted the New York Yankees.
Jerry & Linda
As for Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt, they continued to see each other in the late 1970s. In December 1977, it was reported that Brown took Ronstadt to some of his old haunts in San Francisco where he had grown up: City Lights Bookstore, a landmark of the 50s beat culture, the Spaghetti Factory, and the museums at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Later that month, they spent the Christmas holiday together in Malibu. In the following year, they were seen together occasionally at public events, ranging from a March 1978 tribute to Neil Simon at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium to a reception at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for a group of Chinese diplomats. They also appeared together at rock music hangouts such as the Roxy in Los Angeles.
On May 17, 1978, US magazine put Ronstadt on its cover along with a smaller inset photo of Governor Jerry Brown, with the headline: “The Governor and The Rock Queen” plus an additional teaser tagline that read: “Jerry Brown courts Linda Ronstadt: Are they playing love songs…or politics?”
May 17th, 1978: ‘US’ magazine features “The Governor & The Rock Queen” on its cover.
The magazine reported that in early April 1978 the couple celebrated Brown’s 40th birthday at Lucy’s, the Mexican restaurant where they met back in 1971. The next afternoon Brown was seen emerging from Ronstadt’s house. That night, they were seen dining together at Tony Rome’s, another popular Hollywood restaurant. There were also reports that the Governor was spending weekends at Ronstadt’s house. Orville Schell, who wrote a book about Brown (Brown, Random House, 1978), recounted one Saturday morning visit to Ronstadt’s Malibu house to meet with Brown, as Ronstadt moved in and out of the room in which they met. Later, Schell described the three of them leaving for a drive in Ronstadt’s Porsche, with Schell driving and Ronstadt sitting on Brown’s lap.
Still, some believed Brown’s relationship with Ronstadt was just a friendship and nothing more. “I just think he uses Linda’s home as a sanctuary,” said Robert Pack in a May 1978 article in US magazine. “It’s situated among an expensive group of houses that are guarded and closed off to the public,” explained Pack, whose biography, Jerry Brown: The Philosopher Prince, was published that year by Stein & Day. “His favorite pastime is walking on the beach. And he takes his privacy seriously…I don’t think he would have a serious relationship with her because of her background,” Pack noted, referring to numerous affairs Ronstadt acknowledged having. Ronstadt, for her part, found reports of her many involvements to be greatly exaggerated, once quoted as saying: “I wish I had as much in bed as I get in the newspapers.”
May 1978: Linda Ronstadt with canine friend on the Malibu, California beach near her home, reportedly a location frequented by Jerry Brown who was fond of long walks along the beach.
Jerry Brown as governor, meanwhile, was very popular among California voters. In his first year as governor, Brown had a voter approval rating of 87 percent – then the highest in the history of polling in the state. Brown’s popularity, and public opinion about him, was then being watched very closely by President Jimmy Carter’s staff in Washington, then monitoring Brown’s activities. Carter’s aides considered Brown to be the “single largest threat” to the President’s re-election in 1980. Yet first, before Brown could challenge Carter, he faced a gubernatorial re-election campaign in California, beginning with the 1978 primary elections.
July 19, 1978: California Gov. Jerry Brown makes a point at news conference in Los Angeles during his reelection bid as tax reformer Howard Jarvis and reporters look on. AP photo.
In the California gubernatorial primaries of 1978, California Attorney General Evelle Younger won the Republican primary defeating three other candidates, including Pete Wilson, then Mayor of San Diego. On the Democratic side, Jerry Brown, with only minor opposition, won the Democratic Primary and would seek a second term.
The one big issue in California during the time of primaries was Proposition 13, a ballot initiative authored by anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis. Prop 13 sought to drastically reduce property taxes and change the way property taxes were calculated – a provision if enacted would play havoc with government budgets and funding of key services. Younger and most Republicans supported Proposition 13 while Brown and most Democrats opposed it. The initiative, which appeared on the June 6 primary ballot, passed with 64.8 percent of the vote and is still in effect today.
Then came the general election campaign in the fall of 1978. With the apparent taxpayer revolt now enrolled in law, Republican candidate Younger attempted to seize the Prop 13 momentum and Brown’s opposition to it. Younger, however, was not the best campaigner, and his organization faltered. The Republican primary battle had also drained Younger’s campaign of money, leaving him short of funds in the general election. Brown, on the other hand, saw a campaign opening.
Fall 1978: California Governor Jerry Brown brings his re-election campaign to UCLA's Westwood campus where he addressed more than 5,000 students. Photo, L.A. Times.
During the primaries that summer, Brown had called Prop 13 “consumer fraud, expensive, unworkable and crazy, the biggest can of worms the state has ever seen.” But in the June election ballot vote, more than 4 million voters went for Prop 13 by a 2-1 margin. Once these results were in, Brown cleverly pivoted to a new position as the would-be top official in charge of implementing the law, promising, as enforcer-in-chief, if elected, to back the law.
Nov 1978: Jerry Brown with his parents, celebrating his re-election victory to a 2nd term as California’s governor.
“The people have spoken [on Prop 13],” he said, “and as Governor I will diligently enforce their will.” Thus Brown turned a negative into a positive. In addition, since he was relatively unchallenged in the primary, he had a much bigger campaign war chest.
During his campaign in 1978 Brown opposed another high-profile initiative– this one on the general election ballot. Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, sought to ban gays and lesbians from serving as public school teachers in California. Brown opposed and helped defeat the initiative on November 7.
Jerry Brown ultimately won reelection in a landslide, beating Republican Evelle Younger by some 1.3 million votes, one of the biggest margins in California election history.
Oct 1978: Linda Ronstadt on Rolling Stone cover in a photo by Francesco Scavullo for interview story.
During 1978, Linda Ronstadt scored her third consecutive No.1 album with Living in the USA. It appeared on the Billboard album chart in September 1978 and was the first album by any recording act to ship over 2 million advance copies. It would eventually sell some 3 million copies in the U.S. alone. A major hit single from that album in October 1978 was a cover of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby.” That single, in fact, appeared on all four of the major music charts – Pop (No. 7), Adult Contemporary (No. 2), Country, and R&B.
Ronstadt appeared on another Rolling Stone cover October 19th in a photo by Francesco Scavullo, and was also featured in the magazine’s interview. She also appeared in the 1978 film FM, about competing radio disc jockeys and the rock music business. In the film, Ronstadt performed the songs “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” “Love Me Tender,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.” Earlier that year, in July, she made a guest appearance in her hometown of Tucson appearing with the Rolling Stones at the Tucson Community Center where she and Mick Jagger sang “Tumbling Dice” together.
Linda Ronstadt performing in 1978.
By the end of 1978, Linda Ronstadt had solidified her role as one of rock and pop’s most successful solo female acts. She was also selling out her rock concert venues in large arenas and stadiums with tens of thousands of fans.
According to some sources at the time, she was the “highest paid woman in rock,” with one estimate of her income that year at more than $12 million, or more than $43 million in today’s dollars. Her album sales that year were reported to have reached some 17 million units – with a gross return of well over $170 million in today’s dollars.
Billboard magazine that year crowned Ronstadt with three No. 1 Awards for the Year – Pop Female Singles Artist, Pop Female Album Artist, and overall Female Artist of the Year. By then six of her albums had exceeded 1 million in sales, three of which had been No. 1 on Billboard, as well as numerous pop singles that had charted throughout the Top 40.
Her friend Jerry Brown also had a pretty good year. Following his reelection as California’s Governor, he was expected to mount a second try for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1979-1980. But before he did, he and Linda Ronstadt would have what some might call a high-profile moment.
Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt in London airport during their April 1979 Africa trip.
Trip To Africa
In early April 1979, Governor Jerry Brown and rock star Linda Ronstadt decided to do some traveling together. The governor had been advised to go to Africa and meet with some of its national leaders. There were also environmental issues he wanted to explore there.
The couple perhaps thought they could mix a little business with pleasure, take a respite from their busy lives, and explore Africa’s land, wildlife and culture. The period they selected to travel also included Jerry Brown’s 41st birthday.
On April 6, 1979, the couple left for their trip as the Los Angeles Times reported in a news story headline: “Brown, Miss Ronstadt Slip Quietly Out of New York; Board Plane for Africa.” But if they thought their trip would go unnoticed in the U.S, or that there would be little interest in them in Africa, they were sadly mistaken.
At the time, there had been a sizable contingent of western photographers and reporters already in Africa, trying to cover a war in Uganda. But failing to gain entry to that country, they turned their cameras and attention to covering the California Governor and his rock star guest. Reporters and photographers camped outside hotel rooms and mobbed the couple whenever they appeared.
In Africa, Jerry Brown spent time visiting African officials and listening to environmental experts.
Linda Ronstadt, with baby camel in Africa, also spent time alone as Brown attended meetings.
Linda Ronstadt was not happy with the stalking press in Africa, but did make a truce with them. Look.
The press stalked the couple at Nairobi’s airport, where Ronstadt was reluctant to show herself to board a plane, even though Brown coaxed her to let the press have one photo and be done with it. One report quoted a Ronstadt friend as saying the press really freaked her out and that she felt badly that she was “ruining Jerry’s trip.” When Brown set off for meetings with African presidents or environmental officials, Ronstadt often remained behind in the hotel or cottages where they has stayed. At one point, it was reported that she inquired about an early departure. One April 11th, 1979 Los Angeles Times headline noted:“Brown Politicks; Miss Ronstadt ‘May Go Home’.”
However, the couple did have some luxury camping in Tanzania, where they also safaried to watch buffalo, wildebeests and cheetahs, later dining on beef Wellington around a campfire. And Ronstadt established a truce with the press, sharing stories and drinks with them at one point. Near the end of their trip, Ronstadt departed separately and flew to London, where Brown later caught up with her, flying home together to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the press coverage of their trip back in the States had been reported by the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, and soon the magazines had stories as well, including cover stories in Newsweek’s April 23 edition (shown at the top of this story), and People’s April 30th edition. Look magazine ran a later story on the trip in June. The magazine accounts played up the relationship side of the story, and also what the trip might mean for Brown’s presidential ambitions.
Many in the political community then following the reporting on the Brown/Ronstadt trip, believed Brown had made a political misstep by taking the trip with Ronstadt. Some felt he had damaged his chances of being a prominent challenger to incumbent Jimmy Carter for the 1980 nomination. One senior Carter aide told Time magazine he thought the trip would “hurt [Brown] in a serious way,” adding, “I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something self-destructive in him.” Democrats watching from the early primary state of New Hampshire had similar thoughts. Dudley Dudley, a leading liberal Democrat there told Time: “In political terms, this sort of thing is counterproductive. A lot of people are chuckling about [his trip with Ronstadt].”
TheNewsweek and other stories on the Africa trip also refocused attention on the Brown/Ronstadt relationship and what had or had not transpired between the two in Africa, as well as previously back home. Newsweek’s writers asked, “were the singer with a heart like a wheel and the governor with a soul set on the White House getting it all together at last?” One rumor at the time had it that Brown and Ronstadt were going to the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to be married.
