Natalie Cole’s memoir recounts her unforgetable brush with near-death

Nine-time Grammy winner Natalie Cole, who died New Year’s Eve, barely survived the Las Vegas Hilton fire on Feb. 10, 1981, one of her many close calls in life.

The daughter of jazz great Nat King Cole had just finished co-headlining with Bill Cosby the night before the fire and stayed an extra day to pack her belongings.

Natalie Cole was in her room on the 26th floor when the fire broke out in an eighth-floor elevator lobby.

In her 2000 memoir, “Angel on my Shoulder,” Cole said she and her bodyguard, former NBA veteran Nate Bowman, made calls requesting evacuation assistance.

When help didn’t arrive, they covered themselves with soaked bedding.

Amid the smoke, Bowman, a 6-foot-10 backup to center Willis Reed on the New York Knicks’ 1970 NBA championship team, surprised Cole with an admission of love.

According to the book, he told her: “Natalie I love you, and I’ve been in love with you since I started working for you. We ought to make love here and now because it’s the last chance we’re going to get.”

She had a higher priority: “If we’re gonna die and it comes down to the choice of sex and getting high, I’d rather get high.”

Cole, who had turned 31 four days earlier, had struggled with drug addiction throughout her life.

Just as she was lighting up, two firemen appeared at the door. They were rushed to the roof and transported by helicopter to Sunrise Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire, which claimed eight lives and injured about 350 in the 2,300-room hotel, came three months after the MGM Grand blaze that left 87 dead and more than 600 injured.

Bowman, who reportedly suffered lung damage, died of cardiac arrest on Dec. 11, 1984. He was 41.

Cole survived a number of medical issues, including a kidney transplant in 2009. She told a New York audience in 2010, before her 60th birthday, “I didn’t think I’d live to be 30.”

She died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure.

Her father was a popular headliner in Las Vegas in the 1950s and ’60s, before his death in 1965. He was 45.

The scene and heard

Grammy winner Chris Brown is in trouble again after his second incident at the Palms since May. Police were looking for him after he allegedly hit a fan in the face during a party in his suite at 10:20 a.m. Saturday. He performed at Drai’s Nightclub at The Cromwell on Saturday …

Celine Dion delighted her New Year’s audience at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace by announcing, “If I may, I would like Adele to be part of our New Year’s Eve. Don’t panic, she’s not in the building.” Then she sang Adele’s record-shattering hit “Hello,” which sold more than 2.3 million copies in three weeks …

Clint Holmes debuted a cut from his upcoming album during the New Year’s Eve show at Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. It’s an updated version of the duet by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald from “Porgy and Bess.” He is teaming up with DeeDee Bridgewater on the duet “I Loves You Porgy” and “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York.” The album is coming out in the spring. Hosted by Erich Bergen, the lineup included Broadway stars Norm Lewis, Capathia Jenkins, Patina Miller and Holmes. Bergen also sang and included “Oh What a Night” from “Jersey Boys.” And, oh what a night it was …

Correction: Murray Sawchuck‘s comedy magic show is at Planet Hollywood.

On this day

January 3, 2004: Britney Spears marries childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander at 5:30 a.m. at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Amid an international media furor, the marriage is annulled 55 hours later, with her publicist claiming the couple “took a joke too far.” It was first reported on the Review-Journal website, after I received an anonymous tip about 11 hours after the wedding from a Nebraska area code. In today’s social media world, the news likely would have been via an instantaneous selfie.

Sightings

Adam Levine of Maroon 5, sitting in as drummer with the Paul Charles band, the lounge band at Mizuya Lounge at Mandalay Bay, following their Wednesday and Thursday performances in the hotel’s events center. Levine’s bandmates sang with the lounge band. They sang Maroon Five songs, as well as songs from the Cars and The Police … Spears, having New Year’s Eve dinner with her team at Koi (Planet Hollywood). She had New Year’s Day dinner with a large group at Mr. Chow, the new eatery in Caesars Palace … Rapper Akon, taking in Chris Brown’s New Year’s Day performance at Drai’s Nightclub (The Cromwell). Also there: UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz with girlfriend Amber Nichole Miller DJ Daddy Kat, joining “Dancing With the Stars” pros Mark Ballas and Derek Hough at Tao nightclub (Venetian) on Friday … Mexican soccer star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, dining with a large party on New Year’s Eve at Andrea’s (Encore at Wynn). Hernandez plays for the German club Bayer Leverkusen. Prior to dinner, Hernandez met with the cast of “Le Reve — The Dream.”…

The punch line

“It’s beginning to look like I’m not gonna get ‘The Tonight Show.’ ” — David Letterman‘s opening line during his final ‘Late Show’ monologue on May 20, after 33 years as a late-night host.

— Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. On Twitter: @Norm_Clarke.

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