I had a close encounter with Art Bell, the radio host who kept much of America up well into the night for a lot of years. Art died yesterday at the age of 72.
In 2008, my wife Mary and I had the honor of sitting next to Art at a black tie dinner where he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. We were guests at the Chicago event, and when it came time to choose seats at the front of the large room, it took only a little maneuvering on my part to get to sit elbow-to-elbow with the man being honored that night as a radio pioneer.
Like Art, I did a radio talk show, though by then I had been out of the business for 15 years. My local broadcasts had had an audience of thousands and generally dealt with life’s more mundane topics. His audience totaled 15 million and he routinely explored conspiracy theories, the occult, UFOs and Bigfoot. But we had one basic thing in common: both shows aired unscreened calls. We discussed the pros and cons.
What I most remember about Art that night was how nervous he was prior to giving his award acceptance speech. Here’s a guy who spoke nightly to a vast audience. Now, in another live broadcast emceed by Adam Carolla, Art was being called upon to say a few words. He was editing his prepared remarks up until the last moment. He, of course, delivered them with class, but it was with great relief that he returned to our table, gave his wife Airya a kiss, and, as we all sat down after a standing ovation, I shook his hand.
There is a tiny link between Art Bell’s story and that of David Hendricks whose name dominates this website. Shortly after Art’s wife of 15 years, Ramona, died unexpectedly in 2006, Art met a 22-year-old Filipina woman via “Internet video-conferencing.” Three months after Ramona’s death and a week after Art arrived in the Philippines to meet Airyn in person, she became Art’s fourth wife. (On the night of the Hall of Fame dinner, their 17-month-old daughter, Asia, was upstairs in a hotel room in the care of a babysitter. Art also leaves behind a second child, a son Alexander, born in July of 2017. He had three children from previous marriages.)
So, like Hendricks, Art married a much younger Filipina he had met through technology. And, for those of you who haven’t read about it yet in my updated book, today Hendricks has a young son and is expecting a new daughter this summer.
We’ll no longer hear Art’s deep baritone voice coming “from the high desert and great America southwest,” but we’ll surely remember how he entertained and challenged us to keep an open mind on mysterious topics. A radio pioneer, indeed.