It was a Stan Lee VIP experience. There were about thirty people there including me, waiting to get Stan Lee’s autograph and maybe get a picture and shake his hand. We all paid a pretty penny for this semi-exclusive experience and the air was abuzz with excitement that we were finally going to meet our idol.
We all gathered in a room off the convention floor at a pre-arranged time and waited. And waited. Eventually, Lee’s road manager enters the room. “Sorry about the delay. Stan will be here soon. But unfortunately, he isn’t feeling that well, so no pictures and because of his arthritis, please don’t shake his hand.”
A few minutes later, Stan shuffles in. He is lead to a table set up in the side of the room and sits behind it. We all gather into a line to get our items signed. I was about six people back and I got to see Stan in action. He seemed weak and confused. His manager would have to point Stan in the specific place the fan wanted a signature. Stan couldn’t hold any heavy item, so it would have to be placed on the table in front of him.
My turn came up. I had a copy of the Marvel Chronicles that was published the year my daughter was born and I was on a mission to have everyone who worked for Marvel to sign it so I could pass it on to her when she was 18. I was able to tell that to Stan and how much he meant to me personally. I got the impression that he heard about half of what I said, but he was kind and nice in his reply.
I left that signing with mixed emotions. As someone who was collecting comics since he was 10, I was thrilled by meeting the co-creator of so many of my favorite heroes. But the joy was tempered with sadness, even guilt. I felt bad for Stan, who was obviously ailing. I felt bad that a man of his age had to go through that struggle, and I hoped that would be the last convention he would feel the need to attend. I wanted him to retire and live out the rest of his years in peace. I feared what would happen if he continued to push himself.
That was back in 2010. Stan Lee attended dozens more conventions since then. I might have caught Stan on a bad day. You might be a fan who caught Stan on a good day where he was more involved and more gregarious. But the years of travel and long hours of signings have taken their toll, and what I feared back in 2010 came to a head this past weekend in San Jose.
“Weekend at Stan Lee’s”
Stan Lee was the special guest at the Silicon Valley Comic Con this past weekend. It was the first convention he attended after the death of his wife, Joanie in July of last year and the first since a bout with pneumonia in February of this year. His Saturday appearance at the con had the makings of a horror film, and it played out over social media in real time.
Bleeding Cool has a rundown of the controversy. Multiple congoers report that Lee looked haggard, frail and ill. People who paid $120 for a signature (a price that went up to $140 during the day according to some reports) were told not to talk to Lee at all, which wasn’t hard to do because he was mostly uncommunicative. He signed from 10 am to 7 pm with only short bathroom breaks and a small lunch break during that time. His day consisted of shuffling back and forth between his autograph table and his photo op sessions. His manager had to tell him how to spell his name at the table. He fell asleep at there at least once, causing the rumor that he passed out to spread through social media. He also slept through his photographing session, with his handlers having to wake him up between each picture. Most pictures I’ve seen from the event show a zoned out Stan Lee. looking more like a wax dummy than a human being.
More than one guest made note that Lee’s handlers would get annoyed at Lee falling asleep and weren’t treating him with kindness or felt they were pushing him too hard. A morbid joke sprung up about the situation, calling it “Weekend at Stan Lee’s,” referencing the 1989 film Weekend at Bernie’s, where two financial employees drag the corpse of their boss around, making him seem alive for their own personal gain. There’s a reason why that analogy, gruesome as it is, has some truth to it..
The Vultures are circling
The incident at SVCC was followed on Tuesday by an article by The Hollywood Reporter detailing the power struggle over Stan Lee and his finances. There has been a road production of Ten Little Indians around Lee’s support crew since the death of his wife, with many lawyers, including at least one San Diego probate attorney and caregivers coming and going, but main players are all laid out in the infographic above, taken from the THR article.
The first of the final four to go was Jerry Oliverez. He was associated with Stan since 2010 and acted as his caretaker both in business (he negotiated the deal between Lee and POW! Entertainment) and in life (arranging doctor’s appointments and hiring nurses). Keya Morgan and Max Anderson accused Oliverez writing a check for $300,000 from Lee’s account without his knowledge (Oliverez claims it was a bonus from Stan), using Stan’s money for an $850,000 condo (Oliverez claims Stan wanted him to live in a safe location closer to him) and even stole Lee’s blood to be added to the ink for a rather gory signature project (Oliverez claims the project was J.C. Lee’s idea, and that Lee’s personal physician was involved and is a signatory on the signed items). Regardless, Oliverez was iced out of Lee’s inner circle.
The aforementioned Anderson was the next to go. Anderson acted as Lee’s road manager for his many convention appearances (he was the one who spoke to me at the VIP experience recalled in the first paragraph of this piece). He also is the proprietor of a Stan Lee Museum, a pop-up installation that travels from convention to convention showing off Stan Lee memorabilia. Anderson believes that Morgan and J.C. have leaked stories about Anderson’s criminal record and about his failings as a tour manager (That story about Lee harassing that masseuse? Anderson believes Morgan leaked it to make him look bad, which Morgan denies). But the major bone of contention is the items from Lee that make up Anderson’s museum. Anderson stays Lee gave him the artifacts to keep permanently, Morgan claims they were only loaned to him and that Anderson has now essentially stolen them. This caused Anderson to be removed from Lee’s employ–forcibly in this case, by police who were called to remove him from Lee’s home due to “trespassing.”
This leaves us with the final two. In one corner, we have Keya Morgan, who has taken over the role of personal assistant/gatekeeper/tour manager/name spelling reminder and J.C. Lee, Stan’s daughter who has a vested interest in her inheritance. They appear to be working together, for now, to manage Stan Lee’s life. Together, they have started dismantling Stan Lee’s support base. In addition to ousting Oliverez and Anderson, they have limited access a long time assistant has to Stan, fired his longtime gardener and housekeeper, and got rid of Stan’s lawyer and accountant, replacing him with ones of their choosing.
THR describes Morgan as “a gossipy, fast-talking name-dropper in designer suits who frequently threatens to litigate to intimidate.” Prior to attaching himself to Lee, he was a dealer in celebrity memorabilia, most notably items from Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. He has since added the job title of “producer” to his resume. The main film project he is shopping around? A Stan Lee biopic, of course.
Morgan has taken over the task of opening, reading and replying to Lee’s e-mail (due to Lee’s failing eyesight, he claims) and THR states has tried to sever Lee business ties to POW! Entertainment and have him start one with personal friends of his.
While in the THR interview, he calls Stan “a very good friend” and claims he’s “like a father” to him, certain responses from him in these articles are troubling. “There are some morons out there who get very jealous that Stan Lee likes me so much,” he told THR, repeating a common refrain most players in the drama have. Being liked by Stan Lee is a powerful currency among these people, and Morgan has staked the claim to having the most of it. Then there was this response to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool through a representative after the SVCC debacle:
“A nurse and armed Los Angeles police sheriff escorted Stan Lee from his home to the Comic-con and were with him 24/7 until he returned back home. At the hotel and event Stan had several armed Police officers and security guards, and handlers. After the show in a two hour conversation Stan Lee repeated countless times how much he enjoyed his trip and seeing his fans. Keya Morgan is Stan Lee’s close friend and partner, NOT handler as you claim. He has been there to help Stan for over 10 years in dozens of ways like going to the doctors, hospital, meetings, etc.”
It’s telling that Morgan feels the need to address the fact he was called a “handler” more than the numerous first hand reports of Lee’s frail and weak condition, which, and I’m being generous here, gets only a passing mention in the statement, never addressed directly.
While Morgan comes off in the THR and Bleeding Cool articles as an egotistical, Machiavellian manipulator more concerned with Stan Lee’s intellectual property than the man himself, he comes off as an angel compared to J.C. Lee. THR paints her as a ill-tempered spendthrift dilettante who lived off the money her father built up over the years yet still wanted more of it than she got. Eyewitness report a number of verbal and physical confrontations over the years with her parents over her not receiving what she thought she deserved, including a 2014 confrontation over a car where J.C. left both Stan and Joanie battered and bruised.
She also threatened “get the baby” from one of Stan’s nurses, Linda Sanchez, who got pregnant while being employed by the elder Lee after the death of his wife. J.C. believed the child was Stan’s by means of an illicit affair, and the implication is that J.C. wanted control of the other potential heir to Stan’s fortune (For what it’s worth, Sanchez also claims that Morgan threatened to release reports of her previous brushes with the law to the media if she reported the elder abuse she saw in the Lee household, and believes that the details of her record and the rumor of the potential affair that was leaked to the Daily Mail came from him).
Oliverez and Anderson state that while Morgan and J.C. are working together now, once changes Lee’s trust are finalized, J.C. will get rid of Morgan too. The ground work might already have begun to be laid. J.C. is quoted in the Bleeding Cool article as being “Upset” and “shocked” at the lines the were there to greet her father, an aspect that surely was under the control of Morgan, and her booth being so far away from her father’s.
From what we see in these articles, it doesn’t look like either Morgan or J.C. Lee have an interest in removing Stan Lee from the convention autograph circus. It will have to be up to us to do that.
What can we do to stop this?
The reason why Lee is booked into these signing events and is pushed past his level of endurance is because there is a demand for it. If we take away the demand, then there won’t be a market for Lee to be carted from convention to convention like cattle.
What do I mean? I mean that if you are a convention organizer, don’t book Stan Lee for your convention. And if Lee is at a convention near you, refrain from getting his autograph or you picture taken with him.
That is a proposal that is at once completely simple and impossible to carry through on. Stan Lee’s name brings guest into the convention, and that’s because fans want a personal experience with the living legend. That’s a major roadblock to this little plan working.
But, really, what kind of experience is it if Stan is falling asleep during your photo op or you are not allowed to speak to him during his signing? Is that underwhelming experience worth Stan Lee’s misery? And it would be hard for conventions to forego the thousands of dollars that having Stan Lee on the guest list will bring in. But is that money worth being the convention that Stan Lee passed out in or, god forbid, the one he dies at?
Stan Lee doesn’t need the money. His net worth is anywhere between $50 million and $70 million and he gets $1 million a year from Marvel and $250,000 from POW Entertainment. And while as late as last year Stan said that convention appearances are what keep him going, is what was reported at SVCC really keeping him going? The only thing keeping this dog and pony show running is greed, and none of that greed seems to be coming from Stan.
Stan Lee should live his remaining days in dignity and respect, not treated as a commodity to benefit other greedy people in his circle. Somebody must stand up and put an end to this. Let it be us, Stan’s fans.