Lionel Ritchie's Reverse Purse-Grab

The operative word here is “reverse”. And only in Beverly Hills could this happen. A car purse-snatching usually involves a smash and grab off of the passenger seat when the driver is stopped at a traffic intersection. The thief is in and out in seconds. Well, the reverse actually happened to Lionel Richie one night at the Polo Lounge right after he left the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was recounted to me by Doug Brotherhood, one of the veteran waiters and a longtime friend at the Polo Lounge who, like myself, has had multiple interactions with Mr. Richie. Lionel Ritchie, the energy source of any room he happens to be in, has always been one of our favorites to be around. He is a man at peace with every every room he is publicly thrust into. One day they will learn how to bottle his uniquely positive potion of human electricity.


Here's a side example, unrelated to this post: one night at the Hotel Bel Air, a large group of executives were toasting the overseas success of one of his compilations at a table right next to the piano where I was playing. He was the guest of honor, and nearly being swallowed by congratulatory business suits and loud banter. Nobody noticed me nor engaged me, I was just there doing my thing. Suddenly the mini board meeting party was over and the table emptied so fast it was like the wind had come and blown them all away. About 30 seconds later, Lionel came rushing back in, by himself, straight to me, and said “Man, you were jammin! I loved it-amazing player!” He made sure I felt his sincerity, and it seemed like only then he felt he could leave. How does a person like him do that?? To have the thoughtfulness, the —well, it will never be forgotten. There are other even more sensational dealings I’ve had as “factory room pianist” with Lionel, but they need a separate blog post. Tonight’s episode is not at all about me.


So on this occasion, Lionel was having dinner with friends in the Polo Lounge. As he was getting up to leave, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a large wad of bills from which he selected a tip. He was starting to fold up and put the remaining wad back in his pocket when just then, some people he knew came up to him, and rather than awkwardly take the time to re-stuff it, or shake hands with a handful of cash, he smoothly slid the entire wad under the check presenter momentarily. Somehow, Lionel managed to leave without retrieving the cash, simply walking out into the night. Doug came around, noticed that hundreds of dollars were left behind, along with the tip, and looked around realizing Lionel was gone. He picked up the dough and ran outside, and reached the valet podium where they told him that Mr. Ritchie had just pulled away a moment before. Instinctively, Doug immediately sprang into action and bolted after the fading taillights of Lionel’s Mercedes.


Being a triathlon-level cyclist and hockey player would end up working to his advantage, for he caught up with the car just as it had to stop for the red light on Sunset Boulevard. Doug approached the side window, knocked feverishly on the glass and gestured for the driver to roll the window down. A shocked and bewildered Lionel turned to see not a purse-jacker, but a smartly-dressed, panting Doug, who politely reached in and handed the cash to Lionel with a courteous “I think you’ll be wanting this!” Lionel broke into a smile of relief, and was profusely grateful, thanking him while shaking his head in disbelief. And so it would be that a reverse purse-snatching would go down in Beverly Hills this night, where an unsuspecting driver on the street, at a stoplight in the late evening, would be startled by loud tapping on his car window, only to be handed lots of cash by a charming person in a cool white coat, sprinting away through the darkness in polished black loafers.


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