In terms of what had already transpired between the two back home, Newsweek reported that they took long walks together, “hand in hand,” along the Malibu beach; sometimes went to midnight Japanese movies in West L.A., or enjoyed country music “at the funky Palomino out in the San Fernando Valley.” And as regulars at the El Adobe restaurant where they met, co-owner Frank Casada reported them having a good time there, enjoying each other’s company, and giving each other pecks on the cheek occasionally.
April 30th, 1979: “People” magazine ran the Brown/ Ronstadt Africa trip as their cover story.
“They really like each other,” explained California State Assemblyman Willie Brown in the Newsweek story – a friend who had spent time with them. “He’s a different person when he’s with her,” Willie Brown said. “There’s a side the public never sees. He’s flirty, flippant and very funny. And he’s as interested in her physically as I’d like to be.”
“It’s a very, very special relationship that they have,” one of Brown’s aides was quoted in the Newsweek story. “It’s a very important thing, and it’s not something that either of them takes lightly.”
But whether the couple had more serious intentions ahead, was quite another matter. Both had made statements they could not be married to one another, Brown saying it would stop him from reaching the White House, and Ronstadt saying that the political life for her would be too confining.
Yet some of Ronstadt’s friends offered Newsweek a different take: “Marrying Jerry is an urge that comes on her periodically. She wants a sense of stability. She has talked about their becoming hermits on Jerry’s land in northern California.” But Linda’s mother Ruthmary Ronstadt, weighed in with a definitive “I know she would not like being a political wife.” And Ronstadt herself – pointing to an occasion when Mick Jagger breezed through town and called her to meet him in Mexico – acknowledged, “that’s the sort of thing I couldn’t do if I was married to Jerry.” Still, they continued their relationship in the meantime.
In November 1979, Jerry Brown formally announced that he would be a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1980.
1979-1980 “Brown-for- Prez” (Pt 2)
Campaign placard for Jerry Brown in 1980 displays slogan: “A President Who Owes No Favors, Favors The Nation.”
The late 1970s were an anxious time in America. Overseas, the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 had curtailed oil supplies, spurring inflation and gasoline lines in America by the summer of 1979. President Carter’s approval ratings had plummeted to below 30 percent. And earlier in the year, in March, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a catastrophic accident, an event which raised questions about the safety of nuclear power nationally while elevating the potential for energy alternatives.
Jerry Brown had been a proponent of energy alternatives to both continued oil import dependency and nuclear power, and so, was a politician who might draw some attention nationally by way of these issues. But Brown was also now a second term governor, and had a record of what he had and had not accomplished.
In his first term as California governor, Brown came down hard on crime, refused to raise taxes, and sought to eliminate waste in the state bureaucracy. Personally, he had refused the trappings of office early on, living frugally without the big limo and Governor’s mansion. But liberals believed he had fallen short on job programs for the inner cities, child-care, housing for the poor, and tax reform. Brown did develop a strong relationship with the large Mexican-American community, an important voting bloc. He also negotiated a landmark farm-labor law with Cesar Chavez, the growers, and the Teamsters Union. And he signed laws decriminalizing marijuana, another ending oil depletion allowances, and a third permitting sexual freedom between consenting adults.
1979: California Governor Jerry Brown speaking at a mass transit conference during his second term.
Yet Brown was still a puzzle for many; a man hard to pin down, frustrating the press by answering their questions with questions of his own, or offering some philosophical nugget from Thomas Aquinas or a Zen aphorism. Still, he often proved the pundits wrong and had a keen political sense of public sentiment. Said one observer: “He’s capable of taking the pulse of the public before the public even knows what it’s feeling.” He was also capable of running counter to public sentiment. When a bill to reinstitute the death penalty came to his desk as governor – with polls showing an overwhelming 70 percent of the public favoring it – he vetoed it. But this action did not hurt him politically that year, as the legislature overrode his veto.
In California, some viewed Brown as an opportunist, hellbent on the White House. State House Republican minority leader Paul Priolo stated at one point that Brown’s philosophy was “to do what’s necessary to become President.” Some even suggested that his relationship with Ronstadt was a calculated media ploy to further his career.
In November 1979 when he announced that he would be a candidate for the 1980, Democratic Presidential nomination, Brown offered a platform with three main planks: a call for a constitutional convention to ratify the Balanced Budget Amendment, a promise to increase funds for the space program, and, in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear powerplant accident, opposition to nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement in California was especially strong, and Brown had addressed activist gatherings that helped give him national visibility on the issue.
June 30th, 1979: California Governor Jerry Brown addressing a crowd of about 25,000 at an anti-nuclear rally in San Luis Obispo, California. Los Angeles Times.
On the subject of the 1979 energy crisis, Brown charged that Carter had made a “Faustian bargain” with the oil industry. He also declared that he would greatly increase federal funding of research into solar power. During his campaign he described the health care industry as a “high priesthood” engaged in a “medical arms race” and called for a market-oriented system of universal health care. Brown also endorsed the idea of mandatory, non-military national service for the nation’s youth, and suggested that the Defense Department cut back on support troops while beefing-up the number of combat troops.
Feb 25, 1980: Linda Ronstadt campaigning in Portsmouth, New Hampshire with Jerry Brown – seen at left in trench coat behind Ronstadt. Photo with edit marks, Baltimore Sun.
In his presidential bid, however, Brown had trouble gaining traction in both fundraising and polling. Part of the problem had come from Jimmy Carter regaining voter approval after American hostages were taken in Iran, as the country traditionally rallied around any President during a national crisis.
But the more serious problem for Brown as a challenger to Carter came from the rival candidacy of liberal icon, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Senator Kennedy had refused to run previously in 1972 and 1976, primarily due to his Chappaquiddick auto accident and the death of passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. But 1980, many believed, was Kennedy’s moment, and he mounted a major challenge to Carter.
Still, Brown continued his candidacy, and among his supporters were a number of film stars and others from Hollywood, as well as those from the music industry. Linda Ronstadt did benefit concerts for Brown, including one on December 22nd, 1979 in Las Vegas. At that concert, she mentioned on stage that evening that Brown had been running hard for president “in the the last two months” and that she hadn’t seen him much during that time, “except on TV.” She went on to say that he was coming home soon, and dedicated the next song in her performance to him – “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Another benefit concert for Brown on December 24th that year included others from Hollywood and the music business, including Jane Fonda, Helen Reddy, and members of the rock band Chicago. The star-studded benefit concerts, however, did not produce the turnout or revenue the Brown campaign had hoped for.
Campaign button touting “Jerry & Linda in 1980."
Linda Ronstadt would also campaign for and with Brown on occasion, and was mentioned in news stories about his campaign. Her image also appeared on various campaign buttons, some with Brown and others by herself, the latter touting her for “First Lady.”
Jerry Brown’s supporters from Hollywood and the music industry, however, could cut both ways with voters. Conservative commentators of the day began describing some of Brown’s supporters such as activists Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Jesse Jackson as on “the fringe,” which did hurt Brown in certain quarters.
Brown appeared on the ballot in a number of primary states. In the February 26, 1980 New Hampshire primary, however, he received only 10 percent of the vote. By late March 1980, Brown had spent $2 million but had won no primaries. Kennedy, on the other hand had beaten Carter in the Connecticut and New York primaries on March 25th, and seemed to be picking up steam.
1980: Governor Jerry Brown being interviewed in Los Angeles, CA.
Brown then announced that his continuation in the race would hinge on a good showing in the April 1st, 1980 Wisconsin primary. Brown had polled well in Wisconsin throughout the primary season.
Then came a plan to film Brown on the steps of the Wisconsin state capitol at Madison in a special 30-minute event to be broadcast live and then used as a campaign commercial. Hollywood’s Francis Ford Coppola was retained to produce and direct the event, and a thoughtful speech was prepared titled, “The Shape of Things to Come.” However, due to technical problems, the event did not go well, and contributed to the melt-down of Jerry Brown’s candidacy.
On April 1st, 1980, after finishing 3rd in the Wisconsin primary behind Carter and Kennedy, Brown withdrew from the Democratic Presidential race. Momentum thereafter went briefly in Kennedy’s direction after Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages on April 25th ended in disaster. Still, Carter was able to hold off Kennedy, winning the nomination in the end, but losing to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 general election.
April 3, 1980: Linda Ronstadt on the cover of Rolling Stone.
A few days after Jerry Brown quit his presidential bid, Linda Ronstadt appeared on the April 3rd, 1980 cover of Rolling Stone in a piece titled “The Styles of Linda Ronstadt,” with Annie Leibovitz photos. However, around the same time, she had also given an interesting interview to Playboy magazine – an interview conducted earlier that spring that was published in the April 1980 issue. The interview was billed by Playboy as: “a candid conversation with the first lady of rock about her music, her colorful past, her new image, and her ‘boyfriend,’ Jerry Brown.” The magazine likely reached subscribers and the newsstands before Jerry Brown had quit the presidential race, and so would still be topical with Brown’s candidacy in mind. But in the interview, Ronstadt offered some thoughtful observations on how she dealt with her celebrity and political involvement. A few excerpts follow below:
…PLAYBOY: Why weren’t you involved in the benefits opposed to nuclear power?
RONSTADT: I didn’t have a band and I felt it might be construed as an attempt on my part to start stumping for Jerry Brown.
PLAYBOY: What’s wrong with that?
RONSTADT: I feel it can be dangerous for me as an artist to get involved with issues and, particularly, with candidates. But at some point, I feel like I can’t not take a stand. I think of pre-Hitler Germany, when it was fashionable for the Berliners not to get involved with politics and, meantime, this horrible man took power.If I am saying things about nuclear power, I want people to go out and learn about it. I don’t want them to say “No nukes” because Jackson and Linda say it. But it is difficult for me as a public person. I don’t want people to take my word for something because they like my music. That’s a danger in itself. I am real aware of my ability to influence impressionable people and I am reluctant to wield that power. If I am saying things about nuclear power, I want people to go out and learn about it. I don’t want them to say “No nukes” because Jackson (Browne) and Linda say it. I don’t want them to think that to be hip, they have to be a no-nukes person. I don’t want people to think about issues when they hear my music. I really want them to hook their dreams onto what I am singing. When I’m out in public, I want to be singing.
PLAYBOY: But you are stumping for Brown. You had a $1000-a-couple dinner for him and you’re doing concerts, something you said you’d never do.
Photos of Linda Ronstadt as she was being interviewed by ‘Playboy’ magazine for the April 1980 edition. Interview by Jean Vallely, photos by Larry Logan.
