Stan Lee has passed at 95 – memories I had with “The Man”, including his first Hooters visit

Stan Lee has passed at 95 – memories I had with “The Man”, including his first Hooters visit

My phone was blowing up on Monday, tons of messages, voicemails, emails, and direct messages on social media from friends and family asking if I had heard the news. Stan Lee had died, he was 95-years-old. Just in case anyone was unfamiliar, Stan was the writer and co-creator of many iconic superheroes like Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, the X-Men, and many more. He re-defined what we now know as Marvel Comics today, after initially cutting his teeth working as a small time writer and assistant editor for their pre-existing form known as Timely Comics. After making the company insanely profitable and popular in the 1960s, Stan eventually became a spokesman and more of a figurehead for the company, traveling to conventions and meeting the fans while signing books and taking photos. He wasn’t even writing books anymore, but it didn’t matter as his contributions were so significant and endearing. I first met Mr. Lee in the early 1990s at Larry Lankford’s Dallas conventions, which I eventually started working for – those days proved to be valuable as the experience helped me learn how to promote my own comic book shows as I still do today with Dallas Comic Show (my next is this weekend, November 17-18, 2018. That first encounter would be the first of many meetings and interactions, which eventually found me introducing him on stage to enthusiastic crowds, working security for him, and even hosting Q&A sessions with him at various events.

Stan and I in 1997, photo by Adam Richards.

My very first meeting with Stan was similar to what many experienced. I stood in line at a show, got some books signed, took a photo with him and moved on. My next encounter was working with him a smaller one-day con in Austin, back when you could see Stan at modest pop culture events without getting mobbed – keep in mind, this was before the current age of superhero movies dominating movie theaters, and long before Stan was the household name he is now. But forget all that, because my first “big” moment with Stan was actually in our third or fourth meeting (I can’t honestly remember, but it was either the third or fourth), in 1997 at a convention in Mesquite, TX (see the photo). I was doing security with Stan along with my buddy Chris Van Doren, who I recruited to help, and we were attached to his hip for the entire show – overseeing his signing for the fans, hosting what would be my first of many Q&A sessions with him, and just making sure he was comfortable during his visit – as I recall that Q&A was hilarious, but I never got a copy of it… lots of VHS camcorders in that audience though. Eventually we broke for lunch, and Chris and I put Stan in the car to grab some food. This was in a restaurant row area of Mesquite, a stretch of freeway lined with cookie cutter eateries. I asked Stan what he wanted to eat, and he asked what the options were. We went down the list, naming off all the usual suspects – “There’s a Chili’s, an Olive Garden, there’s this, there’s that… there’s Hooters…” – at which point Stan said “What’s a Hooters?” If I recall correctly, the reply we gave was “It’s a place where you can get okay food served to you by really hot girls in really skimpy outfits.” Stan said “That sounds great, let’s go THERE!”

So we hit Hooters, and as we sat waiting for our food, we listened to Stan regale us with stories of his glory days at Marvel Comics… for Chris and I, it was like dining with Elvis. At one point I got up to hit the restroom, and our waitress stopped me and asked “The old guy you’re sitting with… is he someone famous?” I replied “Yes, have you heard of Spider-Man?” She said “No.” My inner fanboy is screaming. Again, important to remember, this was before the current age of blockbuster superhero films. I persisted. “What about the Incredible Hulk?” She looked further confused. “Nope.” I continued. “Fantastic Four?” She’s looking agitated. “Nope!” I’m running out of patience at this point, plus I’m trying to go to the bathroom! “The X-Men??” She cocks her head to the side. “Is that the one with the guy with the claws?” I replied “Wolverine, yes.” She nods slightly, adding “Yeah, I think my little cousin likes that.” I sigh, and say “Well THAT guy helped create ALL of those characters.” I could see she didn’t care much, but she must have told the other waitresses, because one by one they ALL came over to meet Stan asking to shake his hand. Stan said “Oh come on, let me give you a hug!” By the end of that meal I believe every waitress in that place had met Stan with a smile on their face… except for our waitress, of course, who we just couldn’t impress. There might even be a photo still on the wall at that location, though I’ve never been back. But if I never do anything worth a damn for the rest of my life, I took Stan Lee to his first Hooters… that’s something, right??

Mom, Stan and I in June 2015. Click on image to see it full-size.

Years later I saw Stan again at various conventions, and got to know his regular manager Max Anderson, who looked after Stan carefully and made sure he wasn’t taken advantage of. This was necessary as Stan was so nice, he’d say yes to pretty much anyone, no matter what they asked for. Max had to be the bad guy because it was needed, and it sometimes earned him a bad reputation, but I cannot tell you how many times I saw him genuinely helping Stan and making sure he was properly taken care of. And Max was good to me, eventually trusting me to be one of the few with clearance to host Stan’s Q&A sessions at some of the biggest conventions in the country. You can see one of those panels below in full (from 2012), which was the second time I had hosted a Q&A with Mr. Lee, but the first time I had done it since he had become such a superstar. My most endearing memory from that show? Stan had just had a pacemaker put in after some health concerns, and seemed to have a renewed energy. When we finished the Q&A, we had to rush Stan to a photo op session, and I walked behind him and his entourage as they were debriefing him on the rest of his busy day. Just before he went through the door to get to work, he stopped, and loudly said “Wait a minute.” He then turned around, reached out to shake my hand, and said “Mark… THANK YOU for hosting that panel, you asked really good questions, that was great!” I’ll never forget that, and I won’t lie, I nearly cried. After that, I hosted several more, some for thousands of fans, and some more intimate for less than 100, but it was always a fun and memorable experience.

Me, Stan, Shelton Drum of HeroesCon, and Max – photo by Alex Cason. Click to see full-size.

In December of 2016, I put the cherry on top of my Stan Lee interactions when hosting some panels and other things at what sadly became a messy convention that isn’t remembered well, but did bring us some memorable moments. It was on New Year’s Eve weekend, and overlapped Stan’s 93rd birthday. So in order of events, I helped wish Stan happy birthday with hundreds of cosplayers, I then hosted a Stan Lee Roast with several celebrity guests, and on Saturday night I did something unbelievable… I stood next to Stan and counted down the New Year during a VIP party with the killer band Bad Karma, led by my buddy Chance. Standing next to Stan, counting down from 15 seconds to 1 while the crowd erupted in joy… honestly, what a moment. Sadly, this would be the last time I’d see Stan, but when you think about it I’m not sure I could top that anyway. When I think about all the cool things I got to do in the presence of Stan Lee, I realize now more than ever how lucky I was. And I cannot thank Max Anderson enough for trusting me and allowing me that kind of access. That event didn’t end well at all, which is another story for another time, but those memories are something I’ll cherish forever.

This year has been a difficult one for Stan, as he’s dealt with some personal issues, a rather manipulative manager (not Max) who swooped in and took over his life for a few months, and various legal dealings that no one his age should have to worry about. His final days were nowhere near as relaxing as they should have been, and I have a feeling some stories will come out that show just how bad things really got. But what’s important right now is to remember the man’s legacy and enormous contributions to the comic book industry and world of pop culture. Stan Lee is without a doubt one of the most culturally important figures of the last century, and 95 is one helluva run. Godspeed, Mr. Lee. I’ll always remember you well, and thank you for letting me spend such valuable time in your presence.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.