LAST OF THE GREAT TIMES
David Vee and Ronnie
Biggs in Rio as the last curtain falls.
looked like William Burroughs fragile older brother'.
We just met Ronnie Biggs & his son Michael, and what a gas, a highlight,
the thrill of Rio. What did we expect? A photo yes; an autographed t-shirt,
big deal. No. No! No!! This man has style, charm, panache. Sure he had
a stroke 6 months ago, but he can walk, shake hands and is extremely lucid.
Unfortunately though, he cannot talk (only mumble a few words).
He's on the mend however, 'twas actually his second stroke having had
one 2 years earlier. Let's hope he will be eloquent soon. His son was
charming; told us stories, gave us a beers, a real entertainer. Here we
were in the house of a living legend, -- 'The one that got away' -- and
it was tasting truly special.
Let's back up a bit. We'd been in Rio just over a week and it was Carnival
2000. Party, Party, Party-time; Copacabana Beach, The Sambodromo, Christ
the Redeemer, soccer at Maracana Stadium. 'Twas all a happenin'; the energy
of the city was pumping and YingYing and I were having a goooood span.
We'd telephoned earlier in the week to arrange the meeting. Michael had
told us about Ronnies state of health but said a get together could still
transpire. Ergo, 5 days later here we were in Santa Teresa, one of Rio's
most historic, bohemian and beautiful neighbourhoods chatting with Michael
Biggs and learning a few tales about Ronnie. But where was Ron?
We spent a good hour listening to Michael parley as other guests/fans
arrived. We heard some great stories about his Dad as well as a few tales
about himself. You see Ron had been allowed to stay in Brazil all this
time due to the fact that he has a Brazilian son (Michael). 25 years ago
the Brit cops had Ron locked up in a Rio gaol ready for the flight back
to England, when he learnt -- from another inmate -- about his self made
ticket to freedom.
YingYing, I and the other 4 guests ascertained and became attached; 'tis
true we were already the converted. Although YingYing had not heard much
about him and I had read mostly about him in my youth.
Biggsy junior talked whist Ronnie apparently was getting prepared. Michael
showed us an uncompleted movie being made by a musician -- ex Skyhook,
Bob Starkie. It was intriguing, informative and showed Ron in his charming
laid back bon-vivant style. There was footage of him in Rio and London
and details of how he was lucky to escape, twice.
I knew of his recording and video clip with the Sex Pistols, but what
I didn't know, is that he was only paid $1,000 for his efforts of singing
lead vocals. Yet the song sold 7 million copies. On the movie footage
Malcolm McLaren jokingly said, "Ronnie, if you want the money, you'll
have to come back to get it." Yeah hup.
I was a mild fan before today, but now I'm yearning for more. He had his
70th birthday in August 1999; invited more than 100 friends from all over
the planet to help him celebrate. Ronnies backyard swimming pool waxed
replete with English beer and cases of champagne. Old pals, current affiliates
and new beaus helped him celebrate night and day for 1 week. Unfortunately
it seemed 'twas all too much for Ron, soon after he had his second stroke
and was now in rehabilitation.
Then finally, after about 45 mins Ron made his entrance. He was thin,
nothing like his photos or film. He actually looked like William Burroughs
fragile older brother. He could still walk allright and shook all our
hands as he entered. We're all in awe of this frail main. Allowing for
his physical condition, the verve in his eyes was amazing. He managed
to mumble a few hellos but none of us were sure what to expect next. He
seemed a shadow of his past glory days. Ron sat down and Michael resumed
It was amazing in his house. Forget Carnival -- this got me high. The
anticipation, the aura, ambience; his energy not withered at all by age.
This guy was a star. A legend, a natural and his son was not far behind.
Michael, protagonist of a children's vocal group at age 6 'Turma do Balao
Magico' - Magic Balloon Gang. Who had numerous platinum discs and toured
all around Brazil, bringing home some big fat cheques. Which came in handy
as Sir Ron has never been allowed to work in Brazil. (It's part of his
non extradition deal.)
We observed Ronnie and Michael. Questions were asked and photos and films
were shown. This man still had presence. Although in the early stages
of recovery this gaunt chap bled our emotions without hardly uttering
a word. I genuinely fell for this father and son routine.
We heard about his time in Australia; how he had to leave his wife behind;
how he managed to stay in Brazil due to having a son. About his 70th birthday.
How his autobiography "Odd Man Out" took 1 year to write. We
were all on his side. After 2 scintillating hours it was time to leave.
Photos were taken & signed T-shirts were provided (for $30 each).
He shook our hands
twice as we left; firm and resolute.
I wondered why this man would want people to come to his house. Does he
money? Is it his appetite for fame? Therapy?
What I saw in his eyes was a "lust for life", a lust for good
times. This man loves
people, loves fame. He wants to keep on keeping on. I for one hope he
can. And his
strength, when he clasped me round my back and squeezed -- as our photo
was taken --
gave me a rush and a high shiver that declared he would.
Go Ronnie Go -- The man destined to be
"The one that got Away"
Of course that will need amending now. 'The one who got away until medical
expenses got so high he had to surrender'. Not quite the stuff of legend
now, but for time there, Ron was a god.
He's back in blighty now, banged up in the hospital wing. Visiting time
will never be the same again. BIGGS update June 4th. Ronnie is in the
prison hospital and suspected of having a third stroke. He can hardly
speak and his son Michael has been in to see him.
David and yingying
More travel pieces at HACKTREKS
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