"Where Are They Now?" 

Yesterday's heroes and villains are gone but not forgotten.

Sidney Shlenker

Back in 1989, our sister publication, Memphis magazine, named Shlenker "Memphian of the Year" and portrayed him on the cover as an angel. The former owner of the Denver Nuggets had come to town with grandiose plans for developing The Great American Pyramid (as it was then called) into a world-class attraction, complete with a Grammy museum, Hard Rock Cafe, college football hall of fame, inclinator rides to the top, and even a bizarre Egyptian-themed entertainment complex to be called Rakapolis. Mud Island, which would somehow be incorporated into this bizarre venture, would be renamed Festival Island.

The Pyramid got built, of course, but nothing else did, and Shlenker left town, leaving Memphians holding a bag full of past-due construction bills. In 1991, our former Memphian of the Year earned a Memphis magazine "Kudzu Award" (our version of Esquire's "Dubious Achievements") and was featured on the cover as a comical Humpty-Dumpty figure atop The Pyramid that had been his downfall.

Things got worse. After he left Memphis, Shlenker moved to Los Angeles, where he made the national news as one of the high-profile clients (along with actor Charlie Sheen and others in the movie industry) of notorious "Hollywood Madame" Heidi Fleiss, who went to prison for running a top-dollar prostitution ring. Then, his California sports-promotion firm was investigated for possible links to organized crime. And in 1998, he was severely injured in an automobile crash, which has left him paralyzed from the chest down. The former master of hyperbole has not spoken to the media in years. -- Michael Finger

Brett Kimberlin

Kimberlin, the subject of two early-'90s Flyer cover stories, first gained attention in 1988 when he told NPR journalist Nina Totenberg from a prison in Indiana that he had sold pot to Dan Quayle when the then-vice-presidential candidate was in law school. Within days (and within days of the 1988 presidential election) media interest grew, a press conference was scheduled and then canceled. Prison officials restricted access to Kimberlin, making this convicted drug smuggler and bomber a self-proclaimed "political prisoner."

In 1992, The New Yorker published a lengthy article about Kimberlin's claims -- again just days before a presidential election. The article's author, Mark Singer, then wrote a book, sharing his contract fee with Kimberlin. While working on the book, Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin, published in 1996, Singer began to question the veracity of his subject's claims, especially those about Quayle buying drugs.

Kimberlin was released from prison, was returned to prison, and was released again, the last time in June 2001. He has filed a number of lawsuits, among them a civil case against the Department of Justice stemming from the 1988 restrictions, which he argued violated his First Amendment rights. A final appeal of that case was rejected by the Supreme Court in March 2001. More recently, Kimberlin was involved in another First Amendment lawsuit against the Department of Justice, this time because of a prison ban of electric guitars. That suit was rejected this month.

Meanwhile, Kimberlin is a guitarist and vocalist for the D.C.-based band Epoxy. Epoxy released its first album, Nothing Else, last summer. -- Susan Ellis

Peter Law

The last time the Flyer talked to Dr. Peter Law, he was injecting muscular dystrophy patients with immature muscle cells, suing his critics to the tune of $11 million, and running a self-launched nonprofit foundation.

More than five years later, he's won his lawsuit, switched his foundation to a for-profit, and using the same immature muscle cells -- myoblasts -- on patients with heart disease.

"This is basically cutting-edge heart treatment," says Law. "About a month ago, three heart patients were injected with myoblasts" [from thigh tissue of young healthy Asian males]. The donor cells augment the heart function and make the heart muscle stronger."

Five years ago, Law claimed he cured patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy by injecting their muscles with myoblasts, but other researchers who tried the same procedure didn't have the same results. He still performs the surgery -- although outside the United States because it is not approved by the FDA -- but Law says his intention was always to focus on the heart.

"Let's say you need a heart transplant," Law says. "Last year, there were only 2,600 hearts available for transplant. Around the country, there is an urgent need for this type therapy."

Law's heart treatment, if it works, would provide a low-cost alternative to heart transplant operations.