RONSTADT: You know how most people burn their bridges behind them? Well, I have a tendency to burn my bridges ahead of me. I swore up and down I wouldn’t do a benefit for Jerry. The artistic reason is the selfish reason, but also, I always thought that if I did a concert for Jerry, it would be perceived by the public as him trying to use me. They would say, “I told you all along: The basis of their relationship is that she can do concerts for him and make him a lot of money.” But there is no way for me to stay neutral.…A candidate like Ronald Reagan can go to Westing- house and ask for lots of money…Jerry Brown can’t go to Westinghouse. He can only go to indivi- duals. He has no corporate financing for his ideology. …Jerry Brown can’t go to ARCO for money for solar power, because it’s not in the company’s interest…. If I won’t support him, and I know him best, it looks like an attack. I would like him to be able to speak his ideas. I think they are really important and good and, for the most part, he’s right. It’s so hard for me, not only as a public figure but also as someone who believes in him, cares about him, is close to him and is on his side. I want to be on his side.
PLAYBOY: What’s the reaction to your limited public support of Brown?
RONSTADT: I’m going to take a lot of heat for it, but I’m ready. I just don’t feel that any of the alternatives are as good as Jerry, and that’s what it comes down to. Look at it this way: The Eagles and I, in a way, represent the antinuclear concern. Westinghouse is heavily invested in nuclear power. A candidate like Ronald Reagan can go to Westinghouse and ask for lots of money and despite the $1000 limit, Westinghouse can commandeer huge sums of money. Plus, it can hire lawyers and take out huge ads in the newspapers and continue to brainwash the American public about the safety of nuclear power, which I think is a lie. Jerry Brown can’t go to Westinghouse. He can only go to the individuals. He has no corporate financing for his ideology. A candidate like Jerry Brown can’t go to Arco for money for solar power, because it’s not in the company’s interest. I believe it’s in the public interest to have a candidate who is interested in furthering technology like solar power and protecting us from things like nuclear power.
PLAYBOY: Then you’re not wary about ill-informed performers’ affecting politics.
RONSTADT: A lot of us were naive in the beginning about doing benefits. We tended just to take people’s word for things. I don’t now. I read newspapers, periodicals. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I am a hell of a lot better informed than before and better informed than the average person. I think my opinion is informed enough to put out there.…But if Frank Sinatra is going to do a benefit for Reagan, then I guess I have to do a benefit for Jerry…. Richard Reeves wrote sarcastically about how nobody would pay $400,000 an hour to watch him type, but Richard Reeves, in fact, swings much more influence with a typewriter than I ever could. He’s a political writer. He sways public opinion every day. Doing a concert for a candidate can’t swing an election. We flatter ourselves to think that. What I can do is provide better access to the public forum, and then it’s up to the public to decide. Artists like Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, Vanessa Redgrave, I say more power to them, they are sticking out their necks. I don’t particularly want to stick out my neck. But I don’t see how I can not take a stand. It’s dangerous territory for me, that’s for sure. But if Frank Sinatra is going to do a benefit for Reagan, then I guess I have to do a benefit for Jerry….
March 20, 1983: Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown attending the opening of ‘Dreamgirls’ at the Shubert Theater in Century City, California.
In the early 1980s, Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt would continue to be seen together occasionally. She joined him and other friends at an informal gathering in Sacramento on January 3, 1983 after he stepped down as governor. Later that year, on March 20th, 1983, they were photographed together attending the opening of the film Dreamgirls at the Shubert Theater in Century City, California. But after their active friendship years ended, Brown and Ronstadt went their separate ways, continuing in their respective careers.
In 1982, Jerry Brown could have sought a third term as governor, but instead decided to run for the U.S. Senate. He was defeated in that attempt by Republican Pete Wilson. Afterward, he took some personal time, traveling to Mexico to learn Spanish, to Japan to study Buddhism in a monastery, and to India to work with Mother Teresa. Upon his return in 1988, Brown won a race to become chairman of the California Democratic Party, and in that post he greatly expanded the party’s donor base. But in early 1991, Brown resigned as Democratic Party Chairman, announcing he would run for the U.S. Senate seat held by then retiring Alan Cranston. Although he led in the polls for both the nomination and the general election, he quit this Senate bid in favor of running for president for a third time in 1992. Running as an outsider, he won six primaries, but still lagged well behind frontrunner Bill Clinton.
1992: Jerry Brown, 2nd from left, was among the candidates competing for the 1992 Democratic Presidential Nomination, then including Sen. Tom Harkin (IA), far left, and R-L from Brown: Sen. Bob Kerry (NE), former Sen. Paul Tsongas (MA), and Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton. AP photo, prior to a debate forum.
After Jerry Brown’s third failed attempt at the Presidency, many believed his political career was over, and for six years or so, he remained in the political wilderness. But in 1997, running as an independent, Brown became mayor of Oakland, California where he helped revitalize the city and reverse its hemorrhage of residents. In 2007, Brown ran for and won the post of State Attorney General, and four years later, succeeded Arnold Schwarzenegger in a third term as California’s governor. As this is written, Brown is running for an historic fourth term as California’s governor, which if he wins on November 4, 2014, will begin in January of 2015.
Linda Ronstadt on 2002 DVD cover for “Pirates of Penzance” stage production as performed in New York’s Central Park.
Linda Ronstadt, for her part, went on making music – all kinds of music. In 1981, she went to Broadway as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, co-starring with Kevin Kline. She also co-starred with Kline and Angela Lansbury in the 1983 film version. In music she continued to put out popular recordings and appear at concert venues. In 1983, her estimated worth was placed at over $40 million, mostly from records, concerts and merchandising But she soon tired of rock concerts, where the audience – sometimes into beer and pot – was not always focused on the performer. Ronstadt longed for venues that had “angels in the architecture,” as she once put it. In late 1984 she ventured into opera, cast as Mimi in La Bohème in New York City.
Back in the studio, meanwhile, in 1983-1986, she collaborated with Nelson Riddle on songs from the Great American Songbook, producing three albums of jazz and traditional pop standards that between them sold more than seven million copies in the U.S. In 1987 she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Emmy Lou Harris to produce the album Trio which held the No.1 position on Billboard’s country albums chart for five weeks. In late 1987, Ronstadt released Canciones de Mi Padre, an album of traditional Mexican folk songs.
For Ronstadt the 1980s proved to be just as commercially successful as the1970s. Between 1983 and 1990, she turned out six additional million-selling albums; two of which sold more than three million U.S. copies. In 1991, she released a second album of Mexican music, Mas Canciones, for which she won a Grammy. And there is lots more about her music, politics, and personal life – covered elsewhere in greater detail.
Linda Ronstadt as photographed by 'Time' magazine in 1977.
Suffice it to say here that Linda Ronstadt was one of the most successful female singers in U.S. history. To date, she has sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide and also became one of the top-grossing concert performers for over a decade. During her career, she released over 45 albums, 30 of those studio productions. Among her singles, 38 charted on Billboard’s pop chart – 21 in the Top 40, ten in the Top 10, three at No. 2, and “You’re No Good” at No. 1. She has earned 11 Grammy Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, an Emmy Award, and an ALMA Award. But sadly, in August 2013, Ronstadt revealed she has Parkinson’s disease, leaving her unable to sing.
In April 2014, Linda Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In July 2014, President Obama awarded her one of twelve 2013 National Medals of Arts and Humanities. He also stated that he had had a crush on her when he was younger. Engaged to filmmaker George Lucas for a time in 1984, Linda Ronstadt never did marry. In her 40s, during the 1990s, she adopted two children – Mary and Carlos, now young adults. Her autobiography, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, was released in September 2013 when it debuted in the Top 10 on the New York Times best sellers list.
In that memoir she writes: “Jerry Brown and I had a lot of fun for a number of years. He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline.” She said she found him to be “a relief” from the musicians she hung around with. But she also added: “Neither of us ever suffered under the delusion that we would like to share each other’s lives. I would have found his life too restrictive, and he would have found mine entirely chaotic…Eventually we went our separate ways and embraced things that resonated with us as different individuals…We have always remained on excellent terms.”
For additional stories at this website on music please see the Annals of Music category page, and for politics, the Politics & Culture page. For story choices in the 1970s or 1980s, scroll to those respective decade options in the “Period Archive” in the upper right-hand corner of this page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle
Vivian Claire ( for the Los Angeles Times), “Linda Ronstadt: Of Love And Drugs And Jerry Brown,” The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), November 13, 1978 (second of a five-part series extracted from Vivian Claire’s biography, Linda Ronstadt ).
Tom Zito, “Sex and the Single Governor; Brown, Ronstadt: Good Fortune?,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1978, p. H-6.
Elizabeth Kaye, “Linda Ronstadt: Why Is She The Queen Of Lonely?,” Redbook, February 1979.
William K. Knoedelseder Jr. and Ellen Farley, “El Adobe Looks East; Jerry Brown’s Favorite Restaurant Aims for Washington,” Washington Post, April 5, 1979, p. D-1.
John J Goldman, “Brown, Miss Ronstadt Slip Quietly Out of New York; Board Plane for Africa, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1979, p. A-1.
“Brown Politicks; Miss Ronstadt ‘May Go Home’,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1979, p. B-28.
Victoria Brittain, “The African Jaunt: On Safari With Jerry Brown And Rock Star Linda Ronstadt,” Washington Post, April 16, 1979, p. B-1.
“Politics Is a Real Jungle,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1979, p. D-6.
“Making the African Scene,” Time, April 23, 1979.
Tom Mathews, with Martin Kasindorf and Janet Huck, “Ballad of Jerry and Linda,” Newsweek, April 23, 1979.
Karen G. Jackovich, Harry Minetree, Patricia Newman, “Swinging Safari: Jerry Brown’s Safari with Rock Star Linda Ronstadt Could Just Be the End of Something Big,” People, April 30, 1979 Vol. 11, No. 17.
William K, Knoedelseder, Jr; Ellen Farley, “Where the Elite Meet Discreetly,” Los Angeles Times, Apr 22, 1979, p. U-3.
Jimmy Breslin, “She Stoops to Conquer–But What?,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1979, p. F-6.F6
“Ronstadt Takes on the Press,” Look, June 11, 1979.
Alan Baron, “Jerry Brown Rolls Out the Campaign Banner,” Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1979, p. E-1.
Kathy Sawyer, “Brown Launches Underdog Race,” Washington Post, November 9, 1979, p. A-1.
Laurie Becklund, Nancy Skelton, “Less Isn’t More at Brown Fund Raiser,” Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1979, p. A-30.
Laurie Becklund, “Ronstadt Shines a Little Light on Brown Campaign; Ronstadt Gives Boost to Brown Campaign,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1979, p. B-3.
Robert Hilburn, “Brown Benefit: Clash of Music and Politics,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1979, p. E-5.
Murray Fromson, “Undaunted by Iowa, Brown Sees Hope in Zero-Based Campaign,” Los Angeles Times, January 27, 1980, p. F-3.
William Endicott, “Ronstadt Joins Brown in Wooing Voters,” Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1980.
“Linda Tries ‘First Lady’ on for Size: ‘I’d Die Laughing’,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1980,
Charlotte S. Perry, “Jerry Brown’s Dream-Turned-Nightmare; ’76 Celebrity Status Haunts Him in ’80 as Public’s Familiarity Breeds Contempt,” Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1980, p. C-7.
