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Public appearances by former Journey frontman Steve Perry are rare, if not virtually nonexistent, and have been that way for some years. Once a face plastered all over T-shirts, concert posters, magazines and music videos, these days it’s his voice that provides a lingering presence via such timeless, iconic songs as “Open Arms,” “Faithfully” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
But as recognizable as that aim-for-the-heavens wail might be, it’s also what drove the now 64-year-old singer to leave the music business behind and pursue a quiet, non-public life outside of Los Angeles. “This love-hate relationship that I have with my voice is a tumultuous thing,” Perry told The Hollywood Reporter at the City of Hope Spirit of Life gala honoring CAA managing partner and head of music Rob Light (pictured with former Journey bassist Randy Jackson) on Sept. 19. “You love music, but it’s a tough relationship.”
As Journey continued on without him — famously hiring Filipino singer Arnel Pineda in 2007 after seeing him belt their songs on YouTube (the story is chronicled in the 2012 film festival favorite, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey) — Perry decisively disappeared from 1998 on. “I walked away from all of it,” he said. “I jumped off the Journey merry-go-round when it was still selling large venues. I got burned out and had to leave.”
The reasons were as much musical as they were personal. Added Perry: “We were so good together that I don’t think we could recreate it again. I think it was a magical time for music and to be in the music business. But once I stopped, I didn’t want to start back up again. I did become a bit of a recluse.”
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The hits, however, only gained in attention, momentum and sales as the years went by — the song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” in particular. Perry, who, along with the band’s four other songwriters, has a vote in approving usage in film, TV and other medium, points to a pivotal request that he says helped launch the song’s second life: the 2003 movie Monster.
As Perry recalls: “[Writer/director] Patty Jenkins emailed my attorney Lee Phillips asking, ‘How do I get a hold of Steve Perry? I’m with Charlize Theron and I’m editing this film … We need to get the song — it’s already cut in the movie. … Think there’s a chance?'” Such 11th hour placement asks are precisely why directors are discouraged from using real songs as temp music, but being a good sport, Perry asked to see footage of the scene. “It was the most beautiful adaptation of the song,” he said. “And that kind of launched it with sporting events, the Chicago White Sox, The Sopranos…”
Glee, Rock of Ages — the synch list only grew longer as did the public’s fascination with the rock star who dropped out. To wit: a recent story updating the whereabouts of Sherrie Swafford, Perry’s longtime flame and the star of the song and accompanying video for “Oh Sherrie,” a Top 5 hit for a solo Perry in 1984. Within a day of publication, scores of outlets (including this one) picked up the post — not that Perry noticed.
“I don’t watch the news. I don’t keep up with stuff,” he said matter-of-factly. “I live my life on a different kind of plane. So it’s a surprise when anything about me goes viral. I’m kind of shocked. I’ve been gone for a long time, but it’s nice to know that people remember you.”
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That sentiment is one he’s exploring right now. As Perry told THR, he recently lost his girlfriend of nearly two years, Kellie Nash, to breast cancer. “I fell in love with her as a person and as a soul — it was a connection I never had before in my life,” he revealed.
Perry was by Nash’s side throughout her battle, which ended in December, 2012. A PhD in psychology, she had been chronicling her life and imminent death in a series of journal entries that doubled as a memoir. After she passed, Perry said he “decided to pick up the book and finish it. … I do my chapters about what it was like when I met her and how she changed my life. She kind brought me back to the public, because when you’re in love with a psychologist, you get a lot of help.”
Perry wouldn’t reveal the title he has in mind, but said he has finished the tome. “It was a struggle,” he added with a sigh.
As for his own music, Perry said that he has been writing “for the first time in three years,” but was light on details. To his songwriting credit, he doesn’t need to work. The residuals coming in regularly from the Journey catalog is more than enough to sustain a music star’s standard of living. Said Perry: “Those songs were good to us. The stuff has stood the test of time.”
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