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Stars, stars and more stars
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Stars, stars and more stars: My life meeting the greats

I’ve been around stars all my life, starting in my birthplace of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, a small industrial community 40 miles from Pittsburgh.

My mother and father were the first stars of my life, then came my neighborhood friends, many of whom are still my closest friends after seven decades. My last name is Taverna, but back then, my family abbreviated it to Tavern to avoid discrimination and get employment. Italians were treated horribly, so many did what they had to do to survive.

As a result, I was one of the few Italians on the block without an Italian-sounding last name — a fact that bothered me to no end.

So, when I hit California, I reintroduced the “a” to my last name — Felix Taverna.

Being around celebrities has been second nature to me. It all started when I began living and working in Los Angeles mid-1970s. I got a gig at Fred Segal, a fashionable boutique at Crescent Heights and Melrose in Hollywood. Stars were the norm —  everyone who was somebody went to Fred Segal.

Imagine being 22 years old and watching some of the biggest names in show business right before your eyes. I’d seen them on TV but never in living color. I met Wilt Chamberlin, Sly and the Family Stone, Richard Pryor, Carole King, Curtis Mayfield, Zsa Zsa Gabor and many other superstars there.

I have always said working at Fred Segal was my training ground to meet future celebrities. Little did I know it would come full circle.

Music has always been in my DNA, and I was blessed to be in the public eye as a DJ. My work as a DJ allowed me to surround myself with musicians and entertainers. But more importantly, it allowed me to connect with superstar athletes.

Like the time the entire Cincinnati Reds baseball team came into a disco I was playing in the 1970s. That’s right, the whole roster of the Big Red Machine. I met the great shortstop Davey Concepcion and remained friends with him to this day. What a tightly knit group that was and one that lived to party. 3 Venezuelans, 2 Dominicans and 1 Cuban . Mix in a few African Americans, and you have one tremendously happy and gregarious man.

Or I was getting to interview an American icon, the late Joe DiMaggio. Upon getting clearance for the interview, agents told me, “Ask anything but don’t mention Marilyn Monroe or Frank Sinatra.” Joltin’ Joe was married to Marilyn and never got over her death. According to a source, DiMaggio believed Frankie Blue Eyes was responsible for her affairs with the mob and the Kennedys.

In 1981, I worked for the San Diego Clippers, which created more opportunities to rub elbows with sports stars. Watching Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson up close was something special. Or when legendary Lakers coach Pat Riley asked me for a cigarette and proceeded to join me for a smoke. I met Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant and Pamela Bryant, parents of the late Kobe Bryant, and even held him as a three-year-old child. Little did we know how great he would become. Those days were magical for me and I’d like to go back and do it again.

Later at an event in 1986, I met Walter Payton, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Jamal Wilkes, Ken Norton, Magic Johnson, Joe Montana, Franco Harris, Warren Moon, Willie Stargell and Tommy Lasorda. I found out how Payton got the nickname “Sweetness.” He was so down to earth, and I felt like I had known him my entire life (RIP Walter). That goes the same for Harris.

Through the years, names changed and new stars emerged and having the opportunity to meet some has always been special. However, some made my Total Disrespect Group. Anybody is permanently locked into this category when you diss a child or spew ignorance. Ask me another time about my top 3 on this list.

Some have gotten away. I have never met Michael Jordan or Terry Bradshaw. I missed a meeting with Bob Gibson and Mickey Mantle by hours after meeting quarterback greats John Brodie and Aaron Rodgers.

It never gets old to meet such great athletes.

Never would I have ever imagined meeting so many great sports athletes. But no one replaces the first friends you make in your neighborhood or hometown.

Over the years, I’m truly blessed to have met some all-time greats in sports and life.

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