"All three patients are very safe. There's been no rejection of the tissue, no fever," says Law. And although he says the heart was to be his real focus, he already has other problems he wants to try tackling with myoblasts: first, diabetes; then cosmetic possibilities. "Say women want bigger breasts or thicker lips. We'll take muscle cells from their thighs and give them a series of injections. The myoblasts will completely replace silicone. They will give a better shape, and they will survive, develop, and function." -- Mary Cashiola

Bill "Superfoot" Wallace

With a karate kick timed at more than 60 miles per hour, Wallace had earned a national reputation before he moved to Memphis in the early 1970s to open the Tennessee Karate Institute with co-owners Patrick Wrenn and Red West. Among his students: a certain performer named Elvis Presley, who once flew a Los Angeles acupuncturist to Graceland to treat Wallace after a sparring injury.

Wallace, a native of Portland, Indiana, also taught kickboxing at the University of Memphis for several years. In 1980, after a 15-year tournament career that included an unprecedented 23 straight victories (many of them knockouts), Wallace retired as the undefeated middleweight champion of the Professional Karate Association.

These days, Wallace lives in Clearwater, Florida. His hair may be a bit gray, but his belt is still black. He owns Superfoot (SuperFoot.com), where he licenses the "superfoot system" of kickboxing instruction to some 25 martial-arts schools. The author of three books on karate, he lectures and gives demonstrations throughout the country. He also served as the bodyguard for John Belushi and has been a trainer and sparring partner for Jackie Chan and Mickey Rourke. Last year, Wallace returned to Memphis for his induction into the Elvis Presley Memorial Martial Arts Hall of Fame. -- MF

Tav Falco

He was born Gus Nelson, but he became one of the foremost characters in a city full of them as "Tav Falco," founder, alongside Alex Chilton, of the infamous, art-damaged roots band Panther Burns in the late 1970s. With reverence for the city's blues and rockabilly heritage and irreverence for anything else, Falco's "band" sold fewer records in its career than Millington's Justin Timberlake will sell this week, but they formed an aesthetic template for much of Memphis' underground music for the next two decades.

Immortalized in Robert Gordon's scene history It Came from Memphis, Falco has been out of sight for most of the past decade, popping up briefly in 2000 with his first album in five years, Panther Phobia.

Contacted via e-mail, Falco says that "the seemingly ongoing demand for our music has landed me in an artist's garret in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, not far from Place Stalingrad and the city's largest park, Butte Chaumont." With Paris as a home base, Falco seems to be living the life one might expect from such an international man of mystery, spending four months in Buenos Aires "researching the tango" and playing in Russia recently for the first time ever.

Asked about his present ties to his old home, he responds, "Do I miss Memphis? After living 17 years in the Bluff City, I have to answer that Memphis is a part of me. ... I miss riding my Norton deep in the night around Overton Park, then swooping down the Parkway to Riverside Drive and back out to the Florentine villa on Walnut Grove at 3 in the morning to lean my head against the piano leg of Bill Eggleston's Steinway and listen to his fingers implicate the melodies of Chopin." -- Chris Herrington

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Rheta Grimsley Johnson was the Cal Ripken of newspaper columnists, first for The Commercial Appeal and then for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and King Features. For 20 years she wrote, with rare exceptions, four columns a week, putting a couple million miles on various cars in search of column fodder all over the South.

Last year, she finally backed off, tired of the grind, the travel, and a growing estrangement from the home office in Atlanta. She writes one column a week for King Features and is working on a couple of other writing projects.

"It's nice writing one column," she says. "I can have some fun with it."

Writing four columns, she says, had become a drag, and she found herself "writing about everything that happened in my life and repeating myself."

For several years she has owned a house in Iuka, Mississippi, near Pickwick Lake. She now divides her time between Iuka and a cabin in the bayou country of Louisiana. They're both off-the-beaten-path places populated by unpretentious people with interesting stories to tell -- the sort of places, in other words, that she used to write about four times a week. -- John Branston

Bill Applegate

In 1998, when Bill Applegate was hired as the new head of WMC-Channel 5, his reputation as a gun-slinging, tabloid-television promotions man preceded him. In a Flyer cover story, writer Jim Hanas quoted a former Applegate colleague in Chicago who said: "Bill Applegate can strut sitting down."

He strutted for a couple years at WMC, adding sensationalist touches (Promo spots for the station's "Food for Thought" segment were charged with such language as "tune in for the gross details.") and hyped, breathless newscasts. But Applegate's career specialty was taking stations at the bottom of the ratings heap and moving them up. WMC, the Memphis market's perennial news ratings leader, was never really his cup of tea. In February 2001, he left WMC to take on management at two Raycom stations in Cleveland.

