News Column

Sam Harris to perform songs, tell stories from new book 'Ham: Slices of Life' at Aventura arts center

February 19, 2014

By Steve Rothaus, The Miami Herald



Feb. 20--Thirty years after winning the first season of TV's Star Search, entertainer Sam Harris admits he is something of a Ham.

Ham: Slices of Life is the title of Harris' recent collection of 16 memoirs. It is also the basis for his new stage show, which he performs Thursday at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center.

"I refer to it as a 'liter-usical' because it is literary and it is musical," Harris said. "It's a theater piece that we are playing in theaters, that we're touring everywhere."

Harris, 52, said the greatest challenge with Ham (the musical) "was to find stories within 305 pages that we could create a linear show, that has stories from childhood, celebrities and parenthood. It's mixed with songs."

Among stories Harris tells in the book: a sexy game of strip poker with another chorus boy when they toured as kids in Gypsy; rehab with his close friend Liza Minnelli; how he and husband Danny Jacobsen are raising their adopted son, Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobsen, now 5.

"It's a non-chronological collection of stories and essaid," Harris said of Ham. "It's not an autobiography. It's certainly memoirish by definition, because it's my stories. There is more to come from here. There will be more books. That was the intention, also, in keeping it non-chronological."

Chapter 3 is titled, "Promises," about the disastrous 2002 marriage of Minnelli and David Gest, whom Harris refers to in the book as "the Man Whose Name Shall Go Unmentioned."

"Everyone makes mistakes," is how Harris opens the chapter.

Shortly before Gest proposed, Minnelli nearly died in Fort Lauderdale of brain encephalitis. "You're still recovering," Harris told her before the big wedding, which would feature Michael Jackson as best man and Elizabeth Taylor as matron of honor. "Is it possible that ... you're not yet in your right mind? Literally?"

He and Minnelli have been through a lot together, including rehab. Harris acknowledged his own alcoholism after visiting the Cabaret star at a facility called The Villa.

"I came in sort through the back door, in a very unexpected way," Harris said of his own path to sobriety. "It was very apparent to those close to me that I had a problem. But people have to come to that in their own way, in their own time."

For many years after Star Search, Harris stayed quietly in the closet.

"Everybody knew I was gay. Everybody in the industry knew I was gay," he recalls. "I also came up in a time where in my first record company, they would put a girl on my arm and go to the Grammys or the Emmys or whatever. Interviewers were told not to ask me personal questions in that regard, which was ironic, because I would talk about anything. I was always very open about everything, except in this one area where I was told not to speak. It came to a point for me that was just ridiculous. It just seemed that even though I wasn't overtly lying, it felt shameful. There was a shame involved in it. I said I can't do this."

In 1998, Harris came out officially in an interview with The Advocate gay magazine.

"Maybe it was almost sort of an apology for having been a part of the sham in the first place. Even though it was cultural and of the time. It was a way for me to personally undo that and apologize for that," Harris said. "I've never been one who thinks that anyone should be forced out of the closet, because I don't think those are the best role models anyway."

Harris is a role model, said Jeff Kiltie, event services manager for Aventura Arts & Cultural Center.

"I respect that he is still going on as a performer and trying to be a role model in many aspects of the community, including being a parent. He's a great representative without being overbearing. He's presenting the average, happily married family man," Kiltie said.

Harris and Jacobsen, a businessman, have been together since 1994. They married in California in 2008.

"There is a magnifying glass on those of us who have taken this course and fought for that right and now are living it. I'm gladly in that magnifying glass. It's kind of like when you're a parent. If you're a good parent, you have to be your best person. Not just when you're with the kid, but always. You have to be your best person because you are model for that child," Harris said. "It's sort of that way on a large level in this time in history we're in. We have to be our best couple. We have to be our best marriage. We have to be our best for ourselves, but also because we count. We want to say, "Look, we are doing this right.'"

Sam Harris performs 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura. Tickets are $39.50. www.aventuracenter.org

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Source: Miami Herald (FL)


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