Cult rock star Warren Zevon is dying. Friends and lovers recall his less-than-splendid isolation atop Rittenhouse Square before moving to detox mansion.
Jackson Browne introduced Zevon to Philadelphia, and it was love at first sight. One night in 1976, Browne was playing at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, and WMMR taped the show for broadcast. He played "Werewolves of London," changing the lyric to "Werewolves of Bryn Mawr," and told the crowd--and by extension WMMR's Philadelphia listenership--to keep an eye out for the man who wrote it. It's spelled Z-E-V-O-N, he said.
Zevon himself turned up later that year at the Main Point. Anita Gevinson showed up late that night, and the only seat left was front and center. "What can I say? It was kismet," says Gevinson, who now reads traffic and entertainment news reports for radio stations in and around Los Angeles.
By the end of his set Gevinson was smitten and convinced the club manager to let her stay for the second show. Afterwards, she went backstage and chatted with Zevon, who made a point of mentioning his wife and daughter. The two went their separate ways, but Zevon would not soon forget her.
Anita Gevinson had a thing for guys in bands. Over the years she dated Daryl Hall, Nils Lofgren and Billy Squier, which was a large part of the reason she got into radio.
"I'm only 5-foot-2-and-a-half, and when I went to concerts I could never see. And when I could see, I would see these people standing by the side of the stage," says Gevinson. "I thought, 'Who are they? Oh, they are the local radio people. Hmm, that looks like a good gig.' I wanted to be there. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to be on the stage. I wanted to be part of it."
Michael Tearson, then a well-known on-air personality at WMMR, remembers Gevinson well. The two dated briefly, he says. "She was a sharp lookin' babe with a prodigious pair of breasts and a sharp mouth," he says. "I was one piece of ass she never did nail."
Before long she sweet-talked her way into an on-air gig at WCAU, which would lead to an offer from WMMR. Somehow Zevon caught wind of this, and it was there that he called her from Los Angeles, where he was recording his star-making Excitable Boy album.
It was two years after they first met. Things had changed, he said. He was now separated from his wife. Gevinson, as it turned out, would be out on the West Coast for a wedding, so the two planned to meet up in Los Angeles.
This was pretty exciting stuff for a girl from Levittown in love with rock 'n' roll and determined to penetrate its most elite inner circles. So exciting, in fact, that she failed to notice the storm clouds gathering on the horizon.
"I guess I was a little naive about how much drinking he was doing, but I had never met anyone like him, and I just thought that was all part of the life," says Gevinson. "I didn't see the early warning signs of how deep the alcohol addiction was. He would drink mixed drinks during the day. He always liked vodka, and he might add a little orange juice. I was so enamored that I didn't see how bad off he was."
After a week she went back home to Philadelphia, and Zevon soon reconciled with his family. Gevinson would move to Los Angeles a year later, taking a DJ gig with KLOS. In the back of her mind, she hoped to run into Zevon, but it never happened, and seven months later she returned to Philadelphia and WMMR. "There were a whole lot of years where the timing just wasn't right for us," she says.
In a 1981 Rolling Stone cover story, Zevon detailed his struggles with the bottle. The day they found him in the studio firing a pistol into his image on the cover of Excitable Boy was the day he entered rehab.
One day in 1983, Gevinson was pulling an on-air shift at WMMR when she got a call from Zevon. He was divorced, he said. He was heading out on tour. Would she like to come along? He didn't have to ask twice. By the time they got to Denver, they were engaged to be married. And when the tour ended, Gevinson headed back to Philadelphia. Zevon would soon follow in search of a new beginning. Sobriety was a daily struggle, and Los Angeles was full of ghosts and temptation.
Kevin Gunn, a longtime producer at WMMR and a hardcore Zevon fan, saw firsthand how hard the struggle was to keep the demons at bay. "Every year we would do the Morning Zoo in Atlantic City for a week, and Warren came with us twice," says Gunn. "There was a lot of down time, and so I got to hang out with him. He couldn't go near the casino because his father was a heavy gambler. He had to stay away from the bars. He would basically sit in his room and smoke. It's like Warren lived his life in a house of mirrors of things he had to avoid in the second half of his life."
Zevon and Gevinson moved into a big apartment in the Le Chateau building with a panoramic view of Rittenhouse Square. Early on, it was like a scene from Annie Hall, an autumnal love story set against the big-city skyline.
"He loved Philly. When it got cold, it was a kick for him, because he had lived his whole life in L.A.," says Gevinson. "He loved the restaurants. Our place was Friday Saturday Sunday. Or I would cook a big roast beef. He was a meat-and-potatoes guy. I mean that literally. In fact, that was all he really liked. He was kind of like Elvis, cuisine-wise. He loved the 76ers. Loved looking out at Rittenhouse Square when he was working on songs. Loved that he could walk around unrecognized."
Meanwhile, Gevinson's star was rising, her sultry visage splashed across billboards around town. She hosted a wildly popular on-air segment called "Ask Anita," wherein she would provide sassy answers to listeners' questions about love and life. When she was on vacation, her mother would fill in, and the show would be called "Ask Anita's Mother."
"I remember when she would make public appearances, hundreds--sometimes thousands--would show up," says Debbi Calton, a friend from the WYSP days who now does middays on WMGK. "I remember her and Warren coming to the company Christmas party, and it just seemed like she was the star and he was the date."
But bad news came knocking soon enough. One day Gevinson brought home the new issue of Rolling Stone. As Zevon was absently paging through, he came across an item in Random Notes: Warren Zevon has been dropped by Asylum Records, it said. This was news to him.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4