Elton John 88 248.
(photo credit: )
The white hairs on Zev Isaacs's head may have been inevitable, but their prominence must have been aided by the saga of Elton John's arrival in Israel in June 1993.
Pop superstar John, arriving for one performance at Hayarkon Park, fell victim to an overzealous border control policeman, rambunctious photographers and frayed nerves, and fled the country hours after his private jet touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport. A promoter's worst nightmare comes true, as Isaacs recalls the harrowing experience.
"Elton arrived on his private jet at 10:30 p.m. and was hassled for two hours by some mid-level policeman who was in charge of the passport control.
"From what I understood with discussions I had with other people afterward, it seems like that person wasn't honored in the right way, and he decided to be king for a minute to pay back.
"Despite having VIP service at the airport, we were held there for two and half hours. It wasn't a security issue or customs. We had limousines taking him from the plane to VIP lounge. Normally, someone takes your passport, gets it stamped and comes back five minutes later, and you're on your way.
"The deputy manager took the passports and left. We're sitting there enjoying our coffee, and nobody's coming back. I walked into the entry hall, the place is empty, and two people yelling and screaming in the middle of the hall - the deputy manager of the airport and the mid-level policeman. "The policeman was saying, 'I don't care who he is, I want him to stand in line like everybody else.' The whole point of VIP is to avoid that kind of thing, as there were 20 or 30 journalists and photographers standing outside the exit where regular passengers need to leave. The airport official came back and said, 'look, I'm sorry you have to do this, but Elton needs to go stand in the passport line.'
"We went into the hall - if we had done that at first, it would have taken four minutes. But we went down there, more than an hour later, got his passport stamped and then went back to the lounge. His limo was on the tarmac side, not on the public exit side where all the journalists were.
"But the policeman then decided that Elton had to physically go through the entry hall and meet our limousine on the exit side, like everybody else. By this time, two jumbo jets had landed. We had to walk through the entry hall filled with 500 people and the paparazzi to get to the limo. By the time he got to the Hilton hotel about three hours later, he was in a state."
The New York Times reported the scene as follows: "The singer had to hop over sofas to get through the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton on Tuesday while his bodyguards shoved and swore at the crowd. Two photographers and a fan were injured."
"He hit the button on the elevator, and said forget it, I'm going," says Isaacs.
Isaacs had already sold more than 40,000 tickets to the show, and John's departure caused an uproar in the media, and even in the Knesset. Britain's Daily Mail quoted MK Avraham Burg as saying, "Elton John would not have behaved like this in any other country." Popular DJ Dori Ben-Ze'ev told his listeners, "We've been screwed."
Even president Ezer Weizman got into the act. Weizman, who was visiting a Galilee border town and being entertained by a youth singing and dancing troupe, made an offhanded comment and the headline in the Hebrew dailies the next morning read: "Weizman: Who needs Elton John?"
The Daily Mail reported that the British ambassador Andrew Burns sent a fax to John's management which spoke of the "keen sense of local disappointment" over the cancellation of the concert and pressed the star to "reconsider."
Thankfully for Isaacs, and John's fans, the singer did reconsider and returned the next day. And today, Isaacs can finally laugh about the hair-pulling 24 hours like recounting an old war story.
"You're talking about a decade and a half ago, and things were a little more Middle Eastern than they are now."