Morgan Freeman is a close, personal friend of mine. And by close, personal friend, I mean my wife saw him in an elevator once. We were in Prague, Czech Republic, on one of her company trips, staying at the Four Seasons hotel. My wife is not one to be star-struck, mainly because she can never remember who famous people are. In this case, she got on an elevator with two of her friends and there was a man going down to the lobby with them. She thought he looked familiar but couldn’t recall who he was. She sneaked a peek at him out of the corner of her eye so as not to appear rude, and they disembarked in the lobby. One of her friends had recognized him immediately, and as they exited the elevator she turned to him with her hand extended and said, “Morgan Freeman! I just love your work! My name is Gloria Mayfield Banks!” He smiled, shook her hand and in his deep, recognizable voice said, “Pleased to meet you.” He talked with her as they walked through the lobby before he disappeared into his limo.
Over the years, when we travel on my wife’s company trips, we’ve stayed in some of the best hotels in the world, and it’s not unusual for other celebrities to be staying with us. Back in 1993, for example, we were staying at the brand new Four Seasons in New York City. It was the week of their grand opening and there were several rock bands staying in the hotel including Depeche Mode and The Grateful Dead. One afternoon, I went down to the fitness center and hopped on a treadmill for a workout. On the treadmill to my left there was an overweight bearded gentleman walking with headphones on. I did a quick double take before I realized it was Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. He didn’t so much as look at me, and I didn’t so much as say hi because I didn’t want to bother him. Apparently his last ditch efforts to regain some semblance of health after years of obesity, smoking and cocaine and heroin addictions didn’t pay off. He died two years later of a heart attack at the age of 55.
Some years later, 2009 to be exact, we were staying at the Ritz Carlton in Berlin, Germany. I was in the lobby of the hotel when a black stretch limo pulled up. I stood by the door to see who might disembark. Much to my surprise, out stepped Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, collectively known as ZZ Top. They were in town for a concert. Being a long-time fan, I stood by the door as they walked into the lobby with their security guys, sporting their signature beards and sunglasses. A crowd of Americans had gathered and somebody shouted out, “Hey, Billy! Hey Dusty!” A couple of people pulled out pen and paper, perhaps hoping to get an autograph or three. Billy, Dusty, and Frank, looking like the bearded cadavers they had become, never so much as acknowledged a single fan in the lobby. Apparently they were too focused on the lyrics of their song I Gotsta Get Paid. But I digress. Back to my close, personal friendship with Morgan Freeman.
A few years later, 2012 to be exact, I was out in Las Vegas visiting a buddy of mine who lives on a nice golf course called Red Rock Country Club. One of his friends out there works in the entertainment industry. She called him one morning and said, “Hi, Mike! Just wondered if you and Dan would like to play golf with Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas. They’re in town filming a movie and wanted to get away from the crowds for the afternoon.” I looked at him. He looked at me. We both answered at the same time, “Heck yeah!”
After lunch, we drove to the golf course. Mike dropped me off at the bag drop with my clubs and went to park the car. As I was walking to the front entrance, a black SUV pulled up and out stepped Morgan Freeman, along with his personal assistant, a man who looked a lot like him. I walked up to him and said, “Hi, Morgan, I’m Dan Madson. I’m going to be playing golf with you this afternoon! Where’s Michael?” He shook my hand and said, “Unfortunately, Mr. Douglas will be unable to join us today.”
I escorted them downstairs to the pro-shop while trying to make small talk. We checked in and the four of us headed to the driving range where we sequestered him at the far left side, away from people who might bother him. Mike and I had decided to treat him just like any of our other buddies that we played with. We didn’t ask for autographs; we didn’t ask for pictures. We just acted as if he were any other Joe Schmoe on the golf course with us. Word had gotten out that Freeman was on the property. One member had seen him on the range warming up. He walked up to him and asked for an autograph. When Morgan agreed, the guy said, “You don’t happen to have a pen, do you?” Mike and I just looked at each other and shook our heads.
Freeman was injured in a serious car accident back in 2008. Since then, he lost full use of his left arm and shoulder. When we started hitting balls, I noticed he was a wearing a compression glove on his left hand and arm and swung the club with his right hand only. He would address the ball with his left arm held firmly against his body and swing one-handed. He was surprisingly adept at hitting the ball long and straight.
We teed off. Mike and I played the member’s tees and Morgan and his assistant played the forward tees. We talked and laughed and asked questions about his family and the movie he was filming. His voice in person was no different than his movie voice – a deep, resonant baritone. At one point, I asked a question about his assistant. I said, “So, do you play golf with your buddy at home a lot?”
He paused, looked at me, and said, “He’s not my buddy; he’s my employee.”
For a second I thought it might be funny if I answered back with Steve Martin’s “Well, excuuuuuuse me!” I thought better of it and kept my mouth shut. In the end, we had a wonderful time. For some reason, they had to leave after playing 16 holes. As we were putting out on the last hole, I asked Morgan a question. “Say,” I said, “do you remember staying at the Four Seasons in Prague a couple of years ago? My wife rode in an elevator with you!”
He chuckled as only he can and said, “No, I do not recall that occasion.” Despite our close personal friendship, I have not seen or heard from Morgan since.