Here are photos from last night’s sold-out Fox Theatre farewell “Happy Ending” party for Neal Boortz, who is retiring January 18 after more than four decades as a radio talk-show host:
Boortz performed “Prime the Pump’ with his friends and favorite band Banks & Shane. “I remembered all the words!” he said afterwards.
Neal Boortz didn’t delve into politics Saturday at his sold-out farewell party at the Fox Theatre, his topic of choice for more than four decades on the radio, from the Vietnam War to the current gun-control debate.
Rather, he absorbed gentle ribbing and kind words from his friends, reminisced about his favorite pranks and jokes he played on his colleagues and thanked his staff and late sidekick Royal Marshall, who died unexpectedly two years ago.
“I loved that man more than anybody I’m not related to,” Boortz said. “I would sit in a room with him in the studio during a news break. He’d be carrying on and raising hell. I’d look at him and think, ‘Damn, I just love him.’ I never said it. You know how much I’d like to be able to say that to him now.”
He received a surprise video tribute from talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, a video tribute to the tune of OneRepublic’s “Good Life” (including photos of him with hair) and a song about him from the Atlanta band Banks & Shane.
Boortz retires from his syndicated radio show (heard locally on AM 750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB) on Friday, January 18. He will be replaced by former presidential candidate Herman Cain. (He said the original departure date was January 21 but he decided to just call into Cain’s show on Inauguration Day.)
Boortz told Cain on stage that “I would not have retired if you were going up there to do that job – unless I was to work for you.”
“I can’t retire because you didn’t get the job,” Jeff Foxworthy cracked on stage.
Monica Pearson, who worked at Channel 2 Action News for 37 years until last year, said Boortz convinced his radio audience over the years that she had a hot tub in her office. “I didn’t even have an office!” she said. “I had a cubbyhole!”
Fox News personality and fellow syndicated radio host Sean Hannity said when he competed against Boortz as a host on WGST-AM in the early 1990s, he remembered hearing Boortz teasing his 9 a.m. show on Scott Slade’s show at 6:15 a.m. “I realized I had to get into work earlier,” he said.
But he also realized Boortz was giving Hannity a blueprint for his upcoming show so he’d use that as a guide for his own show. One time, he gleefully poached a guest, O.J. Simpson’s attorney Robert Shapiro – much to Boortz’s chagrin.
On stage, Boortz said Hannity did the smartest thing by moving to New York after his stint at WGST. He said as a Southerner, he faced difficulty getting stations outside of the region to take his show. (Boortz’ program is now heard on more than 230 stations, though he continues to get more love from the South.)
Slade said Boortz’s work ethic was unquenchable. He typically arrived to work three to four hours early to prepare for the day.
“He doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” said Slade. “But if he likes you, he sets you up to look good. He always lifts you up.”
Foxworthy used to sub in for Boortz on his show but said he was “too nice.” Foxworthy did a 20-minute comedy set that with a few light zingers toward Boortz, who over the past three years has worked more from his home studio in Naples than Atlanta.
“I don’t know why Neal is retiring,” Foxworthy told the audience. “He sits in his house drinking coffee and talking on the phone for four hours every morning. You throw on a robe and a pack of Virginia Slims and he’s my mother-in-law!”
Anyone going on stage was asked to wear black-tie formal outfits for the event. Boortz, ever the rebel, came to the theater in a Hawaiian shirt but eventually donned a tux (minus a tie.)
Surprisingly, consumer advocate and self-proclaimed “cheapskate” Clark Howard showed up in a tuxedo, but he didn’t break the bank: he said he paid $79 at K&G Formalwear for a polyester Sean Jean.
At the end of the show, Boortz told the producers he was going to ignore their five-minute time limit and gave a 15-minute speech, which included a loving tribute to his late dog Coco and touching words about his wife Donna, who tearfully watched from the front row.
“I don’t sound like this on the radio,” Boortz said, “but maybe that’s somebody else. She taught me the joy of giving, how great it feels to find somebody else in a desperate situation and helping them out… She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I love you sweetie.”
Boortz said he couldn’t wait to hit the RV with her and travel the country.
His producer Belinda Skelton said afterwards that she sensed when Boortz was running out of steam on stage and voluntarily charged onto the stage, signaling the end of the show.
News/Talk WSB is owned by Cox Media Group, which includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.