“Linda Ronstadt at Music Hall,” New York Times, April 17, 1980.
Robert Hilburn, “Linda Ronstadt: Opening Up on the Rock ‘n Roll Trail; On the Road with Ronstadt,” Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1980.
Jean Vallely, “Linda Ronstadt: a Candid Conversation with the First Lady of Rock about Her Music, Her Colorful Past, Her New Image and Her ‘Boyfriend,’ Jerry Brown,” Playboy, April 1980.
John J. Goldman, “Brown–From Celebrity to Good Soldier; Media Magnetism Is Gone,” Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1980, p. B-19.
“Linda Ronstadt Interview on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, 1983″ (part), You Tube.com, Uploaded on December 19, 2009.
Mary Ellin Bruns, “Ronstadt: The Gamble Pays Off Big” (interview), Family Weekly, January 8, 1984.
“What’s New with Linda Ronstadt? She’s Singing Her Love Songs to Star Wars Czar George Lucas,” People, March 26, 1984.
Patricia Leigh Brown, “Linda Ronstadt, Home Again,” New York Times, September 22, 2008.
Warren Buffett was one of 20 Annie Leibovitz-photographed celebrities featured on a series of covers for a special issue ‘Vanity Fair’ of June 2007 focused on Africa. Here Chris Rock is asking, ‘Got any good tips?’
Warren Buffett, the American businessman and investment wizard who is known in some circles as “The Oracle of Omaha” for his stock market picks and investment strategies, is one of the wealthiest persons on the planet. In 2008 Forbes magazine estimated that Buffett was then worth about $62 billion, a value that has since taken a hit in the economic downturn, but is still in the neighborhood of $40 billion or so.
Although Buffett was a well-known figure and even famous in the business community dating to the 1960s, he was not generally known elsewhere. Even through the 1970s and 1980s, Buffet was not the economic “rock star” he has become today. In recent years, however, Warren Buffett has “crossed over” from purely business stardom to more full-blown, mainstream celebrity. It’s not clear precisely when this arrival occurred, but the process began in the 1980s, especially as his name rose into the upper reaches of the Forbes 400 “richest Americans” list. Then, in the mid-1990s, a popular book on Buffett’s investing method — The Waren Buffett Way, by Robert Hagstrom — became a national bestseller, raising Buffett’s visibility among millions of existing and would-be stock market investors. By 2003, prime-time “Buffet celebrity” grew to a much higher level, reaching a crescendo of sorts in mid-summer 2006 after he announced plans to give away most of his wealth through a series of donations — the biggest share of which would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. More on that later.
Warren Buffett on the September 7, 2008 cover of "Parade" magazine, the wide-circulation Sunday supplement newspaper magazine that goes to millions of American homes.
By 2008 there were other signs of Buffett’s growing celebrity. He appeared, for example, on the September 7th, 2008 cover of the widely circulated Parade magazine, the Sunday supplement magazine that typically features a Hollywood celebrity of some kind on its cover. Parade is found in tens of millions of American homes every Sunday morning. The cover story promised to reveal Buffett’s secrets “that can work for you.” Mr. Buffett’s rising celebrity, however, has not yet made him a Saturday Night Live host, but he has made cameos in a TV soap opera, and in 2008 he began making a cartoon series for kids to help teach them about money. Buffett has also appeared on countless business magazine covers, as well as avant garde publications such as Vanity Fair’s special-edition Africa issue of June 2007 (above and below) which featured various combinations of Annie Leibovitz-photographed celebrities on some 20 different covers.
Another in the sequence of Vanity Fair's June 2007 covers, this one with Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Warren Buffet, however, for much of his career, was anything but a celebrity. He stuck to his knitting, so to speak, laboring in the “back office” of business investment and market analysis, quietly making his stock picks, amassing wealth and knowledge. Nor has Warren Buffett lived most of his life in prime-time media country, or for that matter, prime-time Wall Street. Buffet chose to live much of his life in mid-America: Omaha, Nebraska. This was largely by self design; wanting to live a quiet, average, if-not-frugal life style in Omaha where he could devote his attention to investing — at least a first. But as more attention came to his investment savvy and his growing wealth, so did more popular notice. In fact, the world, or at least a portion of its investors, was soon beating a path to Omaha to hear the master’s voice. Still, Buffett’s celebrity came slowly at first, rising with his “oracle” and “wealthiest American” stature. By the late 1990s he had begun to permeate the mainstream press and media — first on the covers of business magazines and business-related cable television, and later, more widely throughout the mainstream press and network television. Certainly by the 2000s, Warren Buffett was famous simply because he was “Warren Buffett.”
Part of the business & financial press that became commonplace for Warren Buffett in the 2000s --the November 2006 cover of the Wall Street Journal's "Smart Money" magazine.
Buffett’s story provides a look at how business celebrities — when they reach a certain level of wealth, power and circulation — can “cross over” into mainstream celebrity.
True, Buffett’s popular notice is, on one level, no different than that of other wealthy business barons from other eras — Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and others who rose to fame and infamy in their day.
Yet Buffett’s rise has its unique aspects — rising to wealth as an investor rather than industrial mogul, for one. And his popular notice has been aided certainly by today’s “always-on-everywhere” mainstream and digital media.
But Buffett’s story also shows that once he arrived in the media glare, he moved to use his fame — and the media machine that comes with it — to reach a broader audience on a few selected social and economic issues of concern to him, pushing his message and lobbying for changes as he saw fit. And certainly with his recent philanthropy, Warren Buffett has spoken in a way few people ever can.
Warren Buffett was born in Omaha in 1930. He began selling things as a young boy — Juicy Fruit gum, Coca-Cola, Liberty magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, and even used golf balls. In the mid-1930’s, at about age 6, he started buying six-packs of Coke for 25 cents and reselling single bottles at a nickel each. He also worked at his grandfather’s grocery store. At age 11 he had made his first stock investments and also announced that he would be a millionaire by the time he was 35. At around age 10 or so he concluded that money could give a person independence, and thereby, the means to do whatever he wanted with his life. So, at age 11 he announced he would be a millionaire by 35.
Buffet’s father was a stockbroker, and young Warren often visited his office, sometimes chalking in stock prices on the brokerage’s blackboard. At age 11 he made his first stock investment — three shares of Cities Service oil company at $38 per share. The stock dropped to $27, but the young Buffett held his marks, selling only when they reached $40 a share. Later, Cities Services’ shares rose to nearly $200 a share, leaving Buffett with an early lesson in patient investing that he never forgot. By age 13, Buffett was running his own businesses as a paperboy and also selling his own horse-racing tip sheet. On his first tax return that year, he claimed his bike as a tax deduction.
In 1942, Buffett’s father was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the family moved to Fredricksburg, Virginia near Washington. Buffett attended high school in Washington but also worked at side businesses. When Buffett received his college degree at age 20, his side businesses had earned nearly $10,000. With a friend he purchased a used pinball machine for $25, installed it in a barbershop and within a few months they had made enough money to buy and install two more machines at other locations, then selling their little business for $1,200. At age 16, Buffett reluctantly enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study business, but after two years, moved to the University of Nebraska. It was at Nebraska where he discovered a book by Benjamin Graham titled the The Intelligent Investor, which taught the importance of “value investing” — going after undervalued stocks with good names and holding them for long periods, as opposed to running after the “hot stock ” of the day. By the time Buffett finished his degree at age 20, his side businesses had earned him nearly $10,000. Buffet next went to Columbia University for an advanced degree after being turned down at Harvard Business School. At Columbia he studied under his idol Benjamin Graham, and would later work with him in New York for a couple of years and also at his father’s brokerage back in Omaha.
“The Investable Float” A Money Lesson
One of Buffett’s early epiphanies about how to use other people’s money to make millions for himself and his investors, came with his introduction to the insurance indus- try. Sometime in the 1950s he noticed that his mentor, Benjamin Graham held lots of stock in an insurance company named GEICO — where Graham would also serve as chairman. Buffett decided to visit GEICO’s offices one weekend, and by chance happened upon a rising officer of the company who pro- ceeded to give him a crash course on insurance.
Buffet learned about GEICO’s nice little corner of the insurance world, where it sold insurance to a group of statistically safe drivers — govern- ment employees — and sold to them direct by mail. By doing so, it cut out agent commissions and made low-priced policies possible, while the pool of generally safe drivers it selected kept claims and pay outs low. But the big thing that Buffett learned about the insurance industry that day, and GEICO in particular, was the horde of ready cash that insurance companies could gener- ate. Lots of liquid cash coming in from premiums that was not needed to cover a low outlay of costs for claims. This was big-time money — “the float,” the difference between money in and demand on money out; money that could be used for other things, like investing. The benefits of the insurance company “float” were real and could translate into buying leverage and big profits for a studious investor. Buffett, then still in graduate school, invested a portion of his savings in GEICO. And throughout his investing career thereafter, insurance companies would become a key part of his investment strategy, making minimal profits on insurance underwriting, but using the “insurance company float” to leverage hundreds of millions for other investments and continuing profits elsewhere.
In 1956, with the money of a few investors and some of his own, he formed the Buffett Partnership in his hometown of Omaha. He began purchasing stocks with the goal of beating the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 10 percent a year — and he proceeded to do just that. His investment success was fueled in part buying undervalued companies whose stocks steadily rose. By 1962, the Buffett Partnership, which began with $105,000, rose in worth to $7.2 million, about $1 million of which was owned by Buffett and his wife, Susie. But their assets continued to grow.
Buffett would typically buy when others were running for the exits. In 1964 when American Express shares fell to $35 due to a fraud scandal and everybody was selling, Buffett began buying the shares en masse. A year later AmEx shares were selling for double the price he paid for them. In 1965, after a personal meeting with Walt Disney, Buffett bought $4 million worth of the Disney Co., then equal to about five percent of the company. Buffett by this time was being noticed in the financial and investment communities. In March 1966, Buffett explained his firm’s strategy to the New York Times, saying: “We have no formal program of acquisitions, but as a private investment partnership, we like to put our money into things with good value and good management.” The Buffett Partnership ended in 1969. It had been wildly successful making about 30 percent gains year-over-year between 1956 to 1969. This in a market in which 7- to-11 percent gains were the norm. With his first venture a success, Buffett began forming a new investment vehicle.
