It’s been a very difficult day; a constant media firestorm of questions and queries. I’ve hardly had time to sit back and allow myself the time to soak in just what this loss means to the world of radio; to Groove Dogs….to me.
So, when I finally got the chance to decompress long enough to write this post, the hardest part was coming up with the title. What do you say about a man the caliber of talent that Mark was? Where does one even begin and then once started, how does anyone truly do him justice? I tried but I couldn’t think of anything more succinct. Sorry. I think in many ways the simplicity of it says it all. Simple title perhaps, but he was hardly a simple man.
On the contrary; Mark Stevens was bigger than life. He was one of the biggest men I’ve ever met. But that statement has nothing to do with his size, but rather his countenance. Oh yes, Mark could loom large. Depending on how secure you were, Mark could be damned imposing and intimidating. He didn’t scare easy, though it was always heartening in many ways to see that vulnerability peek through his dogged “fuck you” attitude. He had those moments. Sure they were few and far between, but they were there and when he let them exit that hard shell of his, it was extremely poignant. It was dichotomous to realize that such an outright, hardened asshole (and he was and would approve of me calling him one even as I mourn his loss) could ever be capable of expressing a true, human emotion. It almost gives one hope for the most lost of causes; like someone finally being able to broker peace in the Middle East…
I don’t think anyone really knew how old he was; he kept that very private. Mark kept many things private such as that which lived in the recesses of his heart. I got the feeling that sometimes, Mark was too different people in the same body. And sometimes, there was a violent game of tug of war going on in there. But when that ON AIR light came on, Mark Stevens the jock, the consummate radio man, took over.
As for Mark Stevens the man? Well, his clothing choices were always interesting–straight from the designer boutiques on Rodeo Drive. I remember Gucci ankle boots….European jeans; designer shirts made from THEE BEST best textiles that man (and illegal Guatamalen child labor) could produce. He drove a black Porsche and always parked valet regardless of the distance to the front door of the establishment. He smoked the best Cuban cigars and had taken (I think) at least five trips down the matrimonial aisle, though I feel certain his widow, Melissa was the love of his life.
Mark had style and a defined sense of mystery around him. He always wore sunglasses…even at night and that gave him a certain edginess. He had Louis Vuitton luggage. A full set, thank you. Mark was blatant about his love of excess and pretense. He’d come into the studio in the morning and rave about having dinner with some well-known celebrity the night before. Hakeem Olajuwan one night; Larry King the next. Now, make no mistake–Mark and his wife were movers and shakers and since she was/is a big Houston PR guru, they probably did have big names in their circle, but Mark could also exaggerate. It took us a while, but we finally figured out in true “Mark Speak”, that meant from time to time that he merely had dinner at the same restaurant at the same time as these celebs.
He always claimed to be Italian, yet looked more Lithuanian. He wore a silver bracelet that I think was worth two and half months of my current salary. He loved being rich and looking the part. He was vain. Oh yes, he was vain which probably masked rampant insecurity. And he could have, at times, a certain cheesiness to him. You could always tell when he was trying too hard, but for those of us who knew him and loved him, we accepted that the occasional “Velveeta Factor” was just part of the Mark Stevens experience.
He was every bit my radio father.
I learned from him; went to him in times of trouble, looked up to him. And like any insecure child, I tap danced unmercifully to impress him; to make him laugh because if I did, that was a coup. If you could make Mark Sevens laugh, you could seemingly move mountains. He taught me how to perform and write and create for a male audience. Do that and you’ve got a gender inclusive audience.
He was every bit my mentor.
And something else about Mark–he had a wonderfully loud, infectious laugh.
I remember the entire radio station that was Rock 101 KLOL had day long event underway in Clear Lake at one of the now defunct beach clubs there. Mark and Jim were hosting some “Miss Whatever” contest; one that I’m sure required audience response in order to select a winner from a slew of bikini clad women, most of which really shouldn’t be caught dead outside in the daylight, much less wearing a bikini in public.
