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Pat Boone's not ready to retire just yet

Peter Larsen
Orange County Register (MCT)

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Let's make this clear right up front: Pat Boone, the '50s teen idol turned all-around entertainer and entrepreneur, doesn't have to work another day in his life.

At 75, Boone could spend his days on the golf course if he wanted — there's one just across the yard, in fact, from the home he and wife Shirley bought in the Coto de Caza community in Orange County, Calif., a few years back.

But while his offices in West Hollywood look like a museum to all things Pat — with gold records and movie posters and memorabilia covering the walls — Boone says he's not done yet.

"My wife and I are talking right now how to slow down," he says with the smile that made him the wholesome hit of the pop charts and teen magazines of the late '50s. "But here I am creating a new theater in Myrtle Beach (S.C.) and a PBS special and a radio format.

"I can spell 'n-o' I just can't say it," Boone says. "I've always said yes to every good idea I've seen."

Which explains why he's busy putting together a special that will run on PBS stations in March, busy preparing to open and book a musical theater on the South Carolina coast, busy with the Gold Label record company, busy with his latest book, and a host of other projects.

"I can see the potential," he says of the ideas he takes on as projects. "And if I'm working with somebody, I want to see them succeed, too."

Which, in a certain light, is how Boone came to be a part-time resident of Orange County in the first place.

It's a sad story Boone tells as he sits in a well-worn office chair with a panoramic view of Los Angeles in the sunshine and haze behind him.

In June 2001, his grandson Ryan Corbin, then 24, fell through a skylight in the roof of his apartment building and plummeted 40 feet to the floor below.

"The paramedics felt he was in the throes of death," Boone says of the devastating internal injuries Ryan suffered. But the family prayed and held to their faith and after Ryan made it through the first days and weeks after the accident he eventually moved into an Orange County care center.

"We were going down there every weekend," Boone says, and in the years that followed — especially after Boone's daughter Lindy, Ryan's mother, moved her family to Coto de Caza — his ties to Orange County grew stronger.

The family started a charity, the Ryan's Reach Foundation, to help families of others coping with brain injuries, Boone and the family are always at the foundation's annual fundraisers including 5K run in Dove Canyon and a golf tournament in Coto De Caza.

"We were always there," Boone says, describing how over the years Ryan, now 33, has surprised many of his doctors with the progress he's made.

"We thought we'd get a condo, but they showed us a home right on the golf course, and Shirley said, 'This is our house."

Pat Boone says he would love nothing more than a chance to be one of the celebrity mentors on "American Idol."

"It would be fun if 'American Idol' said, 'Here's a guy who sold 45 million records,' although I don't know if it will happen. Because I think over the years, the younger people in the entertainment industry, because of my other activities ..."

He trails off, but it's clear where that sentence is headed: Boone's strong Christian beliefs and views on political issues such as gay rights, especially in his weekly opinion columns, aren't exactly mainstream Hollywood material.

Even so, from a purely historical point of view, Boone makes a good case as the original 'Idol,' who for three straight weeks in 1953 won the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour" — a talent show where viewers picked the winners — and by doing so landed a recording contract and a stream of hit singles throughout the last half of the '50s.

"I recorded starting in 1955, and in the first 11 months of my career — before Elvis's first (hit) single, 'Heartbreak Hotel' — I had six million-selling singles," Boone says, not mentioning, though it's well known, that Presley opened for him before his own stardom exploded.

Boone was such a big star — and a "safer" star in many ways than Presley — that at 23 he landed a television variety show, "The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom." Each week huge stars — Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Count Basie, to name just a few — came onto the show to perform songs on their own or as duets with Boone.

Those shows, which Boone owns and which have almost never been seen since they originally aired, are being edited into the PBS special, "Pat Boone — Love Letters In The Sands Of Time," which will air March 6 during the annual pledge drives held at stations around the country.

"I'm amazed," he says of the experience of looking at the shows again after so many years. "For a kid, 22, 23, to walk onto the set and host people like Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and sing with them and act like I belong with them?

"They had to look at me as a raw kid," he says. "But we made it work."

Boone says he can't resist an appealing idea and just hearing the things he's gotten involved with in the last year or so bears that out.

—"Questions About God" is his most recent book, this one self-published because he and co-author Cord Cooper wanted a chance to make their case for the existence of God.

—"The Boone Box" is an inexpensive MP3 player he had pre-programmed with 40 of his own gospel tracks and pitches to an audience of seniors who don't know how or want to be bothered with downloading digital music.

—"Pat Boone 24/7" is the endless loop of practically every song Boone has recorded, some of them so obscure he jokes even he doesn't know what they are when he stumbles on them on his Web sites, PatBoone.com and PatsGold.com, where you can listen to them anytime you like.

Most recently he struck a deal to perform and help run the Pat Boone Family Theater in Myrtle Beach. S.C.

"I'll come in and sing, and maybe bring some of my family," he says, noting that while daughter Debby Boone had a huge hit with the '70s pop tune "You Light Up My Life," his wife and other three daughters are also singers.

When not performing, he's agreed to book acts into the theater for 160 nights a year, drawing heavily from the nostalgia acts on his record label, the Gold Label, and from the performers feature on the radio format he co-owns, the Music Of Your Life, which currently plays on 40 or 50 stations around the country.

Asked again why he keeps going in so many different directions at an age when most people start to take it a little easy, Boone laughs and says again that he just can't help himself.

"I've often said I can't keep the creative ideas from playing in my head," he says. "And I'm able to do something about them."


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