In 1962, he began acquiring shares of Berkshire Hathaway, a textile mill in New Bedford, MA. As the U.S. textile industry withered in the face of foreign competition, Buffett began redeploying Berkshire’s capital into an array of other businesses, including insurance. He bought his first insurance companies in 1967, learning how to use their up-front cash flow and “float” (see sidebar at right) to make other, longer-term growth investments. Insurance companies would become a key part of Buffett’s businesses and investment strategy throughout his career. He would eventually sell off the textile portion of Berkshire Hathaway, but use the company structure as his investment vehicle. By 1970 at age 40, Warren Buffett was chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
Through the 1970s he continued pursuing the same investment strategy that had made him a millionaire in the 1960s. When stock prices began to drop in 1973, Buffett became a buyer for the long term. In 1973, one of the stocks Berkshire began acquiring was The Washington Post Co. Throughout the 1970s, Buffett’s name would surface on the business pages of regional and sometimes national newspapers. “Buffett Is Said to Take Stake of 10-15% in GEICO,” read the New York Times headline on August 13, 1976. That short story — about Buffet’s investment in the insurance business — ran in the back pages of the newspaper, but noted that Buffett had “a reputation as one of the country’s most astute investors.”
In 1977, Berkshire indirectly purchased the Buffalo Evening News for $32.5 million. About this time, he and his wife / business partner, Susie, began living apart, though remaining married. Susie, in fact, introduced him to Astrid Menks, a woman who worked in Omaha and who would eventually move in with Buffett and later become his second wife. By 1979, Berkshire continued buying up stocks it regarded as values, then beginning to buy shares of the ABC television network, among others. Berkshire shares about this time were trading at $290 each. Buffett’s personal wealth was then about $140 million, although he was only taking an annual, modest salary of $50,000.
The Washington Post 1970s & Beyond
In addition to buying up shares of the Washington Post in the 1970s, Warren Buffett also became, by 1974, a board member at the company. In fact, Katharine “Kay” Graham, who then ran the Post, would come to regard Buffett as a friend and trusted business counsel. But in 1973, Graham did not know Buffett when he first bought up some 230,000 shares of the company. There had been one prior encounter in 1971 when Buffett and partner Charlie Munger had approached Graham and the Post about possibly doing a deal together to acquire The New Yorker magazine. But nothing came of that venture. Once Graham had established that Buffett’s investment intentions with the Post were honorable, the two became fast friends. She would later credit Buffett with providing her key business advice and a broader vision. Graham, for her part, would introduce Buffett to a broader social world of Washington culture and beyond.
Katharine Graham, in her 1997 autobiography, explains how Warren Buffett became a close friend and business confidant at the Washington Post.
Others at the Post, however didn’t always trust Buffett, some feeling threatened by his influence on Graham. One internal fight at the Post flared in 1977 over whether the Post should buy the New York Magazine Co., then the publisher of three magazines — New York, The Village Voice, and New West. In that contest, the Post was bidding against Rupert Murdoch, who eventually took the prize, but some inside the Post were opposed to Graham’s bidding for those properties, feeling it would hurt profits and weaken their own operation. In the process, Graham had sought Buffett’s counsel and others, but not that of Larry Israel, then the Post’s president, who was forced out. Buffett remained a close Graham advisor and friend thereafter, continued on the board and also continued to buy Post stock.
In 1986, however, Buffet had to leave the Washington Post board following the merger of ABC with Capital Cities Communications Co. Buffett had helped Cap Cities acquire ABC and would then have a seat on the Cap Cities / ABC board. Government rules then prohibited dual media company board seats. The Washington Post Co., meanwhile, in separate action, would acquire some Cap Cities properties, spending $350 million in January 1986 to buy 53 cable TV systems from Cap Cities which the Post added to its own cable business; an expansion which helped the Washington Post Co. move up in its Fortune 500 ranking — to No. 263 on the 1986 and 1987.
Warren Buffett, meanwhile, would return to the Washington Post board a decade later, in 1996, after Disney acquired Cap Cities. By 2003, Buffett’s long-held stake in the Washington Post Co. of more than 30 years had grown considerably — from an $11 million investment to $1.2 billion. As of year’s end 2009, The Washington Post Co. was still among Berkshire Hathaway’s top 15 holdings of publicly-traded companies. Berkshire then held about 1.7 million Washington Post shares, or roughly 18 percent of the company.
In 1982, Forbes magazine published its first “rich list,” the 400 wealthiest Americans, listing their names on the magazine’s cover, including that of Warren Buffett.
First Forbes List
In 1982, Forbes magazine began publishing its annual “Forbes 400″ — the 400 richest people in America. Daniel Ludwig, a shipping magnate, was then the richest person on the list at $2 billion. Warren Buffett also made that first list, at an estimated $250 million in wealth. Although not then in the top reaches of the list in 1982, Buffett was just beginning his rise into the upper tiers of the super rich.
In fact, in 1983, Berkshire Hathaway shares had begun the year at $775 per share, but by year’s end they were worth at $1,310 per share. Buffett’s personal net worth at this point is $620 million. Berkshire now had some $1.3 billion in its corporate stock portfolio. Berkshire was making money buying up lesser known by solid companies such as Blue Chip Stamps and Nebraska Furniture Mart, the latter for $60 million in 1983. But by 1985, Buffett became a key player in some more well known businesses, helping to bring about a merger between ABC and Cap Cities, a major media play. Then in 1987, Buffett got Wall Street’s attention when Berkshire Hathaway purchased 12 percent stake in Salomon Brothers investment bank, making Berkshire the largest single shareholder and Buffett the director. Berkshire’s $700 million stake in Salomon helped rescue it from corporate raider Ronald Perelman. (Buffett would return to Solomon in 1990, after a scandal erupted there over trading rules, with Buffett coming in to run the company for a time after top management resigned. The company was eventually sold). Buffet’s name by this time also was appearing regularly in the business press. In October 1987, when the stock market crashed, Buffett and Berkshire took big hits, but both would recover.
“Warren’s Woodstock” The Annual Meeting
The Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings in Omaha, NE, once a “drop-by-for-dinner” affair of a few dozen, are now attended by 30,000 or more.
During the 1970s, Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger began holding annual meetings for their Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska. At first, these were low-keyed “drop-by-if you’re-in town” affairs with very few attendees. If any of Buffett’s investors happened to be in the neighborhood, they were invited to join Buffet and Munger for dinner at a local restaurant and hear the company report. Maybe a dozen or so attended in those early days. By 1981, twenty-two people attended the Berkshire Hathaway conference. By 1985 attendance was up to 250. But soon, the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting and conference would draw thousands to Omaha, becoming something of a national business and finance event.
Recent book by a hedge fund manager attending a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.
Today, for some investors, the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha is an annual pilgrimage — with the “Oracle,” Warren Buffett, being the main attraction. At least one book has been written about the meetings. Buffett, in fact, would later call these bigger, media-worthy gatherings with thousands of attendees, a “Woodstock for capitalists.” In May 1998, Business Week also used the Woodstock description, calling the annual gathering, “Warren Buffett’s Woodstock Weekend Love-In.” At the 2008 Berkshire Hatahaway annual meeting there were 31,000 attendees.
For some years now, Buffett has also drawn national press attention for his unique writing in the annual Berkshire Hathaway “letter” he sends to his stockholders, noted for its uncorporate style. Buffett’s annual Berkshire letter, in fact, has become something of a business literary event, praised for its colorful and pithy style, while also revealing something of Buffett’s “aw shucks, dumb-as-a-fox” media savvy.
“…Better With Coke”
Warren Buffett made some of his first profits with Coke as a kid and later in life as one of the company’s biggest investors.
In 1988, Buffett began buying shares of Coca-Cola, and soon had a sizeable position with millions of shares. This surprised some on Wall Street, especially since Coca-Cola stock had gained almost 20 percent a year for eight years, with many analysts thinking it was over-valued. But Buffett was not among them, and in fact took the opposite view. Wall Street thought “he was crazy.” Yet Buffett had his own metrics. He saw Coca-Cola as a “cash cow” in 1988, a company with steady shareholder equity growth and an incredibly well-known brand, globally. Buffett believed he was buying Coke at a discount price, compared to a reasonable valuation of the company and its future prospects. Buffett began buying stock in Coca-Cola Company, eventually spending about $1 billion for seven percent of the company. By March 1989, Buffett’s Berkshire held close to 22.35 million shares of Coca-Cola.
“We like businesses we understand,” Buffett told the New York Times. “Coke is like Mom and apple pie.” And with companies like Coke, he explained, “our favorite holding period is forever.” Buffett also explained that Berkshire didn’t buy companies they didn’t understand. “We buy very few things but we buy very big positions,” he said. In addition to Coke, Berkshire also then held about 12 percent of Salomon Inc., the Wall Street investment firm; 42 percent of GEICO insurance, 18 percent of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., the broadcasting and publishing company; and 13 percent of the Washington Post Company. Buffett said at the time these were among Berkshire’s ”permanent” common stock holdings — those the company would hold for a long time. “We like businesses we understand,” Buffett told the New York Times. “Coke is like Mom and apple pie.” And with com- panies like Coke, he said, “our favorite holding period is forever.” By the end of 1989, Coca Cola represented 35 percent of Berkshire common stock portfolio. It was a bold move. But with time, Coke would prove to be one of Berkshire’s most lucrative investments, turning a $1 billion purchase into a $10 billion holding that would also generate more than $250,000 a year in dividends.
Another standard mainstream company Buffett would invest in during the late 1980s was the razor blade maker Gillette. “It’s pleasant to go to bed every night knowing there are 2.5 billion males in the world who have to shave in the morning,” Buffett would later tell a Forbes reporter. “A lot of the world is using the same blade King Gillette invented almost 100 years ago. These nations are upscaling the blade. So the dollars spent on Gillette products will go up.” Buffet also noted in answer to a question about why he did not invest in foreign stocks: “I get $150 million earnings pass-through from the international operations of Gillette and Coca Cola. That’s my international portfolio.”
1990s: Rising Notice
Warren Buffett on the cover of the October 16, 1993 issue of ‘Forbes’ magazine, which ranked him No.1on the ‘Forbes 400 Richest Americans’ list.
In the 1990s, Warren Buffett began to become more visible in the mainstream business press and other media. In October 1993, for example, he was now featured on the cover of the annual “Forbes 400″ issue.
“Warren Buffett — $8 Billion and Counting,” said the cover’s tag line. Buffett was then No.1 on the Forbes list worth an estimated $8.3 billion, besting other financial superstars such as fellow billionaires Bill Gates of Microsoft ($6.1 billion), John Kluge of Metromeida ($5.9 billion), Sumner Redstone of Viacom ($5.6 billion), and five Walton family members of Wal-Mart wealth ($23 billion together).
Buffett reported to Forbes at the time that he was very happy with his life, coming across to writer Robert Lenzner as a guy who didn’t need to rub shoulders with celebrities — or be one himself. Buffett had then received an invitation from his Washington Post friend Kay Graham to dine with her and President Bill Clinton on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1993, but Buffet turned it down. “I have in life all I want right here,” he told Lenzner who came to Omaha for the interview. “I love every day. I mean, I tap dance in here and work with nothing but people I like. I don’t have to work with people I don’t like.”
“When Warren Met Bill” July 1991
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates met for the first time during the July 4th holiday of1991. Bill Gates, the 35 year-old founder and CEO of Microsoft, the world’s largest computer software company, was then ranked at No. 38 on the 1990 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with Gates’ estimated worth then placed at $2.5 billion. Warren Buffett then ranked higher on that list at No. 32 with a net worth at $3.8 billion.
