Miracles take many forms for Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson cheers at the end of “Smokey Robinson Presents Australia’s Human Nature — the Ultimate Celebration of Motown,” at the Imperial Palace Wednesday, June 17, 2009.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Human Nature

If You Go

  • What: Human Nature
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday through Thursday
  • Where: Imperial Palace Showroom
  • Admission: $49.95-$59.95; (888) 777-7664, www.imperialpalace.com
  • Running time: About 90 minutes
  • Audience advisory: Singalongs and table dancing: Keep your drink close if you are seated in the front rows

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For generations, miracles have played a prominent role in Smokey Robinson’s life. He was backed by the Miracles vocally, of course, during a torrid run of Motown hits in the 1960s that left a legacy to last a lifetime.

But there’s this other miracle in Robinson’s life, more valuable to him than a mountain of gold records. It happened in a flash, like a burst of fire, and it led him to the befittingly named Ablaze Ministries in Los Angeles.

It was May 1986, and the Motown legend was gripped by cocaine addiction.

“It was life-threatening. It is always life-threatening when you are in that condition. (But) through God, the man who went into that church was an addict, and afterward I was free,” Robinson said last week during a phone interview hours before the premiere of “Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature – The Ultimate Celebration of Motown” at Imperial Palace. Robinson discovered the longtime vocal group of pure-as-driven-snow Aussies (Toby Allen, Phil Burton and brothers Michael and Andrew Tierney) four years ago as they recorded an album of Motown covers. Robinson, loving what he saw and heard, seized the chance to fill a Motown void on the Strip and brought the fellas to I.P., which was looking for a show to replace “Legends in Concert,” which has moved to Harrah’s. Adam Steck of SPI Entertainment (which also produces "Thunder From Down Under," and what we need now is an AC/DC tribute act to fill the Aussie trifecta) is the show’s producer.

Motown from Down Under

It’s something of a miraculous convergence, Smokey, the guys from Australia and the Strip. But Robinson would not have been in position to step into any recording studio -- in Australia, Detroit or anywhere else -- in the spring of 1986.

“Drugs don’t care who you are. That’s the effect of it. They don’t care if you’ve sold millions of records or not, they will kill you,” Robinson said. “You know what, I recall that as being one of the darkest times of my life. … But I met this minister at Ablaze Ministries in L.A., pastor Jean Perez, and she told me she knew I would be there. She didn’t know when, but she knew I would walk in there.”

Robinson says he decided then, there and forever that he would not succumb to his addiction again.

“What keeps me going is I just turned it over to God,” he said. “You have to be spiritually open. God doesn’t discriminate. God doesn’t know I’m Smokey Robinson.”

Robinson performs service work as frequently as his schedule allows, speaking “at rehab graduations, rehabs themselves, schools, universities, for 12-step groups, wherever I can. It’s my job now. The only thing I think about when I’m talking to people is how I can help people avoid that path. I think that those of us who have been through it are the best to talk about it, because we have been there.”

He’s still in contact with Perez, one of his spiritual advisers, and has told his wife, Frances, “if you ever hear that I OD’d, call the police, because I am never, ever going back that way.”

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John Katsilometes is a columnist and magazine writer for the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly and editor-at-large for ...

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