Now he's back in his element, trying to take that city's woeful bottom-feeder, WOIO, to the top. He's changed management and on-air talent, and added a new "Action News" format. Results have been minimal so far. WOIO is still last in the ratings. -- Bruce VanWyngarden

David Hersh

Baseball season is just around the corner and for the first time in years it looks like David Hersh won't have a piece of the action.

Hersh was the last owner of the Memphis Chicks before the team moved to Jackson, Tennessee, five years ago and was renamed the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Hersh ran the team in Memphis for five years and was a vocal advocate for improvements to Tim McCarver Stadium and, later, for a new ballpark. Memphis, of course, got a new ballpark and a new team, the Redbirds, but Hersh was out of the deal.

As he did in Memphis, Hersh arrived in Jackson with high hopes and high praise and left under acrimonious circumstances. The city of Jackson sued him and he, in turn, sued the city of Jackson. He and his ownership group sold the team last September for $7.25 million.

Hersh now lives in Tampa. He says he's unlikely to take over a team this season but is "evaluating different fields right now. I haven't made up my mind."

He's not far from the game he loves. A half-dozen major-league teams have their spring-training headquarters in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and Hersh says he'll be taking in some games next month. -- JBranston

Memphis T. Mississippi

In the early 1980s, a local artist certainly made a name for herself -- literally -- by calling herself Memphis T. Mississippi. The "T" stood for Tennessee. Not only did her watercolors focus almost exclusively on Mississippi River themes and images, she even designed and wore bright-colored, flowing gowns with patterns that suggested waves and river currents. When she wasn't painting, she worked as a docent for the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island.

In the late 1980s, Memphis married and moved away. The Lighthouse Gallery in Bartlett still displays and sells her paintings featuring Tom Lee Park, the riverbluffs, and the Mississippi that she found so fascinating. Gallery owner Buddy Kelso says she moved to Russia for a few years then returned to the U.S., and she and her husband, John Bailey, are now living in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio -- hundreds of miles from the river she loved so much. Attempts to reach her before presstime were unsuccessful. -- MF

Natalie Allen

Former CNN and WREG news anchor Natalie Allen has retired from the public eye to a very private life -- so private that she wouldn't return phone calls to the Flyer.

"She lives in Atlanta and occasionally does freelance media training for [Atamira Communications]. I can tell you she is very private about her life and doesn't like to be in the limelight now that she has left television news," says Bobbie Battista, former CNN co-anchor and co-founder of Atamira Communications.

Atamira Communications is a media-relations firm specializing in strategy and training for both corporations and politicians.

After her stint at Channel 3, which she began in 1985, Allen moved on to cover the space industry for WRTV in Orlando. She then landed a position on CNN's Live Today in 1993. She held that position until late 2001 when the network, under new executive leadership, developed a strategy to create "star" newscasters. Allen, Battista, and several other long-time anchors were asked to resign.

Allen is listed as number seven in "The Ultimate 50" on the "best of" hair Web site, Super-Hair.net. In 1997, Allen appeared in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster as a CNN news anchor. -- Bianca Phillips

Denny McLain

Denny McLain was the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1968, a 31-game winner as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, and arguably the most famous ballplayer in America that summer. He was 25 years old and seemed to have the brightest of futures. Eight years later, his career was finished and he landed in, of all places, Memphis.

In 1976, McLain, part showman and part con man, was general manager of the Memphis Blues minor-league baseball team, which was forerunner of the Memphis Chicks, which was forerunner of the Memphis Redbirds. He managed to run a promising franchise into the ground, and for the next two years Memphis was without professional baseball.

McLain had several brushes with the law after his baseball career ended. In 1997, he was sentenced to 97 months in prison for mail fraud, pension fraud, and money laundering in Michigan. Now 58, he is incarcerated at the Federal Corrections Center in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

He is scheduled to be released this summer. Nobody in major-league baseball has won 30 games since 1968.