Buffet was then visiting with Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post, and her editorial page editor and friend, Meg Greenfield, at Greenfield’s house on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle. Also on the agenda that weekend was a planned visit to the nearby four-house compound of the Bill Gates family. A dinner was planned with all of them plus Bill Gates’ parents, Bill senior and Mary Gates, and several other friends. Neither Buffet nor Bill Gates was excited by the prospect, as both were known to be bored with small talk and looked for the exits when they were with folks they didn’t care for. In fact, on the drive to the Gates compound, Buffett reportedly said: ‘What the hell are we going to spend all day doing with these people? How long do we have to stay to be polite?'” Gates too, had complained to his mother about having to make the visit, claiming he was too busy and had to work. But Gates did want to meet Kay Graham of the Washington Post. So he reluctantly agreed, arriving by helicopter so he could depart quickly later that evening. As for Buffett, Gates remarked to his mother, “I don’t know about a guy who just invests money and picks stocks. I don’t have many good questions for him; that’s not my thing…” So, for the two principals, it looked like it might not be the best gathering.
When Buffett and Gates were introduced, Buffett skipped the small talk and immediately asked Gates about the computer business. Was IBM going to do well in the future was it a competitor of Microsoft? Computer companies seemed to come and go, he offered, and why was that so? Gates began his explanation and along the way advised Buffett to buy two stocks, Intel and Microsoft. Then Gates asked Buffett about the economics of newspapers, and Buffett gave him the scoop there, telling him the prospects were not good given the rise of other media. Within minutes the two men were intently engaged in extended conversation with each other — to the exclusion of others attending the gathering and the chagrin of their hosts.
“We talked and talked and talked and talked and paid no attention to anybody else,” recalled Gates. “I started asking him a whole bunch of questions about his business, not expecting to understand any of it. He’s a great teacher, and we couldn’t stop talking.” Buffett recalled that Gates tried to convince him to get a computer. and even agreed to send someone to teach him how to use it. Buffet declined, not sure how he would make good use of it saying he wasn’t the kind who incessantly had to check his stocks, and that he did his income taxes in his head. In any case, a fast friendship was in the making. By the time they reached the dinner table, Bill Gates, Sr. put a questioned to his guests: What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they were in life? Both Buffett and Bill Gates said “focus.” Later, as the helicopter departed, Gates was not on it.
Robert Hagstrom's best-selling 1994 book on Warren Buffett's investing methods also helped to raise the public visibility of Buffett.
By the mid-1990s, Buffett was soon thrust into the limelight from another direction. In November 1994, the publication of the book, The Warren Buffett Way by author Robert G. Hagstrom, helped make Warren Buffett a much more widely known person. The book sold over a million copies and spent 21 weeks on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list. Hagstrom, a Philadelphia money manager, revealed no great secrets, but rather, described how Buffett went about picking companies and what he looked for. Hagstrom writes: “When Buffett invests, he sees a business. Most investors see only a stock price.” Hagstrom found that Buffett gave high grades to managers who increase value for shareholders with their decisions. For example, companies that bought their own stock back — reducing the shares outstanding and raising their value — were high on Buffett’s list. Capital Cities/ABC, in which Berkshire had a $1.7 billion stake, bought back nearly 2 million of its 18 million outstanding shares between 1988 and 1992. Other Berkshire holdings that did stock buybacks included the Washington Post Co., GEICO, and PNC Bank. Hagstrom’s book also noted that Buffett liked big businesses that had sizeable shares of their markets or were shielded from competition so they could earn higher profits — companies like Coca-Cola and Gillette — as well as others that had simple but good business plans, like GEICO. These and other Buffett methods were covered in Hagstrom’s book, which not only stayed on best-seller lists for several months, selling over 1 million copies, but also helped fuel a price surge in Berkshire Hathaway’s stock. Priced at $16,000 a share in mid-1994, Berkshire’s stock rose to a then-record $25,000 a share in early 1995. Readers of the book who wanted to own, and subsequently purchased, a share or two of Buffett’s company were believed responsible for the price increase. After the book’s popular rise, the mainstream press began covering Buffett somewhat more intently as well. Hagstrom, meanwhile set up a mutual fund based on Buffett’s investment strategies, a fund that was later acquired by Legg Mason. Hagstrom would also write two additional Buffett books — “The Warren Buffett Portfolio” in 1999, and “The Essential Buffett” in 2001.
“Disney, Buffett & ABC” The Sun Valley Deal
In 1995, Warren Buffett was attending the annual gathering of business and media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho — a gathering of the rich and powerful for schmoozing, seminars, and sharing ideas in a relaxed setting. Michael Eisner, then chairman of the Walt Disney Company, was there, as well as a number of other Hollywood and media notables. In one talk about his company, Eisner used a letter he had received from Warren Buffett two years earlier to drive home a point about Disney’s rising value. In 1993 Buffett had written Eisner explaining: “In 1965, I bought 5 percent of Disney for approximately 4 million dollars. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I sold it two years later  at about a $2 million profit.”
Michael Eisner in later photo.
Eisner then explained that he couldn’t resist replying to Buffett — rubbing salt in the wound, more or less — that if Buffett had held his position in Disney through 1993, it would have been worth $552 million. “Since Warren is here today,” continued Eisner in his Sun Valley talk, “I just thought I’d bring him up to date. If he had held on to that original investment over all these years, today his $4 million would be worth $869 million.” But Eisner was quick to tell his audience they shouldn’t feel too badly for Buffett, adding: “If Disney had purchased $4 million worth of Warren’s Berkshire Hathaway stock in 1965…it would be worth in excess of $6 billion today.”
Warren Buffett, meanwhile, would get another shot at Disney — though this time from a different direction — with the deal-making occurring right there in Sun Valley shortly after Eisner had given his talk. More on that in a moment; first a little background.
In 1979, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway began to acquire stock in the ABC television network, adding to and holding those shares for the next several years. In March 1985, a company named Capital Cities Communications made a surprising $3.5 billion acquisition of ABC, a stunning media buy as ABC was then some four times bigger than Capital Cities. Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, it turned out, helped finance the deal. In return, Buffett and Berkshire got a 25 percent stake in the new Cap Cities/ABC colossus, then one of the biggest media concerns on the scene. Buffett, it would turn out, would be right in the middle of some of the biggest media deals of the 1980s and 1990s — and making a few bucks in the process. In 1995, by the time Warren Buffett and Michael Eisner and others were convening at the Sun Valley media fest, Warren Buffett owned 13 percent of Capital Cities/ABC.
After Eisner finished his Sun Valley talk, he happened to run into Warren Buffett in the parking lot. The conversation between the two turned to some current media mergers then in play, as Disney was then considering a move to acquire the CBS television network, also being sought by the Westinghouse Corporation. But then Eisner, of Disney, said to Buffett — “…Unless, of course, you want to sell us Cap Cities [and ABC] for cash.” To Eisner’s surprise, Buffett responded, “sounds good to me,” who then suggested they both go talk to Tom Murphy about it. Murphy was head of Cap Cities and Buffett at that moment happened to be on his way to meet him and Bill Gates of Microsoft. “I’m just going to meet him,” Buffet told Eisner. “We have a date to play golf with Bill Gates. Why don’t you walk over with me.”
Eisner walked along with Buffett and upon meeting Murphy, Buffett made introduction: “Michael wants to pay cash for Cap Cities,” said Buffett to Murphy. “I think he’s right. Any time we ever bought anything at Berkshire that worked out, it was in cash. What do you think, Tom?” Eisner recalled that Murphy then seemed taken aback by Buffett’s direct manner on such a major deal. “…Here we were, standing together in a parking lot in the middle of Idaho, talking about a $20 billion transaction.” - Michael Eisner, Disney CEO In fact, Disney and Cap Cities three months earlier had held unsuccessful negotiations about such a deal. But Eisner and Murphy then proceeded to talk about a new deal while still in the parking lot. Eisner, only a few minutes earlier, had a chance encounter with Larry Tisch, chairman of CBS, who had also passed by. In that conversation, Eisner mentioned to Tisch that Disney was still interested in CBS. So when Eisner next spoke to Murphy, he made sure to casually mention that he had just talked to Tisch, wanting Murphy to know that Disney was looking elsewhere too, i.e., at CBS. Murphy told Eisner he would give the Cap Cities “sale-for-cash” idea more thought, and the two men agreed to talk the next week by phone when they returned to their offices. Eisner later marveled at the serendipity of the whole improbable series of chance meetings that day in Idaho — with all the requisite players coming together within minutes by happenstance to talk about a potential major media deal: “Here we were, standing together in a parking lot in the middle of Idaho, talking about a $20 billion transaction.”
After Eisner and Murphy later returned to their offices, they began a series of telephone calls and negotiations, essentially agreeing to a deal after some days of back and forth — and without lots of middle men and lawyers involved. The deal made eminent sense to Buffett–merging the No.1 content company, Disney, with the No.1 distribution company, Cap Cities / ABC. Although at first, Eisner and Disney were still nominally in the running to acquire CBS — and Eisner used that as a point of leverage in his talks with Murphy — CBS would be bought by Westinghouse. Disney then made the deal with Cap Cities/ABC — at $19 billion; then the second largest acquisition in corporate history.
Warren Buffett, as a Cap Cities director, was a major influence on Cap Cities’ decision to accept Disney’s bid. And Buffett was a very happy camper by the time the deal closed in New York. Berkshire’s 20 million shares of Cap Cites fetched a pre-tax return in the neighborhood of $2.1 billion. Buffett took his payment in all Disney stock rather than cash, showing his and Berkshire’s confidence in Disney. Buffett had also been buying up additional Disney shares. At the news conference in New York announcing the deal, Buffett, then 64, sat on the dais with Disney Chairman Michael Eisner and Cap Cities/ABC Chairman Thomas Murphy. Eisner repeatedly referred to how much Warren Buffett approved of the deal. Buffett, for his part, added: “This deal makes more sense than any other deal I have seen except for the  Cap Cities and ABC deal. It is a merger of the No. 1 content company [Disney] with the No. 1 distribution company [ABC].”
The Buffett Millionaires
Further enhancing the “pop persona” bona fides of Warren Buffett, were the national press stories that began appearing in the mid-and late-1990s of average people who became fabulously rich courtesy of “Warren’s Way.” In May 1997, for example, the story of Rabbi Myer Kripke and his wife Dorothy appeared. The Kripke’s, who had become friends to Buffett in the 1960s, gave him a $65,000 inheritance at that time to invest. By 1996, Buffet had turned that $65,000 into $25 million. And the Kripkes were not alone. In July 1998 another Buffet-made-millionaire story emerged featuring Polytechnic University professor Donald Othmer and his wife, Mildred, who some decades ago invested most of their savings with Buffett, an old family friend. After the couple passed away — he in 1995 and she in April 1998 — it was learned that they left most of their money to their favorite charities. However, their level of giving was astounding, and clearly distinguished from the typical academic couple, leaving a combined estate of $750 million.
