Michael Paparo (1944 – 2007)

Michael Paparo [1] of Fort Lauderdale, Florida passed away on February 22, 2007. He is survived by his son Ari (me) and mother Bella (my grandmother).

Rich at age twenty-five on a fortune derived from bell-bottom jean knock-offs, and broke by thirty when the Hunt brothers cornered the silver market, Michael’s entrepreneurial ups-and-downs defined his life.

Where to start…

Garment center executive with a heart of gold. Michael built several women’s fashion businesses from nothing to substantial success, all while treating employees with respect. He personally chose the lines and designs to promote each season regardless of his severe color-blindness (“That’s brown? No it’s not!”). He printed money commercializing hippie fashion for the JC Penney crowd and single-handedly made “fringes” the hot look for the fashionable black woman of the 80s.

But Michael always had his sights set on more exciting ventures. A partial list of pursuits outside the garment business:

  • Concert hall owner and music producer (“Island Music Center“)
  • Farm owner
  • Business consulting (“Paladin” [2])
  • Gourmet street pizza (“Pizza ala Carte” [3])
  • Comic book investor (“SkateMan” [4])
  • Oldies concert producer [5]
  • Card-based personal organizer system
  • Golf-club-with-a-hole-in-it to reduce wind resistance
  • Shoe inserts designed specially for golf, tennis, etc (“Game Feet” [6])
  • Adult companion services [7]
  • Interactive weight loss seminars (“JustBeThin.com”)
  • And don’t forget, French Toast on a stick

Beyond his business ventures, Michael was a presence. During his time in New York, he seemingly knew everybody and everyone knew him. Not many people have fallen down a flight of stairs on top of Keith Richards [8]. Or let Cindi Lauper hang around his office because she was a friend of his receptionist. Or had a long affair with a woman who would fly down to Washington to serve as George H.W. Bush’s weekend call girl. Or consulted on security for one of the major Mafia families [9]. Or brokered a deal to prevent Mario Cuomo from running for President back in the 80s [10]. Or been an early promoter of Bruce Springsteen and uncredited producer on Frampton Comes Alive [11].

Business may have defined his life, but food drove it. Michael was a big man and had big appetites. When he would visit New York from Florida he would come with a checklist. Steak from Sparks or the Palm? Check. Papaya Hot Dog? Check. Slice? Check. Chinese? Check, usually twice. In the same way MSG enhances natural flavor, the word “Killer” would enhance any dining experience. After “Killer Chinese” we would plan for tomorrow’s meal of “Killer Italian.” Given his diabetes and heart disease the irony abounds.

michael paparo shirtless.jpg

Food wasn’t the only way to spread the love. Michael was a world-class enjoyer of the finer things in life. When Cadillac announced the last line of convertibles back in 1976, he bought six, one in each color. When the New York Mets were in the Series in 1969 he flew his cousin back from Memphis just to see the game (he told the airline that the ticket was for a player’s brother). When he went broke for the first time he told me we had to cut back, then immediately bought me an expensive lego toy, then asked me to take the bus home with the toy instead of a cab because, after all, we were cutting back.

So to everyone who knew or loved him, I hope you’ve found this page. He wasn’t a man the New York Times would feature in an obituary, but in his own way he shaped the world and made an impact on those around him and this is my way to share the memories. Leave a comment to share your thoughts or to correct the many inaccuracies and dubious assertions.

Important footnotes:

1. Other famous people named Michael Paparo include a sport radio broadcaster and an NBA referee. If you are a loved one of either of these individuals I hope you weren’t alarmed by the title of this posting.

2. The customized license plate on his ’64 Thunderbird convertible was “HGWT”, for “Have Gun, Will Travel“.

3. Name developed by me at age 13. Although quite snazzy, the name was a contradiction since the appeal of the cart was to add lots of serious toppings to the pizzas, not to serve it on its own. Also, in retrospect, is it really so hard to find a slice in Manhattan that you need carts on every corner?

4. Picture Spiderman wearing 1970s style roller skates and beaning bad guys on the head with a Frisbee. Buy a copy on ebay

5. I was involved in this scheme. We had lunch with Cousin Brucie at Ben Benson’s. Really.

6. A couple of points on GameFeet. First, this idea was ahead of its time. If you visit any sporting good or sneaker store you’ll see a section for high-end performance insoles. GameFeet was really the first company to do this. Second, the factory was in Mexico and Michael didn’t speak Spanish, so he spoke very slowly and said “si” and “uno” to give them instructions.

