C-list celeb's slots and sleeping pills
David Gest's lonely death marks the end of a life spent in the limelight of others, writes Sarah Caden
Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30
On January 10, the day David Bowie's death was announced, his ex-wife Angie was in the Celebrity Big Brother house. She was told off-camera of his death, then broke down in the diary room and then rejoined her housemates.
When she told housemate Tiffany Pollard what had happened, the US reality-TV personality misheard and became hysterical, believing that their housemate David Gest had died.
Her screaming alerted the other celebs, who joined her in running into the bedroom, pulling the duvet off a dozing David Gest and going so far as to check his pulse.
"Are you alive?" Darren Day, one-time bad-boy musical star, asked Gest.
"As far as I know, I am," answered Gest.
This farce made some headlines, most of them disgusted with what was seen as Angie Bowie's relentless riding on the coat-tails of her ex. Part of the disgust, however, came from the impression that David Bowie's death was demeaned by association with David Gest. Not only had Bowie died with dignity (while Gest was taken to have expired and been left lying dead in the Celebrity Big Brother bedroom) he was a true star.
Gest, on the other hand, was your classic talent tag-along, probably best-known for being Liza Minnelli's ex-husband.
He was the true "friend of" turned C-list celeb, a man famous for knowing the famous, for cashing in on the talent of others. He knew this and based his life on it. Whether that actually made him happy is another matter.
David Gest died last week, alone, in a Four Seasons hotel in London. A post-mortem is planned, but immediate comments from friends said he had been "strung out" on sleeping tablets and "addicted" to 50p-a-go slot machines, reportedly spending up to £10,000 (€12,570) in a single sitting.
He had also left the Celebrity Big Brother house early, soon after the Bowie mix-up, due to contracting a virus which apparently left him with chest problems for which he was taking steroids.
Whatever killed him, Gest's life was off the rails before he died. And sad, and lonely, and not at all glamorous, though he continued to strive for celebrity. As he had done his entire life.
When he died last Wednesday, Gest was planning to take a new one-man show on the road. It was called David Gest is Not Dead, He is Alive With Soul.
The title seems even more pathetic now that he is in fact dead, but even before last Wednesday it was a horror. It harked back to the Big Brother misunderstanding, as if this was his big moment, and you had to wonder what on Earth the show could be about. Well, probably just more celebrity associations, given he had nothing else to peddle.
That's a sad state of affairs for a 62-year-old whose massively altered face always spoke of the wish that he was someone else, someone better.
Gest grew up in southern California and made his first serious celebrity connection in his teens when a "puppy love" romance with La Toya Jackson led to a long friendship with her younger brother, Michael. It was seeing the effects of Michael Jackson's first plastic surgeries that led Gest to his own facial transformation, in his mid-20s.
"Michael looked fine with his first surgery," Gest said in a 2009 interview, "so I thought I would turn into some male model. Did not work out."
In a 2007 interview to promote his autobiography, Simply the Gest, he said: "No one has a lower opinion of my looks than myself."
Through Jackson, Gest became friends with Elizabeth Taylor and she launched him as a producer. She got him the gig of the American Cinema Awards, which he produced for 14 years. This would have been no mean feat and speaks of some talent, but not the talent Gest craved.
He didn't want to be behind the scenes, he wanted to be the star.
"I wanted to be a performer," he said in a characteristically frank interview. "But the problem was, I didn't just have limited talent, I had no talent. Promoting others was the next best thing."
He never overstated his talent, but he never shied from admitting that its scarcity saddened him.
He can't have loved that his greatest claim to fame was his marriage to Liza Minnelli. He had some reputation as a producer and a promoter by that time - his 2001 Jacksons reunion show had been big news - but Gest himself was not a headline-grabber. The wedding was spectacular, with Michael Jackson as best man and a star-studded guest list including another of Gest's great friends, Whitney Houston.
But make no mistake about it, through the very short marriage Gest was very much in the role of consort and, later, he spoke of how uncomfortable he was with the media circus around Minnelli.
Gest and Minnelli married in 2002 and divorced in 2003 after he filed charges of spousal abuse. When he later spoke about the marriage, he focused on Minnelli's alcoholism. The chapter in his autobiography devoted to their marriage comprised two blank pages. It was that marriage that made a reality-TV star of Gest in the UK. Reality TV was made for people with celebrity ambitions such as his, but without the old-school means of achieving it. He did I'm a Celebrity… in 2006 and Soapstar Superstar and the search-for-a-musical star, Grease Is The Word, in 2007. He did every comedy panel show you can think of and, oddly, Leigh Francis's not-so-respectful Cha'mone Mo'Fo'Selecta! A Tribute to Michael Jackson after his childhood friend's death in 2009. He also did Celebrity Come Dine With Me in 2010, but did you really need to be told that? Of course he did.
This decade was relatively quiet for Gest. Last year, he went on the road with David Gest's (I've Had) the Time of My Life Show, which featured The Righteous Brothers', some work with Cliff Richard and a successful soul stars concert tour.
But recent years were not great for Gest financially and, at the end, he is reported to have been broke. He did Celebrity Big Brother, but was not physically able for it and left, due to illness, after 13 days.
He spoke, in his last appearance, about having to sell his collection of Whitney Houston memorabilia.
Last week, there was the expected outpouring of grief for David Gest from reality TV stars and celebs you've never heard of.
On Thursday, one newspaper reporting his death described him as "loner David Gest". The man who knew everyone who mattered was left with no one who really mattered.