Warren Buffett on the cover of a July 1999 edition of "Business Week," part of the business press coverage of Buffett in the late 1990s.
By the late 1990s as well, Buffett’s annual gatherings in Omaha were drawing a lot more attention. Berkshire Hathaway’s stock value was up a walloping 50 percent, so everybody at those meetings was very happy. By the end of 1998, Berkshire Hathaway had amassed shareholder equity worth $57 billion. This was a staggering sum of money and an awesome accomplishment for Buffett that placed Berkshire ahead of General Electric, Microsoft, and every other U.S. corporation. In fact, worldwide, Berkshire ranked second behind only Royal Dutch/Shell Group. But Buffett and Berkshire showed no signs of slowing down. That year, Berkshire completed the purchase of General Reinsurance for $22 billion, Buffett’s largest such deal then to date. By 1999, with insurance giants such as GEICO and General Re at his disposal, Buffett’s steady flow of low-cost investment dollars courtesy of the “float” was bigger than ever — then placed at about $21 billion. Meanwhile, those who had invested $10,000 with Berkshire in 1965 would by 1999 have $51 million. By comparison, that same amount invested in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index over the same time period would have fetched just under $500,000
In late November 1999, Buffett, now 69 years old, was named “investor of the century” in a survey by the Carson Group, placing him ahead of other well-known investors such as Peter Lynch and John Templeton. But not everyone agreed that Buffett was the most astute investor, especially as the high-tech craze overtook Wall Street.
“Warren’s Lost It”
In 1999, after Berkshire reported a very small net increase per share for its investors, several newspapers ran stories about the demise of Warren Buffett. As the high-tech stock run up continued into 2000, Warren Buffett was considered by some of the more “go-go” investors of that day as something of a “has been” — an investor who had peaked who was even called “extinct” for staying out of high tech stocks. He was seen as a “your-father’s-Oldsmobile” investor at a time when all the kids were buying up those hot, high-tech Lamborghini type stocks. Buffett was skeptical of high-tech stocks and how they made money. Buffett’s remarks, though politely received, were seen as out of touch with the “new paradigm” of high technology and ever-rising internet stock valuations. He warned of an overvalued market that was heading for trouble. In fact, at that famous summer gathering of media, technology and financial moguls at Sun Valley, Idaho, Warrren Buffett was asked to give the concluding talk in July 1999. His remarks, though politely received, supported the view among the smart set that Buffett was out of touch with the “new paradigm”of high technology and ever-rising internet stock valuations.
Buffett’s talk — complete with stock market history, slides and charts, careful Warren Buffett reasoning, and a share of corny examples — delivered a message that most of his high-tech listeners and their financial sidekicks were not keen to hear. There was no “new paradigm,” Buffett said. The market could only yield what the economy produced, and this market was way out of sync in that respect. The next seventeen years, he explained, might not look much better than the dismal 1964-to-1981 period when the Dow had gone exactly nowhere. “If I had to pick the most probable return over that period,” he said, “it would probably be six percent.” But many investors — including those listening to Buffett’s words — expected much higher returns, more in the neighborhood of thirteen to twenty-two percent. Buffett’s message that day was largely ignored — until March 2000, when the “dot com” bubble began to implode. Much of Buffett’s message that day was ignored and dismissed — until March 2000, when the “dot com”bubble began to implode. Yet for a time, Buffett was considered by the smart money as “out of it” and “losing his edge;” a guy who had missed the high-tech moment and was now rationalizing his mistake.
But Warren Buffett was still a businessman the nation would turn to in time of crisis. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Buffett appeared on the Sunday CBS television news magazine, 60 Minutes, as one of three then prominent business figures — along with former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Jr. and Robert E. Rubin, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce — to help calm the public and assure the nation that the economy could weather the terrorists’ attack on New York’s financial center.
Warren Buffett has been guided throughout life by a certain set of business values that shaped his investment strategy — tough-minded capitalist tendencies for the most part, the kind that can often be insensitive to worker, community, and other social values. On occasion, Buffett made statements that cast him as uncaring capitalist, focused primarily on financial gain. But he also had experiences that moved him to address the side effects of his investments as well as the general excesses of market capitalism.
Buffett Politics 1950s-2010
Warren Buffett’s father, Howard, was a Republican, and a three-term member of U.S. Congress from 1943 to 1949. Like his father, Warren Buffett was a Republican, too — for a time. By the early 1960s, however, he switched parties. “I became a Democrat basically because I felt the Democrats were closer by a considerable margin to what I felt in the early 60s about civil rights,” explained Buffett in 1993 comments to a Forbes reporter. “I don’t vote the party line. But, I probably vote for more Democrats than Republicans.” He has, however, been bipartisan in his political campaign giving.
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and Warren Buffett.
In 1987, he made donations to the presidential campaign of Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas. He has also supported fellow Nebraskans in their political endeavors, including the 1992 presidential campaign of Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, and the campaign of Rep. Tom Osborne, Republican and former football coach at the University of Nebraska. In 2000, he gave money to the presidential campaign of former Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey and supported the U.S. Senate campaign of Hillary Clinton, Democrat of New York. In 2003, Buffett donated to the presidential campaign of Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida. He has also supported Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, leaders in the fight for campaign finance changes.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger & Warren Buffett.
In August 2003, Buffett was named an adviser to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger who became California’s governor that October in a special recall election to replace then-Governor Gray Davis. In the 2008 national election, Buffett endorsed Barack Obama for president, stating that he was at odds with Republican candidate Senator John McCain’s views on social justice issues.
Early on, in the late 1950s, Buffett had an experience in which he received a dose of bad press as a result of some of his investments. The bad notice came in 1958, after he bought a small windmill-maker in Beatrice, Nebraska called Dempster Mill Manufacturing. In this deal, he proceeded to milk this company’s assets and put up the remains for sale. Local papers called it like it was: heartless, big-city financier does a number on local business. Buffett discovered then that he had little stomach for that kind of social critique; he did not like being attacked or painted the ogre. The incident proved a turning point, or at least one that made him more sensitive to repercussions of his money making. Buffett wanted to be a good guy, loved and admired, but he also wanted to become one of the world’s richest businessmen. How to do that was the real trick, and he didn’t always succeed.
In the mid-1960s, he established the Buffett Foundation, which began disbursing a small portion of money for various causes, mostly to family-planning clinics. In the late 1960s, he worked to integrate Omaha’s segregated country clubs, and in the 1970s, through Nebraska newspapers he owned, became involved in bringing the spotlight on Nebraska famous Boy’s Town and some questionable uses and expenditures of its endowment. The papers, in fact, won a Pulitzer for the stories.
In 1982, Berkshire instituted a corporate philanthropy program that allowed share- holders to direct a portion of the company’s charitable contributions. With this policy, Buffett said he hoped to foster an “owner mentality” among shareholders, who responded enthusiastically, with more than 95 percent participating each year since the program’s inception.
In 1986, when he could have made his business a private equity fund, and closed to public scrutiny for the purpose of avoiding certain tax consequences, Buffett chose instead to keep Berkshire Hathaway a public company, paying a tax cost of some $185 million. Some observe that this was part of Buffett’s wanting favorable public notice, and that he had “exchanged cash for an audience,” as Michael Lewis put it in a 2009 New Republic review of the Buffett biography, Snowball.
Still, at times Buffett would act as an old-fashioned capitalist– exploiting weakness, being insensitive to workers, driving hard bargains, or otherwise not worried about consequences. In 1987, for example, he said of investing in tobacco: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive. And there’s fantastic brand loyalty.” Buffett would later soften his views on tobacco, noting at his annual shareholder meeting in 1994 that investments in tobacco were “fraught with questions that relate to societal attitudes….” and that he would “not like to have a significant percentage of my net worth invested in tobacco businesses.” He added that although the economy of the tobacco business may be fine, “that doesn’t mean it has a bright future.” Buffett would also use his annual letter to shareholders to speak out on issues of the day, or to criticize certain practices, as he did in March 1999 when he accused fellow CEOs of manipulating earnings figures with accounting tricks, praising efforts by then SEC chairman Arthur Levitt to end such practices.
In October 2002, Buffett announced he would give the Nuclear Threat Initiative $2.5 million over five years and become adviser to its board. The group, founded by Ted Turner and former Sen Sam Nunn, aims to reduce the threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
More Love, Less Money
Alice Schroeder's 2008 book on Buffett, "The Snowball."
In 2003, life changed for Warren Buffett. His wife and long time partner, Susie Buffett, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 72 and would pass away a year later. Buffett began thinking differently then, and according to some observers, he became much more public. Alice Schroeder, writes in her book on Buffett, The Snowball:
“…Before 2003 Buffett’s need for attention had been satisfied by a few interviews a year and the shareholder meeting. He had always been careful and strategic in his cooperation with the media (if not always forthcoming about just how cooperative he had been). But starting around the time of Susie’s illness, for whatever reason, he had begun to need the mirror of media attention, television cameras especially, almost like a drug. The intervals he could tolerate without publicity were growing shorter. He cooperated with documentaries, spent hours talking to Charlie Rose [moderator of the late night PBS Charlie Rose Show], and became such a regular on CNBC that it started to prompt puzzled queries from his friends.”
“Basically, when you get to my age,” Buffett would say to a group of business school students around 2003, “you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.” Buffett added that he knew people who had a lot of money, and who got testimonial dinners and hospital wings named after them. “But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them.” Warren Buffett wanted people to love him.
Warren Buffett on the cover of ‘Fortune” magazine, July 2006, one of many such stories in the wake of his June 2006 announcement to give away most of his wealth.
The Big Give
In June 2006, Buffett announced that he gradually would give away 85 percent of his Berkshire holdings to five foundations in annual gifts of stock, starting in July 2006. The largest contribution would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett pledged to give the foundation approximately 10 million Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares spread over multiple years through annual contributions – a total 2006 value of approximately $30 billion. The Gates foundation is focused on world health, improving U.S. libraries, and high school education. Bill and Melinda Gates, in fact, credit Buffet with helping to inspire their thinking about giving money back to society. With the dramatic announcement of Buffett’s gift, there came a round of news stories and media appearances, some made jointly with Bill and Melinda Gates, and a number by Buffett alone.
In addition to his own philanthropy, Buffett has also occasionally prodded America’s wealthiest to do more. In October 2007, he issued a challenge to members of the Forbes 400 richest Americans list, saying he would donate $1 million to charity if the collective group (or a significant number of them) would admit they pay less taxes, as a percentage of income, than their secretaries. Days after issuing the challenge, Buffett appeared before Congress to encourage it to keep the estate tax. Armed with a few Forbes 400 issues at the ready, he told the hearing that “dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise.” He has also spoken out on the market system and wealth distribution: “The market system is not perfect in any kind of distribution of wealth, and taxation is a way you get to the excesses of what the market system produces and where you take care of the people that get the short straws. In a country as prosperous as we are, nobody should get a really short straw.”