-- JBranston

Dayna Devon

Formerly the apple of onetime Flyer media writer Jim Hanas' eye (and not only his), Dayna Devon, the onetime news anchor for WPTY-TV, Channel 24, parlayed what Hanas saw as a rare combination of "wit" and "beauty queen" looks into a plum job in 1999 with Extra TV, a Los Angeles-based syndicated program that beams Hollywood-style entertainment news across the nation. Devon, whose glamorized publicity shots are the equal of most of her subjects, co-anchors Extra's one-hour weekend edition and is the primary substitute for regular anchor Leeza Gibbons. Devon manages to transcend the role of entertainment reporter with some incisive general-interest reports -- notably a relatively recent one which documented her own Lasik eye surgery. -- Jackson Baker

Patricia Merrill

For years conservationist Patricia Merrill's name has been synonymous with the Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy. The group, which took on the arduous task of fighting for a bluffwalk, went against property developers and even Mayor Herenton to preserve the public's access to the bluff. She was awarded a Women of Achievement award for courage last year for her efforts.

Since then, the energetic senior citizen has continued her work with the group, although she has resigned as president. Merrill has wasted no time in her new position as zoning chairman of her neighborhood -- getting a billboard at Park and Mt. Moriah removed for code violations.

Merrill celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary last year and juggles her time between 10 grandkids and a garden. While she has admittedly slowed down, Merrill continues to work to establish a greenway and natural area along Nonconnah Creek. -- Janel Davis

Hubert Van Tol

Hubert Van Tol was the burly, bearded guiding force of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. He was a participant/organizer in numerous rallies and protests and a frequent letter writer and newspaper columnist. But his specialty was bank lending practices. He doggedly pursued local banks to make them live up to the guidelines of community reinvestment that prohibit "red-lining" and require banks to make loans to poor areas as well as prosperous ones.

Van Tol left Memphis in 1996 and moved to Wisconsin a year later. These days he and his wife Lois, a physician, live on a farm in Sparta, Wisconsin, not too far from the Mississippi River in the western part of the state. They have "a bunch of sheep and a llama." He is co-director of a nonprofit called Fairness in Rural Lending.

"I'm still doing community reinvestment work but with a rural focus," he says.

Both modest and meticulous, Van Tol is something of a bigwig in his field, advising the Federal Reserve on its role in bank regulation and occasionally getting the ear of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. He was partly responsible for getting Greenspan to mention predatory lending in a speech at a national community-reinvestment coalition meeting in Washington, D.C., which was "really getting the snowball over the hill in terms of momentum on that issue."

His son Jesse is a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, while daughter Naomi lives in Memphis and is married to conservationist Larry Smith. She is a conservationist and activist in her own right.

-- JBranston

Walter Winfrey

Walter Winfrey, who once oversaw the Memphis Police Department, is still "serving and protecting," only now it's visiting NBA teams that are being served and protected.

Winfrey, who was police director from May 1994 to March 1999, now holds the title of NBA security representative, a position he took when the Grizzlies came to town.

"In every city where there's an NBA basketball team, the NBA has a representative. The Pyramid, and eventually the new arena, has to sign contracts that say they're going to provide certain services. My job is to make sure they're complying. If not, I report them," says Winfrey, who lives in Cordova with his wife.

For the past two years, Winfrey has also run an Avis Rent-A-Car franchise on Germantown Road.

Winfrey made headlines after his resignation -- along with the entire Organized Crime Unit -- for allegedly misusing money confiscated through drug seizures. An audit performed over a five-year period, from July 1994 to March 1999, showed that Winfrey had used the funds to pay golf fees, buy office furniture, pay for lawn care and mobile-phone service, as well as a vacation with his wife. -- BP

Steve Hayslip

Time was when Steve Hayslip was a triple threat locally -- accustomed TV face, family man, and church leader. He still is all of those things, but the venues are different. The former weekday reporter and weekend anchor on WREG-TV Channel 3 left Memphis in 1999 to become morning news host of WTVF-TV Channel 5 in Nashville. (He rises at 2 every morning to do that job!)

Formerly a communicant at Bartlett's Church of the Nativity, whose priest, Father Charles Frederick Sauer, was convicted of arson at the church, Hayslip was one of a small group that kept the congregation going in the aftermath. "It was a painful time, and, yes, I had to cover the story myself. That hurt," he says. He subsequently changed faiths and is now a member of the Peoples' Church of Nashville, a Protestant congregation which offers the highly active Hayslip family an abundance of programs and facilities. Hayslip coaches basketball and soccer for teams that his two sons, Paul and Andy, play on. Daughter Elizabeth is an ice skater, "and I can't help her there," non-skater Hayslip says abashedly.

