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   Mon, June 14, 2004



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COMMENT





Charles was a real prince
By BRET 'HITMAN' HART - SLAM! Wrestling
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What a week!

I'm still reeling from the heartbreak of our beloved Calgary Flames not being able to bring the Stanley Cup home to Canada.

And now, on top of that, almost lost among the headlines about the death of Ronald Reagan, I read about the death of the father of soul, Ray Charles.

Over the years, I've had the privilege of meeting some very famous people.

Some who come to mind: Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Donald Trump, Joe DiMaggio, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

But there have been a few famous people I've met who were nothing but big disappointments and I never saw them in the same light again.

The nicest, friendliest, happiest superstar I ever met was none other than Ray Charles.

He was on a flight from Calgary to Chicago. He'd played here the night before and was in a terrific mood.

I recognized him right away.

He was slapping his thigh, rocking back and forth laughing, talking to anybody and everybody.

I sat beside him, studying him for a while, as the entire first-class cabin seemed to come to life. Soon everybody was laughing and talking and I realized this man's joyful aura was contagious.

I never once interrupted him.

Instead, I sat back and took in the show.

Afterwards, when I got off the plane to make my connection in Chicago, Charles and his people checked in at the gate across from me. One of his handlers came over and told me 'Mr. Charles' was well aware WWF wrestlers were on the plane and he wanted me to know Ray was a huge fan of mine.

He invited me over and, although I'd sat with Ray Charles for a whole flight, I got to meet him for the first time.

He asked me with the wonderment of a little kid just what would possess me to get in the ring with someone like Yokozuna or the Undertaker.

I was fascinated by the very idea a blind man was still such a big wrestling fan.

As I talked with him, he was animated and full of life. I forever loved him after that.

Here's a guy who really loved being a celebrity but wasn't burdened by it.

Last fall, I attended a charity function in Toronto. The invited celebrity guests were asked to sign a few autographs to help out some sick and handicapped kids.

Lo and behold, one of Canada's top pop divas was sitting at a table right behind me.

I knew my youngest daughter, Beans, was one of her biggest fans but I didn't want to bother her for an autograph because there were about 10 people standing near her table waiting for her to sign.

She suddenly stood up and declared, "I don't do this!" and stomped off with her entourage of about a dozen people.

I don't think she's even 20 years old -- obviously, she still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of blessings to count.

She should learn to take a page out of Ray Charles' book. He was a class act.