Warren Buffett's investing suc- cess being touted by "U.S. News & World Report," 2007.
Buffett, of course, isn’t alone among wealthy Americans who have given back to society. Nor is Buffett the first to challenge America’s richest to do more. Ted Tuner in 1996, for example, suggested that there be a “400” list for those who gave away the most money, which New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd promptly wrote about in a piece titled “Ted’s Excellent Idea.”
In 2007, Buffett and Berkshire demonstrated some sensitivity to environmental concerns when PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of his MidAmerican Energy Company, cancelled six proposed coal-fired power plants. The cancellations came in the wake of pressure from regulators and citizen groups, including a petition drive organized by Salt Lake City real estate broker Alexander Lofft and directed at Buffett personally. Some 1,600 petitioners — citizens, business owners, public servants, and others — appealed to Buffett in a letter explaining that further coal generation in Utah would compromise health, obscure viewsheds, contaminate watersheds, thin the snowpack, and compromise local economic gains and property values.
Protest over the Klamath River.
Other protests have also targeted one or more Buffett or Berkshire investment from time to time, as in the case of human rights activists in 2007 targeting Buffett’s investment in Petro China and that company’s role in Darfur; or Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest at odds with MidAmerican Energy dams on the Klamath River; or a Buffett-Berkshire held Fruit of the Loom subsidiary implicated in National Basketball Association products made in Chinese sweatshops. Money’s tendrils, it seems, can lead to some unpleasant places, even as Buffett tries to do the right thing.
“A-Rod & LeBron” Buffett & Sports Stars
NY Yankee, Alex Rodriguez.
Warren Buffett has also befriended a few sports superstars in recent years, among them, New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez and Cleveland Cavaleirs’ LeBron James. Buffett has known Rodriguez on a personal basis for some years now and is a big fan of A-Rod, believing he will eventually set the all-time home run record. “A couple years ago, he got in touch with me and wanted to come in and talk,” Buffett explained to a New York Times reporter in 2007. “We hit it off very well.” Rodriguez, for his part, says he contacted Buffett because, “I just always admired him as an American icon more than anything… I have so much respect for everything he’s accomplished and how humble he’s stayed despite all of his success.” Before A-Rod and Buffett had become acquainted on a personal level, and earlier in A-Rod’s career, in 2000 when Rodriguez had singed his monster 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, one or more of Buffett’s insurance companies bought disability insurance on him. “It was a big policy,” Buffett later explained, “so big that no one else would write it. I think it was a $260 million permanent disability policy.” In November 2007, when Rodriguez was having difficulty in his negotiations with the Yankees over a new contract, he took the advice of Buffett when he bypassed his agent and directly contacted the Yankees for talks. Buffett has an autographed jersey from Rodriguez hanging in his office.
LeBron James and Warren Buffett on a July 2009 golf outing at Sun Valley, Idaho.
Buffett has also befriended and advised Cleveland Cavaliers superstar basketball player LeBron James. They first met in September 2006 when James traveled to Omaha to have lunch with Buffett and his daughter. James, who has stated he has “great respect for Mr. Buffett,” has sought Buffett’s advice on business maters. LeBron James was drafted by the NBA right out of high school, and has since landed a number of high-powered endorsement deals with Nike and others. But beyond endorsements, James is also interested in putting his money to work in an investment sense, and Buffett can certainly offer guidance and advice on that score. James has expressed an interest in becoming the first billionaire athlete — that is, in terms of the total value his related businesses might generate. James also has endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, a company in which Berkshire Hathaway holds a sizeable stake. Buffett has credited James with the right outlook on his business future. In March 2007, Buffett came to Cleveland to sit courtside as a guest of James at a Cavaliers-Denver Nuggets game. More recently, in July 2009, James attended the Allen & Co. media-mogul fest at Sun Valley, Idaho where he played golf with Buffett, Bill Gates and Charlie Rose.
April 2008 Fortune features story on “What Warren Thinks...,” with cover quote: “You don’t want a capital market that functions perfectly if you’re in my business.”
In 2008, Buffett was then 77, and he had become richest man in the world that year, worth $62 billion according to Forbes, then beating out his old friend Bill Gates who had been No. 1 on the Forbes list for 13 consecutive years. Buffett was now more in the public eye than ever. As Adam Shell of USA Today reported in June 2008:
“…The billionaire investor is out talking to cable TV anchors. To magazines. To share- holders. To Congress. To foreign investors. To a former Wall Street analyst who is writing a book about him.
He’s generating newsy sound bites at press conferences. On airplanes. In impromptu TV interviews outside his home. Even in faraway places such as China, South Korea and major cities in the euro zone, where he just got back from a “European Tour.”
He’s even popped up in a CNBC documentary, The Billionaire Next Door: All Access, which delves into all things Buffett. Not to mention a recent guest appearance on the daytime soap opera All My Children….
But then came the economic crisis of September 2008. In some ways, the crisis helped put Buffett on even more of a celebrity track — now using his reputation to help explain the crisis, provide some perspective, and again help to reassure the nation. Buffett’s “dance card” for interviews, counsel, and economic assistance filled up with ever more appointments. Not the least of these were CEO callers from Fortune 500 companies in some distress, such as General Electric, a one-time Buffett darling.
In the financial crisis of 2008 Warren Buffett’s “Wall Street cred” and business celebrity were called upon to help companies in distress, here in a pitch for G.E.
A Word for G.E.
During the 2008 economic meltdown on Wall Street, the venerable General Electric corporation became part of the carnage, and Warren Buffet’s “business celebrity,” as well as his deep pockets, were tapped to help ease G.E.’s pain. On September 30, 2008, in an early morning phone call with G.E. CEO Jeffery Immelt, Buffet agreed to help G.E. to the tune of $3 billion — in return for which Buffett received a new issue of preferred stock and warrants which would allow Berkshire to buy an equal amount of common stock over the next five years. As Fortune magazine writers Geoff Colvin and Katie Benner explained in an October 2008 article “GE Under Siege,” the special preferred shares issued to Buffett carried a 10 percent coupon, which is paid out by GE from after-tax profits, making it some of the most expensive capital GE could then acquire. But G.E.’s Jeffrey Immelt — who had gone to Omaha for meetings with Buffett and had consulted with him often, according to Fortune’s Colvin and Benner — “was willing to pay a steep price for the reassurance the famed investor’s endorsement would bring.” Buffett soon appeared in advertisements for the company, lending his name, image and a personal endorsement over his signature for GE and its future. In one ad, shown above, the copy that ran with Warren Buffett’s photo offered the following: “Warren Buffett says… ‘GE is the symbol of American business in the world… I am confident that GE will continue to be successful in the years to come’.” Buffett and Berkshire also invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs a week earlier, with Buffett praising Goldman in a press release and TV interviews. He also appeared on a variety of business and talk shows during the economic crisis, including CNBC a number of times, The Charlie Rose Show, and others.
April 2009 Fortune magazine features Warren Buffett’s investment in electric car technology.
Throughout 2009 and early 2010, Warren Buffett continued to appear in the media, or otherwise make news with a Berkshire Hathaway move of one sort or another. In April 2009, he appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine as a champion of electric car technology. In November 2009, CNBC featured Buffett and Bill Gates in a two man cable TV special aired with an audience of business students at Warren’s alma mater, Columbia Business School in New York City. Buffett and Gates answered questions from students in an hour-long show hosted by Becky Quick on the state of the economy, America’s status as a financial super- power, the American Dream, corporate social responsibility and more. Buffett and Berkshire would continue to surface in the business and mainstream press throughout 2009 and 2010 whenever a major deal was announced, as in Berkshire’s acquisition of the Burlington Northern / Sante Fe railroad, a huge acquisition and “bet on the future” as Buffett called it — at $44 billion in total stake, the largest acquisition in Berkshire Hathaway history. Berkshire and Buffett also made news in January 2010 when the company was added to the Standard & Poors’ flagship S&P 500 stock index.
Warren Buffett with actress Glenn Close at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Wash., D.C., May 9, 2009. Photo, Reuters/Jim Bourg
As of early 2010, Warren Buffett was still a man on a mission, still in the public eye, and still trying to make a difference with his money. Time was short, of course, but he was determined to get things done. History will likely judge him kindly; as a man who generated wealth from a certain kind of knowledge, putting the proceeds, for the most part, to good and beneficial purposes, making the world a better place.
Since this story was first written in early 2010, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have launched “The Giving Pledge,” a campaign to encourage America’s wealthiest families to commit to giving away most of their money to philanthropic causes. The campaign targets billionaires and was made public by Buffett and Gates in June 2010. As of December 2010, more than 50 billionaires — including Paul Allen, Michael Bloom- berg, George Lucas, T. Boone Pickens, Ted Turner, and Mark Zuckerberg — have signed on.
Other stories at this website that feature businesses, business people, or related business stories that have had popular impact, or have penetrated mainstream culture in some way, include: “Ted Turner & CNN,” “G.E’s Hot Coal Ad,” “Wall Street’s Gekko,” and “Newsweek Sold!” Stay tuned to this website for more business stories in the future. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Celebrity Buffett, 1960s-2010,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 26, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Warren Buffett, Class of 1951, makes an educational pitch for the University of Nebraska in a billboard ad.
Warren Buffett on “The Charlie Rose Show.”
2008 political cartoon featuring candidate Barrack Obama highlighting Warren Buffett’s views on taxes.
Warren Buffett at 2007 annual meeting in Omaha flanked by son Peter and daughter Susie. Photo, Nati Harnik / AP.
Warren Buffett on the cover of Canada’s “Maclean’s” magazine, October 15, 2007.
From left, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, MSNBC TV host, Chris Matthews, and Warren Buffett on a panel at The Women's Conference in Long Beach, CA, Oct 22, 2008.
You know you’ve made your mark on popular culture when they start quoting you on T-shirts.
Screen shot from a 2008 CNBC television story featuring Warren Buffett, one of many such appearances there.
Warren E. Buffett, left, with Chicago Cubs baseball great and Hall-of-Famer, Ernie Banks, at minor league game in Omaha, August 10, 2007. Photo, Matt Miller/Omaha World-Herald.
Forbes magazine in March 2009, depicting Warren Buffett as one of the “clobbered” billionaires due to the economic downturn.
Warren Buffett with wife Astrid Menks at the annual Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, July 2006. Photo, Elaine Thompson / AP.
A Net Jets, Inc, magazine ad featuring Bill Gates and Warren Buffett riding in a Boeing buisness jet provided by the Net Jets company. Warren Buffett bought the company in 1995 and Bill Gates is also a stockholder in Net Jets.
Warren Buffett greeting Jeffrey Immelt, CEO, General Electric, before panel discussion on financial issues at Georgetown University, March 13, 2007 in Washington, DC, hosted by U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson Photo, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
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