-- JBaker

Danny Owens

There was a time when you couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without hearing something about Danny Owens, the king of Memphis strip clubs. But Danny's Angels is no more, and two years ago the property that once housed the infamous Stud's Playhouse was sold at auction, along with two of Owens' residences. In 1995, Owens, who once waltzed into a competitor's business with a baseball bat and began swinging, was convicted on gambling- and prostitution-related charges, fined $500,000, and sentenced to 27 years and three months in jail.

Today the 52-year-old Owens is getting plenty of rest at a federal prison in Lompoc, California. Interviews with Owens have to be cleared through the prison's administration. Calls to prison officials were not returned by press time. Owens is scheduled for release in June 2016. -- Chris Davis

Larry Parrish

Attorney Larry Parrish was once a man on a mission, a mission to prevent naked women from shaking their ta-tas in local strip clubs. The year was 1996, and Parrish spearheaded a concentrated effort to get eight local topless clubs shut down. The drive was financially supported by a local Christian group under the auspices of the district attorney. Two years later, the state abruptly dropped all charges against the Memphis clubs, deciding that the DA's office shouldn't be involved in prosecuting cases that are privately funded.

"I haven't thought about [trying to close any more clubs]. I didn't think about it before then either. I was approached by the district attorney to represent him."

Parrish says if it had been up to him, it would have gone differently. They could have fought the ruling, he says, and he thinks they could have won.

"The amount of fortitude it would have taken to go forward with it was not there on the part of the decision makers. I was just the lawyer. When the client decides not to go forward, you don't go forward."

Since then, he's been the lawyer for the foster family in the custody case over Anna Mae He. He also is representing a woman who was assaulted in The Peabody hotel in 1999. That case goes to trial this spring. -- MC

Charlie Lea

A onetime star athlete at Kingsbury High School, Charlie Lea signed a baseball contract with the Montreal Expos and was assigned in 1980 to the home town Memphis Chicks, an Expos farm team. That year, pitcher Lea got off to an 8-0 start and was promoted to the Expos, where he played from 1980 to 1987. Highlights of his career included pitching a no-hitter and starting and winning the 1984 All-Star Game. After suffering an arm injury, Lea moved on to the Minnesota Twins in 1988, where he finished his career. He returned to the Memphis area and in recent years has pursued business interests and done broadcasting for the Redbirds. Between innings of a Redbirds game last year, Lea mused over the fact that both of his former major-league teams had been marked (temporarily, as it turned out) by baseball commissioner Bud Selig for elimination and reflected on his good fortune to be associated with the 'Birds. -- JBaker

George "Tic" Price

Tic Price has come a long way since his 1999 exit from Memphis and Tiger basketball due to his affair with -- and subsequent payoff to -- a University of Memphis student. Price has found his redemption at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Price became assistant coach at McNeese in 2000, then was named head coach in April 2001. That season, Price led his team to the NCAA tournament and was named Southland Conference coach of the year, Louisiana Sports Writers Association coach of the year, and District 8 coach of the year. This year, Price has led the Cowboys to a 12-11 record, with an RPI of 186. -- JD

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Blogs

Music Blog

Young Dolph at the New Daisy

Memphis Gaydar

OUTMemphis is New Name for MGLCC

Intermission Impossible

Want to Think Like Shakespeare?

News Blog

State Tourism Breaks Spending Record

Hungry Memphis

Another Best Memphis Burger Fest in the Books

From My Seat

A (Slightly Premature) Redbirds Season Wrapup

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Don Lifted

Hungry Memphis

Guess Where I'm Eating Contest 110

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Flyer Staff

Readers also liked…

  • It Only Hurts When He Laughs

    The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Mike Matthews, Memphis’ TV Watchdog.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • American Dreamers

    Meet two Hispanic students who are fighting the odds — and hoping to make a difference for others in their situation.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • The Brady Bunch

    District Attorney Amy Weirich’s prosecutorial tactics come under fire again in a steamy sex-and-murder trial.
    • Jan 15, 2015
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation