How many people can count among their closest friends Ethel Merman (Broadway songstress extraordinaire), Mother Teresa (beatified by the Vatican in October, 2003), Lee Lehman, (wife of Robert Lehman, head of Lehman Brothers), Pierre Cardin (who was not only a legendary couturier but also a major show-business force in Europe) and many others?
Well, Tony Cointreau, a scion of the French liqueur family, can. His voice took him to the stage and his heart took him to Calcutta. He shares his life story in this memoir.
Tony's childhood experiences were less than happy due in large measure to an emotionally remote mother, an angry bullying brother, a cold and unprotective Swiss nanny and a sexually predatory schoolteacher. These "caretakers" left him convinced that the only way to be loved is to be perfect. It led him on a life-long quest for love and for a mother figure.
The first to "adopt" him was internationally acclaimed beauty Lee Lehman, mother of his friend Pam and wife of Robert Lehman (head of Lehman Brothers). Then, after meeting iconic Broadway diva Ethel Merman, she became Tony's mentor and second "other mother." His memoir describes in detail his intimate family relationships with both women.
From the age of 21 Tony was on stage, living in New York and California and performing everywhere from Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. In 1984 he got a major career break when Pierre Cardin heard him sing in a New York club. He called Tony and said he'd like to launch his European career at a gala at Maxim's in Paris. Six weeks later Tony walked onstage at Maxim's and everybody was there—as they say, "le tout Paris." He recorded and performed in concerts in Europe for the next ten years.
Although Tony's career as a performer was successful—and his family connections placed him on the Cointreau board of directors for several years, he always felt a need for something more meaningful in his life—and his heart eventually took him to Calcutta.
Even though he had never been exposed to poverty, especially third-world poverty, Tony found himself drawn to Mother Teresa's work with "the poorest of the poor." In 1989 he flew to India to see her work firsthand and went again in 1990. Upon his return to New York City, Tony began volunteering at "Gift of Love," Mother Teresa's home in Greenwich Village for destitute men dying of AIDS. Unexpectedly, he found that Mother Teresa made frequent visits to New York and she soon became a mentor and his third "other mother."
For the next twelve years, Tony took care of patients at "Gift of Love," mopped floors, and scrubbed stairs on his hands and knees. He also used his voice to comfort the dying, singing a capella to them in their last days and hours of life. Over the years, Tony helped more than 100 patients while they were dying. Many of the men, rejected by their own families, were so young that he referred to them as "my kids." He and Jim, his now husband and partner of 50 years, returned to India in 1997 to be with Mother Teresa for the last Easter week of her life.
Tony's memoir voices his opinion that he had no special gifts or talents to bring to Mother Teresa's work and that if he could do it, then anyone could do it. In the end, all that really matters is a willingness to share even a small part of oneself with others. Along the way he also discovered that you don't have to be perfect to find unconditional love.
Engagingly and beautifully written, this memoir covers topics of compelling interest likely to appeal to a variety of audiences beyond the "give me any memoir" reader--Broadway and specifically Ethel Merman aficionados; followers and admirers of Mother Teresa; people with child abuse issues; the gay community; Francophiles and imbibers of Cointreau!
Selected Family Photos of Tony Cointreau
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Coverage of Tony's Appearances
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