7. By far the most successful of his ventures, at least until legal problems hit hard. Said Michael: “It’s like I was born to do this.”

Also, on the “heart of gold” angle – Michael sponsored a get-out-of-debt program for his girls, so they could take their hard-earned cash and track progress against paying off credit card bills. The office was filled with posters of cards with red slashes cutting through them and the girls had to show how much progress they made each month. Totally serious, this happened.

8. Could you believe that Keith survived longer than Michael? Or that having Michael falling on you wouldn’t be immediately fatal? More proof that Keith really sold his soul a long time ago.

9. They hired him because “Jews are smart about this kind of stuff.” His main innovation was advising the Family to do some construction on their Little Italy private club. Once construction began they could get a permit to put a giant debris dumpster outside of the club, thus preventing easy surveillance from across the street or traffic.

10. This was by far the most complex and questionable tall tail that Michael could offer. The upshot was that after Donald Manes killed himself with a steak knife through the heart (sure, seems plausible) Michael (somehow?) convinced the Cuomo clan that running for President would unravel even more corruption scandals with his friends from the Mafia. Whatever. Good story.

11. This one always struck me as a bit suspect until I did some Googling and found that parts of the album were in fact recorded at Island Music Center. On the Springsteen part, the story changed over time, from knowing him to promoting his early shows.

February 26, 2007 12:53 PM

Comments from old blog

Baruch Dayan Emet–blessed is the true judge.

We met, I think, at some point back in 2000 or so in NYC at a networking event and I recently came upon your blog (5 mos or so ago) and enjoyed getting caught up.

Your dad must have been proud of you.

Interesting how a blog can make you feel connected to someone, eh?

Posted by: jer979 on February 26, 2007 03:06 PM

Oh, Ari, this is such a beautiful tribute. I always loved hearing about your dad’s ideas and had no idea how many there were. Thank you for sharing this with the world, so those of us who weren’t lucky enough to have met him can get a sense for the kind of guy he was.

Posted by: ANP on February 26, 2007 08:07 PM

great picture of michael and wonderful words and humor to go with. i regret not having known him a little bit more which makes me think first cousins need to know each other more. next time in new york will aim for some time with you and your family. xo me

Posted by: jane on February 26, 2007 10:24 PM

Perhaps you should slice your dad’s house apart piece by piece, you never know what might be in the walls.

Posted by: Jeff Pzena on February 27, 2007 01:13 AM

Very touching. Very interesting.

Posted by: John on February 27, 2007 04:53 PM

Hi Ari,

I am writing you from Singapore and on my flight here last Friday I had a dream that your Dad had passed away. As with many dreams they come and go, but today I remembered it and wrote your cousin Martin and he told me my dream was correct. Your dad was that way, always connected to me whether we were talking or not.

I remember so much of your tribute to him. It’s beautiful. And I know so much of the inside scoop. Did you know I actually named it Paladin Consulting? Anyway, your dad was one of the major mentors in my life. And he did have a heart of gold. He and I stayed connected over the years and for a while we lost touch. We reconnected 4 years ago and had many, many, manhy conversations. What was so beautiful was when we reconnected it was as if we never lost touch.

Your dad loved to give nicknames and we called each other Nick. Do you know why? He also gave one of my brother’s the nickname “Pierre” because he always wore a beret back in the late 70’s. My brother died this past year and I called him Pierre to that day.

Michael was also incredibly proud of you, your accomplishments, and your marriage. Every time we spoke he talked about you.

Michael was a great man. Truly one of a kind, and his contribution to me and so many others is immeasurable. I will never forget him.



Posted by: Harry Sloofman on February 28, 2007 02:29 AM

Michael was also one of the most interesting Guest Seminar leaders we had in New York at est in the 80’s. My first time as room captain (in charge of enrollments, supporting the Guest Seminar Leader, etc.) Michael was the Guest Seminar Leader. Very nervous my first time out, Michael “cleared” me by likening a Guest Seminar to good sex, in his inimitable way. That night we had 100% enrollment!

Posted by: Madalasa Mobili on February 28, 2007 09:28 AM

Ari, Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I forgot how much I loved your Dad. He truely did have a heart of gold and a bold and beautiful creative spirit that he used to live life fully. I am touched and though I haven’t seen him for over 20 years I miss him now.

