New York Post, January 31, 1989
Profile in Courage
Wherever Peggy Lee appears, sheís promoted as one of the living legends of show business. But Lee, who opens tonight at the Ballroom, doesnít take such accolades very seriously.
How does it feel to be a legend? "I wonder if all that legend stuff didnít begin with the Blackgama ĎWhat becomes a legend most?í ad I did. Nowadays, people in the business two weeks are called a legend, so I donít know what it means. On the one hand, it shows some respect. On the other, it shows youíre getting older! I can look at it both ways."
Reaching legendary status wasnít easy. Plagued by poor health since the early Ď60s, Lee has had the specter of forced retirement hanging over her head for almost 30 years. But sheís nothing if not resilient and determined. "I donít know how to stop," she says softly. "I have to be on a stretcher to stop."
Thatís a position sheís found herself in more than once. What gets her through? "I believe in a higher power. Thatís the one I talk to Ė Big Daddy! When I had my second heart operation, I lay there for six weeks. Thatís a long time to just think. I came out with a great serenity. Iíd already been through the death experience in 1961. They gave me six months to live if I kept working. In 1985, they said I should retire.
"But I canít stop. I mean, sit there and wait for what? My last breath? What do I have to lose? I went back to work, and my health improved. Then it got worse, then it improved again. But each time, I got stronger. And each time, Iíve gotten a nicer attitude about life."
Leeís musical taste runs from Mahler (her favorite) to rock ("But it has to be soft rock. So soft, itís practically sand!"), and in her latest album, Miss Peggy Lee Sings the Blues, she delves into traditional Southern blues. That recording, and her recently released autobiography, Miss Peggy Lee, are graphic examples of her determination to keep going.
Where does she get that strength from? "I believe that whatever we believe in strongly enough, we can accomplish. Itís about the omniscience of God, the omnipresence, the omnipotence. If you tap into that, it doesnít matter if itís music or writing or whatever, itís all here for us. No matter what we say, the universe says yes. If we say itís a lousy day, the universe says yes. If we say itís a very good day, the universe says yes. Itís always positive. And that positive energy is there for us to use."
by Bob Harrington