This particular lake adjacent beach club was next to a restaurant with a lovely garden in the back and was often the scene of wedding and reception combos. This particular Saturday afternoon was no exception.
Well., as fate would have it, a wedding ceremony was taking place JUST as the “Miss Big Boobs or Whatever” contest was getting underway.
Permit me to speed up a bit. This DID NOT please the newlyweds–AT ALL and that was completely understandable. Music and crowd noise were polluting their ceremony. The wedding, which was videotaped, was brought before the City Council and a formal complaint was made. I got a call from a Council Member a few days later who conveyed the story to me. Seems the couple played the tape for the Council, angered that Stevens and Pruett had ruined their wedding.
As it happened, and according to the Councilman who saw the tape, just as the preacher asked if there was anyone present who has just cause why this couple should not be united, let them speak now or forever hold their peace, Mark in that loud, inimitable bellicose voice of his could be heard prompting a contestant , on a very live microphone, “Show us your tits, Honey! That’s right! Yank ’em out now!!!”.
And then I’m told, that was followed by that famous laugh of his.
The timing was perfect. Or imperfect if you were the couple. No legal action was taken that I know of…other than it took every ounce of restraint for the council members (all of which were Groove Dogs) not to laugh.
I’m sorry for this couple’s experience, but hey, getting Mark Stevens to officiate (even unwittingly) at your wedding is quite a coup!!!
Today, a million thoughts and memories like that one have flowed through my gray matter. I’ve been asked a million questions and I’ve given a million answers.
“What were your years like with Mark and Jim?”
My years with The Stevens and Pruett Show were Dickensian…the best of times; the worst of times. Bad because I lost a bit of myself during the show’s duration; good because I was able to find myself again.
And today, I find myself reflecting back on the illustrious 28 year career I’ve had in this crazy, F’d up biz. In that time, I have been unduly influenced by two men professionally; one of them was Mark Stevens. He believed in me; bullied me, harassed and harangued me; encouraged me; made me laugh then cry, hugged me, rebuffed me; made me deliriously happy; infuriated me, made me crazy then helped bring me back around to sanity once again. Working with Mark always brought one fill circle emotionally. Round and round and round you’d go. He was like this crazy pack mule with you as human cargo and one hoof nailed to the floor. Round and round and round you’d go, but you always enjoyed the ride…even in its non-circuitous monotony.
This only makes grappling with the fact that this brilliant man died from Alzheimer’s even more difficult.
When we worked together briefly during my days as News Director for FM News Channel 97.5, we were both on the air, interviewing Timothy Bottoms one Saturday afternoon. Mark was asking the actor a question and I looked down on the desk, and saw his hand shaking in this palsy-esque tremor. I went home and cried. It was like seeing a beloved parent as old for the first time. It was a difficult reality. I knew I was witnessing the beginning of the end.
I’;ve spoken with Jim Pruett, too. The morning we learned that Mark died, Jimmy was very distraught. Every day, it gets a little easier but I would still imagine this is a very painful time for him. Jim is refusing to speak to the media and I completely understand that. I’m sure Mark’s passing also has him thinking about his own mortality. Jimmy has had two heart attacks, but that’s what the death of someone close always does; it creates two reactions: fear-fueled self-awareness and sadness. Mark was his partner for decades. It was no different from a marriage really. So yes, Jimmy is devastated by the news. This was family. Jimmy is an only child and sadly, he’s just lost the only brother he’s ever known. For Jimmy, this has to feel like he’s lost Mark a second time.
Like Jim, I will miss him forever and I’m hardly the only one. Here are a few things my friends and other former KLOL colleagues are saying about the man, the myth, the legendary Mark Stevens:
Dr Betty Halpern, Internist To The Stars. who appeared on the Stevens and Pruett Show almost every week to field general health questions from listeners:
Iwas stricken to hear of the loss of Mark Stevens. I had heard of his illness and wish heartfelt sympathies to the lovely Melissa for being his sunshine for many years. I wish the last ones had been better.