Posted by: Audrey Sloofman on February 28, 2007 12:18 PM

Dear Ari,

I loved your Dad and was very sad to hear that he passed away. We had a great love affair many years ago and even though we could not stay togehter, the wonderful thing about love is that it never dies. Michael called me about a year and a half ago after we hadn’t spoken in some years and it was as if we had never been apart. Michael said once again that I was his straight man. We laughed and cried and he promised to visit me when he next came to New York to see you. I wish he was able to keep that promise. Yes, he planned to take me to the Palm.

Your tribute to him is beautiful and brought back many memories of my life with him and without him. He was indeed a great being fulfilling, as far as I can tell, some amazing karma.

I also remember you and Bella very fondly. When you were in grade school,you, Michael and I used to go to that rib restaurant on Sundays when you came to visit. We went to your barmitzvah together and I can still remember how proud of you he was and how much he loved you. We visited Bella at the house in Mayopac when your grandfather was still alive, and your aunts one holiday. If you think it would be appropriate, please send Bella my regards and very best wishes.

As you well know, Micheal had such heart and was always thinking up ways to live fully. Here are some that I remember:

1) One summer he and I created a theme – “In Search of the Best Lobster”. Every weekend we went to lobster restaurants from the most expensive to the dives all over New York, Long Island and Connecticut. We finally settled on a place over on 2nd Avenue if I remember correctly that had lobster specials on Monday nights for $14.95!
2)We also had a project where we sponsored a little girl we named Angel who lived in a very poor orphanage in the Dominican Republic. We sent clothes and money and then Michael said that was no good. So he arranged through a friend of ours to buy the ophanage a cow so the children would have fresh milk every day. He then got a number of our friends to buy chickens!
We were told that that made the biggest difference of anything they had every received and opened the door for the ophanage to be more self sustaning.
3) There was also a bed and breakfast Michael and I would stay at fairly regularly in Connecticut that we found on one of our adventures. Michael used to stay up half the night with the owner talking, smoking cigars, and drinking. I usually caved around the third round. But Michael became a good friend of Fritz and from then on when we drove up to the Inn very late on Friday nights, Fritz would leave a key under the mat for us to let ourselves in and a bottle of Port, sandwiches, cheese in our room. People always felt they could trust Michael and you really could.

Mostly I remember how he loved – you, me, life. He was in his way a gift to all of us.

I wish you all the best.

Posted by: Priscilla Marrero on March 9, 2007 05:46 PM

My dearest Ari,

A friend just emailed me to let me know that your beloved Dad is gone. I have not seen you or him since the 1980’s…I think the last time I saw you was the weekend that we all went to Fire Island together. It was a wild weekend with lots of people in the house, including Maurice and Tirzah and Armand and Andrea DeCarlo…. I kept the photo of all the people at the house that weekend on my desk for years.

Michael and I did so many fun things together. He took me on an extravagent and spectacular trip to Europe. We celebrated his birthday in Paris and my birthday in Venice. I took him to an elegant dinner in Paris at a restaurant where the ceiling was glass and rolled back so guests could eat under the stars on beautiful nights. Needless to say, he loved it.

In Venice we stayed in a room overlooking the Grand Canal, took Gondola rides and found a restaurant we loved so much we went back more than once. Being Italian I loved food as much as your Dad.

We also went to Haiti together, stayed in a beautiful resort, Michael also hired a guide to take us to the seedy side of Port au Prince. One of the things I loved about Michael was he could live large and also get down. too much fun…….
We had terrible food poisoning while we were there. But never say die Michael and I went out for an elegant dinner in the evening food poison and all. Who cared, life was to be celebrated.

Something else I loved about your Dad was his tough manly side and his soft loving side. One night when we were just hanging out at his apartment he polished my toe nails. His nickname for me was Puppy. I lived in California and we had a long distance relationship. There were these fantastic cookies from a New York bakery that I loved. He sent me a box of them and labeled them puppy food…..

You might remember the weekend Michael took you and me and I think one of your cousins to the Catskills and I twisted my ankle playing ping pong in high heels. Ever patient Michael took me to the hospital and took great care of me…. We all had a blast even though I was crippled….

I could probably go on and on about the great times we had together. Michael loved deeply and lived life largely. He was one of the great loves of my life.

Thank you for this site and for honoring him. You, Ari were truly the light of his life.

Sending big love,
Dianne Morrison

Posted by: Dianne Morrison on April 7, 2007 05:32 PM

Ari is it? I knew your dad. My partner would do his taxes, and I would handle your yaya’s investments. He was a very good guy with a good character. “o theos sihorestone” Greek for may god rest his soul.

Posted by: Nick Papas on May 13, 2007 12:59 AM