After an emotional week of making arrangements for her father’s funeral, Aubrianna Atwell was with friends Saturday, toasting her father’s memory, when a text message arrived from actor Paul Walker’s best friend.
“Call me please,” read the text.
“In my gut, I knew something was wrong,” she said.
When she called, she was asked, “Are you driving?”
The news left her shattered. In a matter of six days, Atwell, 28, had lost “my two best friends.” Her father, prominent real estate broker David Atwell, died last week in Las Vegas. He was 63.
Walker, a star in the blockbuster “Fast & Furious’ car-racing movie franchise, had sent a text message to Atwell on Friday, saying he would be in Las Vegas for her father’s funeral Sunday.
Walker, 40, died Saturday when the red Porsche he was riding in crashed into a light pole and exploded into flames. The accident happened in Valencia, north of Los Angeles.
It was intended to be a quick ride with a friend, Atwell said. The accident happened near a charity event Walker was attending on behalf of his organization Reach Out Worldwide. Walker had left his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow, at the event.
“My heart is aching for Meadow. Paul was so committed to her,” Atwell said. “That’s what’s so hard about this. All he wanted to do was protect his daughter.”
Her cancer-stricken father wrote Walker about two weeks ago, saying how grateful he was that Walker was in his daughter’s life, Aubrianna Atwell recalled.
Walker called her the day her father died.
“It’s just overwhelming … so much shock to my heart,” said Atwell, who accompanied Walker when he attended CinemaCon here last April and on many of his international trips.
Walker was “a huge exotic car enthusiast and not just because of the ‘Fast & Furious’ influence,” she said.
“He raced all over the world. He was a heli-skier,” she added.
But Walker’s life wasn’t just about fast cars and chasing thrills, said Atwell, a former model who moved back to Las Vegas in 2006 and now works in real estate.
“When the Haiti earthquake happened, he teamed up with some buddies,” she recalled. “They got a few doctors together and got a G4 (jet). He went to UCLA and took some EMT (emergency medical technician) classes so he could help. He was helping people off the ground.”
Walker loved Porsches, she said. “I’m sure a bit of speed was involved.”
December birthdays of Las Vegas personalities of the past and present:
Sammy Davis Jr., Dec. 8, 1925; Frank Sinatra, Dec. 12, 1915; Zappos chairman and downtown booster Tony Hsieh, Dec. 12, 1973; illusionist Criss Angel, Dec. 19, 1967; former “Peepshow” headliner Holly Madison, Dec. 23, 1979; Moe Dalitz, known as the godfather of Las Vegas, Dec. 25, 1899.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Bruce Spotleson is being sworn in Tuesday at Aria (CityCenter) as 2014 chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. Flamingo headliner George Wallace officially joins the chamber’s board of trustees as the entertainment industry’s representative.
Matt Damon, spotted at Prime (Bellagio) and McCarran International Airport over the weekend. … supermodel Chrissy Teigen, dancing and singing along at the soundboard during hubby John Legend’s “Made to Love” tour stop at the Palms’ Pearl concert venue. … Actor Donnie Wahlberg, accompanying his girlfriend Jenny McCarthy at her “Dirty, Sexy, Funny” after-party at Body English (Hard Rock Hotel). … Also at Body English: Michael Socha of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.”… Mayor Carolyn Goodman, flipping the switch for the annual tree lighting ceremony Friday at Opportunity Village. Also there: Jaime Lynch, the lead singer of “Fantasy” at the Luxor. … Mike Tyson, having breakfast Sunday with his longtime pals Burton Cohen, Arthur Rossen and Gene Kilroy at Bagelmania, 855 E. Twain Ave. … From the R-J archives, Oct. 12, 2008: “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker celebrated his 35th birthday Saturday at The Bank (Bellagio). He was celebrating his birthday belatedly. He was born Sept. 12, 1973.
THE PUNCH LINE
“The FCC is considering lifting the ban on cellphone calls on planes. The good news is you’ll be able to make calls during your flight. The bad news? The person sitting next to you will be able to make cellphone calls during your flight.” — Jay Leno
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more info at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.