Mark was nothing if not a difficult man. His exterior of barbs, thorns, and thick brick hid this amazing interior of marshmallow and caramel goo. Diagnosed as a dyslexic in the military, he did not realize his genius. I found it took me a few years to get through the thorns. He reached out to my kids when he heard they were dyslexic. He was kind to my elderly mom. He loved dogs. He cared for his dad lovingly, and bore the unexpected and premature death of his lovely daughter, Kim several years ago.
The end of his career went out like a lamb. I was honored to cohost on a last-minute basis for one his last programs, but was dismayed to find it had to do with food and wine. My kids would laugh to know this. Fortunately I thought quickly and simply asked him to explain to me the difference between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. This carried the next hour as he was also a wonderful chef. I learned that first press olive oil is the good stuff.
While he and I sparred on and off the air, I respected his work. I once asked him to what he attributed the longevity of his long, enduring marriage to Jim when he had not succeeded as well in his own marital endeavors. His answer was without delay, “It’s simple…I don’t screw Jim!”
Then the On Air light lit up and the show resumed with he, Jim and Brian in rare form.
Such an interesting, irascible and complex man. Such a huge loss. I pray he knew how much he was loved.
Martha Martinez, The News Muchacha:
I first met Mark in 1968 when I was a mere toddler and was visiting a wildly extravagant and wonderfully stylish boutique on Camp Bowie in Fort Worth called Mark Sebastian. Sebastian was my friend, the wildly extravagant, hip/rich/hippie clothes designer and manager of Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine who went by the name “Sebastian”. The Mark portion was of course, Mark Stevens.
“Holy crap! That guy’s looking over the doors into the dressing rooms!”
Little did I know that the impish actions of this stylish man were a tiny glimpse of sorts into my future.
Flash forward fifteen years or so and thanks to the Fates and the faith of Program Director, Randy Brown, I found myself in the KEGL-FM control room in Arlington, Texas…working with the bawdy, bombastic, Stevens and Pruett. My life was forever changed.
Yes, it was changed in more ways than I could have imagined. Changed, in the fact that my somewhat questioning view of the S&P brand of radio entertainment was changed…to a question… of “How do they DO that?!” My mind was opened to the brilliance of balancing “bad boy” bawdiness with intellectual word play; of offsetting seemingly simplistic schoolyard naughtiness with a worldly wink and nod to societal ills in need of healing and of turning plain old promotion into projects of compassion and care and dare I say, even awe. Stevens and Pruett were, indeed naughty but nice. Very nice.
Mark and Jim opened my life to new worlds of thought. They gave me new eternities of friendships I might never have otherwise known. They took me travelling to the other sides of oceans; introduced me to heroes I’ll never forget and included me in something that will never be forgotten.
THANK YOU, MARK, you cruelly brilliant, vain, hilarious, handsome, impeccably stylish, wonderful, mysterious man.
You are and always will be loved.
Lanny Griffith, The Traffic Master:
It’s a shame everyone couldn’t know Mark off the air. The Mark Stevens off the air was almost entirely different than the one the public got to see. Off the air, he was calm, quite, extremely reserved, and private. On the air, he was bombastic, demanding, demeaning and funny as hell, in that funny sort off grouchy-ass way that made us all l worship him.
He truly was focused on ” funny. ” I have never seen anyone so dead serious about joke telling. He massaged a joke as if it were a new-born baby. Mark left nothing to the imagination to his stories. Once he told the story with the punch line, you got it!
He was brilliant like George Carlin, but he kept his humor at a blue-collar level. He wanted everyone to enjoy his stories, and they did. No PhD needed to love the laugh that Mark Stevens produced. Surgeons, rocket scientist, engineers, even accountants loved his schtick!
How lucky I was to sit across from him for so many years and see both sides of Mark Stevens.
Craig Roberts, Sports:
I got a call from Mark in 1996. He said they were looking for a sports guy who “got the show”. I was their man. little did I know what I was in for…day one..Jim and Mark said I had to go through the S & P procedure. Mark proceeded to put duct tape on my bare chest and ripped off 30 or 40 years of chest hair. I knew I was in the big time. Between strippers and free breakfasts I learned how much fun it was to ‘HAVE FUN”. I also knew how special it was since none of the staff members were amateurs. They were screwballs, but not rookies.
Additionally, Mark decided that I needed a theme song. Several of the show members sang my name to the tine of the old Gillette Blue Blade commercial. My God, it’s amazing…people still sing that song to me ten years later. That was something.
So was Mark Stevens.
I never missed a day of work on that show and never left it without seeing 3 naked babes, and wolfing down free morning steaks and tequila.
I’ll miss Stevens for a lot of reasons. I’ll always miss broadcasting and the way it should be.
The way radio was. The way it used to be. Past tense.
The way it will never be again.
There is a tremendous amount of pain and sadness in that statement.
And I’ll say this while I’ve got the forum: forced retirement is a killer. I agree with former show producer, Bobby W. when he said in my comments section that Mark would probably still be alive today and in better mental and physical health had he not been let go, in the way he was let go from KLOL ten years ago. It was egregious and internal and NEVER should have happened. How in God’s name do you tell a man, who made millions for a radio entity, that suddenly because of corporate greed, he’s no longer viable? What does a 66-year-old man do with his life when his whole life was spent on the air making laughter; making memories and making a lot of money for a lot of people??? One minute he’s a Radio God who spent decades as the driving force behind one of the most succesful mornig radio shows in the history of broadcasting.; one ten minute post-show meeting with the station’s General Manager/slash executioner and he’s leaving the building just another jobless statistic.
Make no mistake; I’m devastated and heart-broken about his physical death, but God help me, I’m still very angry at the premature death of his radio career. Corporate greed and misplaced ego plunged the knife in deeper. Therefore, this professional death wasn’t due to natural causes at all; it was, as far as I’m concerned, murder and there is metaphoric blood on the hands of a lot of people tonight–and I still believe that all these years later.
The morning he was fired, I watched him leave the building that housed KLOL for the very last time. A sad, dejected man who’d given so much of himself to a station…an industry, simply walked to his car and drove away. There was no fanfare; no words, no send off, no nothing. It was incredibly cruel. As I sat there, I knew this was the end of a magical era for radio and beginning of a very sad one for everyone on both sides of the radio speakers. Turns out, I was right. But it is indeed an homage to Mark , that nothing…NOTHING was ever the same after that dismal February day in 2000.
As far as I’m concerned, with Mark Stevens’ passing, terrestrial radio has just died a second death.
He was a beloved figure; hardly the easiest man to get along with but he knew radio and he knew what made good radio. He was very generous and never threatened by anyone elses talent or comedic chops. In fact, he applauded genuine talent. He afforded so many their chance at the mike and the spotlight that accompanied it. All you had to do was give your best; and you got it in return. The show’s equation was just that simple.
In closing, the outpouring of love for him has been extraordinarily touching. I think he would have scoffed at the attention, but a I think that soft, fluffy nougat part of Mark’s ego would have loved to have known he was this loved. And he was. He always will be. I was lucky–I got to tell him that I loved him. And I did. I loved him like a father. I proudly say that this is no sentiment uttered for the first time upon hearing news of his death. I couldn’t be that calloused or that petty. My feelings for him are real and have never wavered.
In fact, I am who I am today, largely because of his tutelage and a part of me will never be the same. In many ways, I don’t want it to be.
Mark Stevens is dead.
Long Live The Radio God.
For more on the history of the Stevens and Pruett Show, its lengthy run on the legendary rock station, KLOL-FM and of course, its incredible cast of characters, click here.